In the 1970s and early 1980s, Polish blue-collar workers embarked on a series of mass
protests against the country’s communist regime. In large measure, these early protests
were a response to widespread governmental corruption and a failing economy. The government’s
announcement, in December of 1970, of increases in food prices put a further strain
on an already heavily burdened citizenry and set in motion a series of events that
led to the formation in 1980 of the Solidarity Movement. The early actions and protests
in Poland represented a milestone in the development of group cohesion and consciousness
among disparate groups of Polish workers. The events laid the groundwork for the 1980
worker strikes at the Gdansk Shipyard, wherein workers, led by electrician Lech Walesa,
demanded higher pay, more rights, and called for the formation of independent trade
unions. The “Solidarity” trade union, which was the first nationwide workers’ organization
not controlled by the Communist party, grew out of the Gdansk strikes. Solidarity
eventually broadened its scope to encompass a call for relaxation of censorship, new
rights for the church, the freeing of political prisoners, and improvements in the
country’s health service.
When martial law was declared by the Polish government in December of 1981, the Solidarity
union and its affiliated organizations were banned. They remained officially illegal
until early 1989 when they helped bring about semi-free elections. These elections
were the first time that non-Communist Party candidates were allowed to appear on
Polish ballots. Solidarity secured this concession following negotiations—known as
the Round Table Talks-- between the government and the Solidarity-led opposition.
The elections were an overwhelming success for Solidarity and by the end of August
of 1989 a Solidarity-led coalition government was in place. In December of 1990 Lech
Walesa was elected President of Poland.
Visual, print, and broadcast media played a significant role in the Solidarity Movement.
The artwork of the Solidarity movement, particularly the posters and handouts created
by the Polish Poster School (a mid-to-late twentieth century approach/school of art
that combined the aesthetics of painting with the succinctness and simple metaphor
of the poster) were a pivotal aspect of the Solidarity movement’s success. Posters
from this school, particularly the iconic work by graphic designer Jerzy Janiszewski,
who created a style of writing known as Solidaric that features a red and white Polish
flag growing up from the “n” in the word “Solidarnosc,” (intended to represent individual
people united in a common cause) as well as the work of Tomasz Sarnecki, whose poster
featuring an image of Gary Cooper from the 1952 film “High Noon” and the phrase “High
Noon, June 4, 1989,” along with the work of many other artists comprise a powerful
part of Solidarity’s legacy and were critical to the movement’s success.
Just as visual media played an important role in Solidarity’s eventual overthrow of
Poland’s communist regime, print and other news media also were fundamental to the
movement’s accomplishments. In addition to Solidarity’s own newspaper, Solidarnosic
(which was initially printed on presses in the Gdansk shipyard), by the mid-1980s
the movement produced over 500 underground publications and broadcast political messages
over pirate radio stations including Solidarity Radio. Well into the late 1980s, English
and Polish Language newspapers, such as The Warsaw Voice and Gazeta Wyborcza (The
Election Gazette) which were printed and distributed in Poland, were important and
vital means for informing, inspiring, and empowering Solidarity’s members and the
Polish citizenry as a whole.
The Solidarity collection has been divided into six series:
Series I. Posters
Series II. Political cartoons
Series III. Periodicals
Series IV. Handouts
Series V. Ephemera
Series VI. Exhibit materials
The Solidarity collection includes political memorabilia and newspapers from the Polish
Solidarity movement senate and parliamentary campaigns of 1989 and is 7.5 linear feet.
The collection consists chiefly of posters and newspapers, but also includes handouts
and printed ephemera from the monumental 1989 elections.
The collection is divided into six series, primarily based on format. Series I contains
nearly 200 posters, and is divided into two sub-series. The posters in sub-series
I.A. are largely materials related to the Solidarity movement as a whole. In addition,
this sub-series contains posters designed to encourage citizens to vote in the 1989
elections. The posters vary in size and style, some exemplifying the Polish Poster
School (a mid to late twentieth century approach that combined the aesthetics of painting
with the succinctness and simple metaphor of the poster).
The posters in sub-series I.B. depict individual senate and parliamentary candidates.
These posters are uniform in style and color and all include a photograph of the candidates
posing with Lech Walesa.
