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Lech Walesa  
Lech Walesa

A tireless campaigner and a dedicated leader, Lech Walesa founded a trade union and inspired working people to assert their rights.


An army corporal turned shipyard worker, Lech Walesa was a founder and leader of the non-communist trade union ‘Solidarity’. The first independent trade union in communist Poland, ‘Solidarity’ was eventually banned by the government and Walesa was arrested for his role in a number of union activities. Undaunted and determined to fight for the rights of workers, Walesa continued his work upon his release. His campaigning eventually led to a negotiation which enabled workers to be allowed to have trade unions and to strike. Not surprisingly given his work for the people, the charismatic and diligent Walesa was elected as President of Poland in 1990.

  • Nobel Peace Prize winning labour activist
  • Founder and leader of Poland’s first independent trade union
  • Negotiated for the right for Polish workers to form trade unions
  • President of Poland 1990-1995
  • Topics covered include The Impact of an Expanded NATO on Global Security, Democracy: The Never-Ending Battle, Solidarity: The New Millennium
Speaking Style; as dedicated as ever to furthering the rights of working people, Lech Walesa is one of the most influential trade-unionists, human rights advocates and politicians of our time and his speaking ability reflects this.

Read Lech's Full Bio to find out more...
Lech Walesa first began campaigning or for the rights of workers when he started working at the Gdansk shipyards. Becoming increasingly outspoken about his beliefs, he took part in numerous demonstrations, including the infamous 1970s strike which led to severe conflict between workers and the authorities and saw Walesa arrested and briefly detained. His involvement in strikes and boycotts and his role in encouraging others to do so meant that Walesa was fired from his job.

Working in temporary positions, Walesa continued to fight for the rights of employees in industries across communist Poland. Along with others who shared his beliefs, Walesa founded ‘Solidarity’, an independent, non-communist trade union, in 1980. Having been under surveillance since his involvement in illegal protest action in the 1970s, he was seen as the leader of the 1980 shipyard strikes and as such negotiated with the authorities about worker’s rights. Their discussion led to the Gdansk agreement, finally enabling independent unions to campaign and strike for better conditions.

For a brief time, Walesa was able to celebrate his success and travelled to numerous countries in order to discuss similar matters for the International Labour Organisation. Unfortunately, political matters in late 1981 saw General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland’s communist leader, imposed military rule. This saw Walesa and many of his trade unionist colleagues arrested and interned and their unions suspended. Upon his release in 1982, Walesa returned to the shipyards and also to the suspended ‘Solidarity’, despite being under surveillance. Despite the fact that martial law ended in 1983, numerous rules were still enforced, continuing to disrupt worker’s rights. It was in this year that Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for continuing his efforts despite adversity.

Political change in Poland was continuing to occur and further negotiation led to the formation of a non-communist government, and enabled the unions to restart legally. Walesa became the head of ‘Solidarity’. In 1990, he became the President of the Republic of Poland, having been elected in a general ballot, leading to an invitation from NATO for Poland to join. He remained in this position until 1995.

He founded the Lech Walesa Institute in 2006 and heads the organisation, which aims to encourage Eastern European and developing countries to welcome democracy and free market reform. He is also the founder of International Human Solidarity Day.
Walesa had a Catholic upbringing in Popowo, where he attended vocational school.

Positions and Honours
  • Listed below are a just some of Lech Walesa’s honours:
  • Solidarity Chairman - First National Solidarity Congress, Gdansk (1981)
  • Nobel Peace Prize (1983)
  • Philadelphia Liberty Medal (1989)
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom (1989)
  • European Human Rights Prize (1989)
  • Eisenhower Medallion - People to People International (2007)
  • Winter Olympic flag bearer (2002)
  • Gdańsk Lech Wałęsa Airport named in his honour‘
  • ‘Man of the Year 1980’ – The Financial Times
  • ‘Man of the Year 1980’ – The Observer
  • ‘Man of the Year 1981’ – Time Magazine
He has received numerous national and international awards and has been awarded honorary degrees and doctorates by prestigious universities in countries around the globe. He was offered the Lithuanian Order of Vytautas the Great in 2011 but rejected this due to allegations of discrimination towards Polish people within the country.

Praise for Lech Walesa

“It’s a victory for those who seek to enlarge the human spirit over those who seek to crush it.” President Ronald Reagan.
“President Walesa has first-hand experience with the benefits of engagement… his assessment of the situation is useful” Senator Jeff Flake.
  • The Impact of an Expanded NATO on Global Security
  • Democracy: The Never-Ending Battle
  • Solidarity: The New Millennium
  • Polish
  • The Road of Hope (1987)
  • Droga do wolności (The Road to Freedom) (1991)
  • The Struggle and the Triumph: An Autobiography (with Franklin Phillip and Helen Mahut) (1993)
  • Wszystko, co robię, robię dla Polski (All That I Do, I Do for Poland) (1995)
 
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