Labour History Review

The Transnational Scope of Western Labour's Solidarity with Solidarność

Labour History Review (2010), 75, (1), 60–75.


Western solidarity with Solidarność had a surprisingly limited transnational scope. It was mainly organized within particular nation states and coloured by domestic factors. If there was international collaboration, this was mainly bilateral with Poland, and not multilateral between different Western countries. International organizations involved in the solidarity campaign, such as the ICFTU, the WCL, and the ILO, could hardly break open borders within the Atlantic world (see abbreviations at the end). The limited transnational character of the solidarity with Solidarność is in contrast with the scope of other social movements focusing on an international issue. The anti-apartheid movement, for instance, has even been called a key factor in the development of present-day global politics. Two possible reasons for this contrast are explored. A first major difference is that anti-apartheid was a grassroots movement, while solidarity with Poland was coordinated by old social movements, such as Church organizations, and, especially, trade unions. The article argues, however, that this hardly accounts for the different transnational scope. A much more important explanation is the fact that anti-apartheid, focusing on the South, did not cause much controversy, while solidarity, focusing on the East, interfered with Western trade unions' programmes and contacts. As a consequence, the amount and nature of support for Solidarność differed between the different countries. The same applies other East–West movements, such as the peace movement.

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Author details

Goddeeris, Idesbald