Remembering a hero on the Day of Mourning

By Lynda Zorn
BC FORUM Delegate to the North Okanagan Labour Council

Anna Walentynowicz 1929-2010

With Day of Mourning fast approaching, my thoughts are increasingly preoccupied with one of my heroes. Anna Walentynowicz died earlier this month in a plane crash that also claimed the life of Polish President Lech Kacynski.
Ms. Walentynowicz began her working life early, as a maid, when at the age of 10, during the Second World War, she found herself orphaned. She later became a welder, then a crane operator, working in the same Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk as Lech Walesa.
Originally a Communist Party member, her values increasingly conflicted with the party's, with two events reported as being the catalyst for her inimitable reactions.
The first happened in Gdansk in December 1970, when 50-80 workers (reports vary) were shot down by police as they protested food shortages. Each December thereafter, Anna was arrested for collecting money for flowers to memorialize the workers.
The second event that instigated the beginning of the most profound changes in the labour movement in Poland was when one of her bosses stole money from the employees for a lottery.
Anna was not only the editor of the Polish labour newsletter, Robotnik Wybreza (Coastal Worker), she personally distributed the illegal newpaper at the shipyards, even hand delivering it to her bosses.
For her actions in these illegal trade union activities, Anna Walentynowicz was fired just after Lech Walesa's dismissal. She was due to retire in just 5 months.
The workers galvanized into strike action at the Gdansk yards, a strike that paralyzed the Baltic Coast, led to a giant wave of strikes across the country and, eventually Solidarity.
Ms. Walentynowicz has starred in 4 movies, most notably (as herself) in Iron Man. She was awarded the Truman Raegan Medal of Freedom in Washington, and President Kaczynski presented to her the Order of the White Eagle.
I award this gutsy provacateur the title, First Lady of Labour.


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