This book is of notable interest. It reconstructs the history of the dramatic events of the second half of the 20th century that took place in certain eastern European countries, rocking the regimes that had been installed there on the Soviet model in the aftermath of the Second World War. The timeline covers a 40-year period from the 1953 workers’ rebellion in East Berlin, through the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and the ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968, to the Solidarność movement in Poland in 1980-81. They occurred in different phases of European geopolitics, both during and after the end of the Cold War, and had their own national features while sharing significant common traits.
In particular, workers were key instigators of these events and in driving their development. They became protagonists through wildcat strikes and mass demonstrations against low wages and the ever-increasing pace of work that rapid industrialisation demanded of them. Very quickly, however, the authorities’ responses, particularly their harsh repression of the protests’ leaders, lent events an even sharper political overtone: social demands were supplemented by direct challenges of the regimes and began to involve intellectuals and students. East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, where the unrest would soon be crushed by Soviet military intervention, would have to wait until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 before a groundswell for change again emerged and finally ousted their countries’ regimes. The Polish story would develop in a different fashion, although it too reached a positive conclusion in the same timeframe.
By the time it was outlawed manu militari (by force) in December 1981, the independent trade union Solidarność had had enough time to take root, not only in factories but across Polish society in general, and to amass 10 million members. Solidarność went on to win the elections in 1989, a victory that was followed immediately by the birth of a democratic government.
Trade unions continue to play a key role today in the fight for democracy, peace and social progress, against authoritarianism and the rise of the far right, in Europe and outside Europe