Born to a Polish agricultural family, labor unionist Lech Walesa studied in a state vocational school, and became an electrician. After serving in the military, he began working in the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk (Danzig). Walesa was active in the nascent union movement at the shipyards and after he joined protests against the economic policies of Polish leader Edward Gierek in 1976, Walesa was fired.
Galvanized into action, Walesa became a key figure in the Polish labor movement. When striking Polish workers took control of the shipyard in 1980, Walesa was reinstated and became the head of the strikers.
Later that year, he was made head of the newly formed Solidarity Union.
Solidarity was successful in securing a number of concessions from the Polish Communist government. In 1981, however, Polish leader General Jaruzelski imposed martial law and outlawed Solidarity.
Walesa and other Union leaders were arrested. After a year in solitary confinement, Walesa was released. In 1983, he won the Nobel Prize for peace in recognition of his efforts on behalf of freedom. The outspoken Walesa continued to press the government for concessions and in 1988, the Union once again organized crippling strikes throughout the country.
When it became clear that the Polish Army was siding with the people, Jaruzelski negotiated the creation of Social Democracy in Poland. The next year Walesa was elected President of Poland.
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