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Crane Operator Whose 1980 Firing Started Solidarity Begins Strike

March 18, 1991

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ The crane operator whose 1980 firing triggered the labor protest that gave birth to Solidarity organized a wildcat strike today at the Gdansk shipyard.

About 500 people began the occupation strike at 7 a.m. to demand higher pay and push for quicker privatization of the shipyard.

The strike was organized by Anna Walentynowicz, who founded the Independent Trade Union after splitting with Solidarity and its former chairman, Lech Walesa, who is now president of Poland.

Walesa, then an electrician, scaled the shipyard fence and took charge of an August 1980 strike that began over management’s attempt to fire Ms. Walentynowicz.

″Solidarity (now) has nothing in common with Solidarity ... our paths, Solidarity’s and Walesa’s, have parted,″ Ms. Walentynowicz said. ″I have been working in the shipyard for 40 years and I am getting pocket money.″

The strikers - whose action is not recognized by the yard’s official unions - want pay raises, cost of living increases and an additional payment of $157 for February.

The strikers also said they fear hundreds of Soviet workers will be hired at low salaries. Shipyard management, which has had trouble attracting Polish workers, has said it is considering hiring Soviet workers.

Ms. Walentynowicz’s demands were presented to the shipyard management today. Management said it could not afford to raise the workers’ pay.

The state-owned shipyard on the Baltic is being transformed into a joint stock company with the intention of attracting foreign investors. But its future has been uncertain since 1988, when the then-Communist government said it would close the yard as an unprofitable enterprise.

The shipyard’s Solidarity chapter did not immediately support the strike, and Deputy Chairman Jerzy Borowczak said early returns from a referendum showed workers did not back the protest.

He said the Solidarity unit would meet Tuesday when the full results of the vote were known and decide whether to participate in the occupation.

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