Thousands cheer the first Polish pope, John Paul II, as he celebrates mass in Gdansk, Poland. Many carry the red-and-white logos of the Solidarity trade union.
Photograph by James L. Stanfield, National Geographic

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  • On August 31, 1980, the trade union Solidarity was founded at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk, Poland. Solidarity became a symbol of anti-communism in the 1980s, and inspired other groups to oppose the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc governments.
     
    Solidarity was never simply a labor union. Although led by dockworker Lech Walesa, the union included leaders of the Catholic Church (who sought support from the Polish Pope John Paul II); students; and intellectuals who opposed the authoritarian government of Poland. At its height, nearly a third of all Poles were members of Solidarity. 
     
    The military government of Poland tried to silence Solidarity and other critics by imposing strict martial law. When those rules were relaxed and semi-free elections were held for the first time in 1989, Lech Walesa was elected president. 
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    authoritarian Adjective

    form of leadership where individual power is limited and the power of a single leader or group of leaders is strengthened.

    Catholic Adjective

    having to do with the Christian denomination with the Pope as its leader.

    critic Noun

    opponent of a policy.

    Eastern Bloc Noun

    (1945-1989) states and nations in central and eastern Europe under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union.

    election Noun

    selection of people to public office by vote.

    found Verb

    to start or establish something.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    inspire Verb

    to influence to act.

    intellectual Adjective

    having to do with knowledge, or a knowledgeable person.

    labor Noun

    work or employment.

    martial law Noun

    legal system established and enforced by the military.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    oppose Verb

    to be or act against something.

    pope Noun

    leader of the Catholic Church.

    Soviet Union Noun

    (1922-1991) large northern Eurasian nation that had a communist government. Also called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR.

    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

    union Noun organization of workers formed to protect the rights and interests of its members.