“For Your Freedom and Ours”

Poland’s Solidarność and the British Left, 1980 –1989


  • Tom Palmer




Solidarność, Solidarity, Poland, British Left, British labour movement, tade unions, East-West relations


Across Western Europe the emergence of Poland’s Solidarność, the first independent trade union in a communist state, elicited varied responses. While the assistance pro- vided to Polish workers from continental European has been addressed, the solidar- ity effort in Britain is scarcely understood. Building on Stefan Berger and Norman LaPorte’s previous work, this article investigates the response of the British labour movement across the UK. While the British Left’s response is typically considered lukewarm, this article exposes the discrepancy between the efforts of rank-and-file labour activists and the leadership of key institutions. Drawing upon oral histories with contemporaneous activists, trade union archives, and prominent left-wing publi- cations, it is apparent that this distinction was present in the Trades Union Congress, large trade unions, and the Labour Party. Understanding British solidarity with So- lidarność ultimately elucidates the permeability of the Iron Curtain and contributes to an understanding of the role East-West socio-political interactions played in the demise of the Soviet Union.