Series II includes Solidarity-themed political cartoons. The series is comprised of
(10) 14 ¼” x 10 ¼” black and white posters printed on white cardstock drawn by the
artist Chodovowski and a large collection of 8 ½ x 11 cartoons by Agnieszka I. Adi.
Series III is comprised of editions of Polish newspapers published during 1988 and
1989 and contains two sub-series. Sub-series II.A. contains issues of the English-language
paper, The Warsaw Voice. Sub-series II.B. is made up of copies of the Polish-language
paper Gazeta Wyborcza as well as single issues of Tygodnik Solidarnosc, Samorzadna,
Rzeczpospolita, Zwrotnica, and Niespodzianka Dziekujemy, all of which are Polish-language
Series IV includes election-related handouts, instructional voting materials, and
individual candidate materials. The material in this series ranges in size from 6”
x 8 ½” to 8 ½” x 11” and is housed in three folders according to category (political
handouts, instructional voting materials, and handouts for individual senate candidates).
The bulk of Series V is housed in a single folder that contains a variety of Solidarity-themed
postage stamps, stickers, postcards, handouts. In addition, this series includes a
white plastic shopping bag with the word “Solidarnosc” (Solidarity) printed in red,
which is in a separate folder. Series V also contains a hand-written, over-sized Solidarity
candidate speaking engagement scheduling calendar, which tracked events leading up
to the Spring 1989 elections that is housed with the political posters in the map
The material in Series VI is contained in one folder and relates to a 1990 exhibit
of the Solidarity materials in the UMBC Library Gallery entitled, “Solidarity and
The Polish Elections.”
Includes accession MSS 1989-01. The Solidarity collection came to UMBC’s Albin O.
Kuhn Library and Gallery Special Collections as a gift from the Solidarity Central
Committee, by way of UMBC History Professor Colin B. Burke. Professor Burke gathered
the materials while 'on the ground' in Warsaw, Poland during the Polish soft revolution.
He was able to safely get the materials out of the country, and subsequently donated
them to UMBC. All of the materials arrived in a single accession in August of 1989.
The Solidarity collection was donated in 1989 and remained unprocessed until the Fall
of 2012 when processing was undertaken by graduate student Theresa Donnelly under
the supervision of Special Collections Librarian Susan Graham. Processing was completed
and a finding aid written by Theresa Donnelly in February, 2013.
Describing Archives: a Content Standard (DACS)
Archives Processing Manual: Description (2015): The processing manual used in Special Collections for all descriptive platforms, including
Finding Aid available.
Finding Aid: http://library.umbc.edu/speccoll/findingaids/coll106.php
Reproductions allowed for research purposes. Copyright maintained by the creator.
Solidarity (Polish labor organization)
Burke, Colin B., 1936-
Walesa, Lech, 1943-
Extent: 4.5 linear feet
This series contains posters created for the 1989 Solidarity parliamentary and
senate elections. There are two sub-series.
Extent: 41 items (4.5 linear feet)
This series is organized by poster size.
Extent: 176 items
This series is organized alphabetically by candidate name.
Extent: .5 box (.25 linear feet)
This series contains two portfolios of political cartoons. Arranged alphabetically
by the cartoonist's name.
Extent: 2 boxes (2.5 linear feet)
This series contains Polish newspapers published during 1988 and 1989 and is organized
into two sub-series.
Extent: 1 box
This series is organized by date.
This series is organized by title and date.
Extent: .25 box
This series contains political handouts and voting materials from the Solidarity
movement and is arranged by subject.
This series contains materials from the 1990 UMBC Library Gallery Solidarity exhibit,
"Solidarity and the Polish Elections."
Extent: 1 calendar
Items inappropriate for the standard document box have been removed to oversized
boxes. The folder title from which the item was removed is used and the original location
is listed in parentheses.
NSZZ "Solidarność" website. Accessed December 17, 2015. http://www.solidarnosc.org.pl/en/.
Poland After 1945 collections, Hoover Institution. Accessed December 17, 2015. http://www.hoover.org/library-archives/collections/poland-after-1945.
Solidarity and related materials collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
"Making the History of 1989" online exhibit. The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History
and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University. Accessed December 17, 2015. http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/exhibits/intro/poland.