From Electrician to President

Lech Walesa was elected as president of Poland in December of 1990. He probably spent some time wondering how something like that could ever happen. Poland had for many years been a Communist country. Communist governments didn't hold free elections. In a Communist country, the people voted for the one candidate approved by the Communist Party. How had Lech, a factory electrician, come to the high office he held?

Lech Walesa was born on September 29, 1943. His father was a carpenter. His mother tended to her children. Instead of attending high school like most American children do, Walesa went to vocational school after finishing primary school. A vocational school teaches students skills they will be able to use in factories and other trades. After vocational school, Lech went to work at the shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, as an electrician. He married and is the father of eight children.

Walesa did not like the way Communists ruled Poland. Communist rules were hard to live by. The government made almost all of the decisions. The government owned almost all businesses. The government decided how much money a person could make and how much it would cost a person to live. Walesa and other workers banded together in an attempt to form labor unions with no Communist ties.

The leaders of the government did not like for the people to oppose their decisions. They tried to disband the unions. In 1970, the workers at the Gdansk shipyard decided to go on strike in an attempt to make the government let them form non-Communist unions. Police were sent to the shipyards to make the workers go back to their jobs. Fighting broke out and eighty workers were killed. As one of the leaders of the striking workers, Walesa was arrested for "anti-social behavior." He was sent to prison for a year.

In 1976, Walesa took part in a petition drive. He and some of his co-workers collected signatures on a petition. The petition asked that money be put aside by the government to build a memorial to the workers killed in 1970. Because Lech took part in the signature drive, he was fired from his job at the shipyard. The Communists made sure he was not able to get another job at any other shipyard.

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