Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Anna Walentynowicz

In case you missed this on the inside of your newspapers!
by Charlie Leck

Among Polish leaders and dignitaries who died in the airline crash in Russia this past Saturday was Anna Walentynowicz. Take yourself back to 1980 and the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. A crane operator, who also happened to be a labor leader who was severely disliked by government management, was fired. This action touched off a labor strike that led to the founding of Solidarity, which, in turn, led to the crash of Communism in Poland. The crane operator was Anna Walentynowicz. She was in her early 50s back in those days, only a few months away from retirement. That means she died Saturday in her early 80s.

The labor leader who so valiantly supported Mrs. Walentynowicz after her firing was Lech Walesa. Mr. Walesa would later go on to become Poland’s President.

In Poland, and in anti-communism lore, Mrs. Walentynowicz is often compared with our own Rosa Parks. If you, however, remember the movie Norma Rae, it is probably more accurate to compare her to Crystal Lee Sutton, the North Carolina labor leader who inspired that character and the film.

Mrs. Walentynowicz was orphaned during World War II and, at the age of 10, was forced to begin working as a maid. She began working in the Gdansk shipyards in 1950. She was an activist in pro-labor and anti-communism work from a very young age. In 1978, this gallant and courageous woman wrote, in an underground newspaper, about the spending excesses of her communist supervisors. It was only one of the sins that led to her firing.

May she rest in peace!

[Source: NY Times Obituary]

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