Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

“For Your Freedom and Ours”: Poland’s Solidarność and the British Left, 1980 – 1989

Fri31  Mar04:15pm(15 mins)
James Watt South Room 355


1 University of Oxford, UK


Across Western Europe the emergence of Poland’s Solidarność, the first independent trade union in a communist state, elicited varied responses. While the assistance provided to Polish workers from continental European has been addressed, the solidarity effort in Britain is scarcely understood. Building on Stefan Berger and Norman LaPorte’s previous work, this article investigates the response of the British labour movement across the UK. While the British Left’s response is typically considered lukewarm, this article exposes the discrepancy between the efforts of rank-and-file labour activists and the leadership of key institutions. Drawing upon oral histories with contemporaneous activists, trade union archives, and prominent left-wing publications, it is apparent that this distinction was present in the Trades Union Congress, large trade unions, and the Labour Party. Understanding British solidarity with Solidarność ultimately elucidates the permeability of the Iron Curtain and contributes to an understanding of the role East-West socio-political interactions played in the demise of the Soviet Union.