In an attempt to solve the Poland's economic problems Edward Gierek instigated an ambitious industrialization programme. This plunged the country into debt and in 1980 the country suffered from severe food shortages.
Lech Walesa, along with some of his friends in the anti-communist trade union movement, founded Solidarnosc (Solidarity). It was not long before the organization had 10 million members and Walesa was its undisputed leader. In August 1980 Walesa led the Gdansk shipyard strike which gave rise to a wave of strikes over much of the country. Walesa, a devout Catholic, developed a loyal following and the communist authorities were forced to capitulate. The Gdansk Agreement, signed on 31st August, 1980, gave Polish workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union.
In 1981 General Wojciech Jaruzelski, replaced Edward Gierek as leader of the Communist Party in Poland. In December 1981, Jaruzelski imposed martial law and Solidarnosc was declared an illegal organization. Soon afterwards Walesa and other trade union leaders were arrested and imprisoned.
In November 1982 Lech Walesa was released and allowed to work in the Gdansk shipyards. Martial law was lifted in July 1983, but there were still considerable restrictions on individual freedom.
Reformers in Poland were helped by the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev had gained power in the Soviet Union. In 1986 Gorbachev made it clear he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe. Wojciech Jaruzelski was now forced to negotiate with Walesa and the trade union movement. This resulted in parliamentary elections and a noncommunist government and in 1989 Solidarnosc became a legal organization.