So, there I was in Gdansk in August 2005 for some impressive ceremonies to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1980 August agreements that showed the Solidarity movement gathering strength to negotiate successfully with the Polish communist regime.
The UK was represented by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who growled at some length to me in the margins about just how ghastly it had been for him back in the 1980s to hear Polish trades unionists lauding Margaret Thatcher when she was busy shutting coal-mines. Even worse, when Polish shipping union workers from Solidarity had come to the UK for fraternal discussions, they all had been ‘bluddy professors’!
Still, when the time came he managed to emit some words that finessed the point well enough during an erection act ceremony (sic):
As a lifelong trade unionist I’m proud that Solidarity showed the power of trade unionism as a peaceful path to democracy and justice, British deputy PM John Prescott said at the signing of an erection act ceremony. The courage of the men and women of Solidarity, who put forth demands for simple, but how meaningful changes, aroused our admiration then and makes us proud to be able to honour them today, Prescott said in his address.
Here is a beautiful short clip of Mrs Thatcher’s historic visit to Gdansk in 1988, where she insisted on meeting Lech Walesa and helped push forward the downfall of one-party rule.
This visit built on the visit by Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe in 1985 when he laid flowers at the grave of Father Popieluszko amidst cheering Solidarity supporters – as he told me later, one of the greatest moments of his political career.
If there is one thing the Left really can’t forgive about Margaret Thatcher, it is the fact that she strode straight into the face of European communism and said Stop, to tremendous popular acclaim from workers and intellectuals alike.