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Solidarity (Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarity”) began on August 31, 1980 as a Polish trade union federation. The union was created under the leadership of Lech Walęsa in the Gdańsk Shipyard. The Solidarity trade union was significant because it was the first non-communist party-controlled trade union in a Warsaw Pact country. The Warsaw Pact was signed in 1955 and basically allowed the Soviet Union to maintain military control over eight communist states in Central and Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Albania and the Soviet Union). By September 1981 Solidarity’s membership was about one third of the working population in Poland (9.5 million). Not only did Solidarity work for worker’s rights, they were also a group that used civil resistance to invoke social change. The group was initially supported financially by the United States, about 50 million dollars.
In the 1980s the Polish government attempted to destroy the union, but ultimately had to negotiate with them. Solidarity helped to lead the opposition to semi-free elections in 1989 which resulted in the election of Walęsa as the President of Poland in 1990. Solidarity had some connections with the Catholic church, as many members identified as Catholic, and Pope John Paul II publicly supported the group. The Solidarity union’s influence spread beyond Poland throughout the Eastern Bloc creating opposition to the Communist government. In the early 1990s this opposition led to the dismantling of the Eastern Bloc and dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Solidarity movement continues to influence other groups abroad to this day.