She adhered to the principle: people help other people
On 14 August 1980, the workers of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk stopped working. They demanded that Anna Walentynowicz, Andrzej Kołodziej and Lech Wałęsa should be reinstated as shipyard employees – the three had been fired for their activity in the underground Free Trade Unions. They also demanded: erecting a monument to the victims of the shipyard workers’ massacre carried out by the communist authorities in December 1970, salary increase, cost-of-living allowance, increase of family allowance to the level obtained by the militia and, finally, guarantee of safety for those on strike.
Following the preliminary agreement with the shipyard management, Lech Wałęsa declared a sit-in strike – the strikers made it impossible for the shipyard to function. Two Inter-factory Strike Committees were established, one in Szczecin and one in Gdańsk – together they included several hundred factories. The protest escalated; therefore, the authorities constituted governmental commissions who arrived in Gdańsk to negotiate with the strikers.
The negotiations lasted for 2 weeks. On 30 and 31 August 1980 the so-called Gdańsk Agreements, also referred to as August Agreements, were signed. The first of 21 postulates signed on 31 August in Gdańsk guaranteed the establishment of independent trade unions. NSZZ “Solidarity” (Independent Self-Governing Trade Union) was the first legal independent trade union in the Eastern Bloc. The August events initiated the transformation of 1989, the fall of communism in Poland and the subsequent disintegration of the Yalta order.
In August 1980, Alina Pienkowska, a nurse, informed Jacek Kuroń about the strike at the shipyard. He in turn informed the Free Europe radio station. She called from the surgery – the authorities did not cut off the telephone lines there. “I uncrossed my arms, all the men conceded,” Bogdan Borusewicz recalls the moment when the strike began to crumble. Pienkowska, meanwhile, stood at the gate no. 3 and agitated the men to continue. “I used to think women were like flowers, they needed to be looked after, they were not cut out for politics,” Lech Wałęsa admitted. “It was Alina who changed my opinion on the matter.” She wrote down the initial six August Postulates, and developed – together with her colleagues – point 16 which related to healthcare.
Her father, a shipyard worker, took part in the strike of 1970. Behind the closed kitchen door, he would tell her mother about the events he had witnessed. Alina heard his stories, and then read something else in the papers. She was struck by the system’s duplicity.
Having graduated from the nursing college, she started working in the shipyard health service. In June 1978, she joined the Founding Committee of the Free Trade Union (WZZ). “Meeting Bogdan [Borusewicz] turned my life upside down,” she confessed in one of the interviews. “I was terribly impressed by him. I fell head over heels in love, but then the August events began and there was no time for personal matters.” She published articles on bad working conditions, causes of occupational diseases and doctors harried by bureaucracy in Robotnik Wybrzeża. She participated in protests and distributed ephemeral pamphlets.
“I used to tell her: ‘Alinka, it is going to get better in Poland one day,’” Jacek Kuroń recalled. “It is definitely going to be,” she used to reply, “on condition we start to act right now.”
At the time, Alina was the sole guardian of her son from her first marriage. She was threatened with withdrawal of parental rights; she was punished with transfer to other workplaces and deferral of payout of her allowances. Her apartment was regularly searched and she frequently ended up at the detention centre. Following the period of internment during the martial law, she immediately renewed her contacts with the underground and organised accommodation and food. Alina married Bogdan Borusewicz in 1985. She refused to participate in the Round Table Talks, but was elected to the second term Senate (from the “Solidarity” movement electorate); when the term ended, she returned to her job at the surgery. Her friends recall that she truly loved her job.
During the flood of 1997 Alina was on a long awaited leave with her husband. On the third day of their holiday, on her suggestion, they returned to Gdańsk where they collected money and managed to bring to Pomerania children from the families affected by the flood. “Alina did not waste energy on creating her own image – she acted, she used to lose herself in action,” Jadwiga Staniszkis, who cooperated with Alina in the 1980s, recalled. “She adhered to the principle: people help other people.”