Stalwart of the Polish Solidarity Campaign
Friday 29 July 2005
Giles Vernon Hart, campaigner and engineer: born Khartoum 11 November 1949; married 1983 Danuta Gorzynska (one son, one daughter); died London 7 July 2005.
Giles Hart was a tireless campaigner for liberty and human rights. He will be particularly remembered for his work in rallying support throughout the 1980s for Solidarity, the Polish trade union movement, work that has now been recognised with the posthumous award of the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Polish Republic.
The Polish Solidarity Campaign (PSC) was started in August 1980 by three dissident Marxists on holiday in Wiltshire. The occupation strikes in Gdansk and elsewhere were then at their height. Hart was drawn into PSC via a public meeting held in Conway Hall in London at the end of that month, just before the government in Poland conceded the right to form independent self-governing trade unions. Thenceforth he was a stalwart, serving variously as treasurer, secretary and for four years as chairman. As treasurer, he built up the organisation's campaign funds by expanding membership and marketing Solidarity T-shirts by mail order.
PSC was essentially a coalition of the left, bringing together disaffected Marxists, Labour Party activists, young British-born Poles and older representatives of the Polish socialist tradition in exile. The particular target of its campaigning was the Labour Party and the trade unions. Many of the unions had very cosy relations indeed with the puppet unions of the Eastern bloc. In fact the cause of Solidarity acted as a kind of fumigation, driving the fellow travellers out the woodwork.
It was a volatile coalition, marked by schisms and resignations. It was challenged from the right by a second organisation, Solidarity with Solidarity, which appealed more to younger British-born Poles. After the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981 and the "delegalisation" of Solidarity, support for PSC burgeoned, and it had to fight off an attempt at takeover by Trotskyists from the International Marxist Group.
These turbulent and hyper-active times are documented in a history of the campaign, For Our Freedom and Yours (1995), edited by Hart. He was not of this leftist tradition, yet was a crucial ingredient in the glue that kept the organisation together. The phrase was Wiktor Moszczynski's, a PSC veteran to whom it also applies.
Hart came to Solidarity from a strong interest in 20th-century Polish history. He especially admired the Polish spirit during the Second World War. He married a charming Polish wife, Danuta, but did not visit Poland until after the fall of Communism.
While other people came and went, or faded away altogether, particularly in the late Eighties, Hart stuck to the cause with a dogged persistence, organising meetings and demonstrations on significant anniversaries. Bearded then, shaggy-haired and generally trundling a shopping trolley full of T-shirts and leaflets, he kept the flag flying as Poland emerged from Communism. Lech Walesa acknowledged Giles Hart's huge contribution when he visited Britain in December 1989 as the guest of the TUC.
Giles Vernon Hart was born in Khartoum, where his father was Head of English at Gordon College; the family returned to England when Giles was a small child. Educated at Woodhouse Grammar School, in Barnet, north London, he read Mathematics at Royal Holloway College, London University. For many years he was an executive officer at the lighthouse authority Trinity House, where he got into trouble for his union activities. Latterly he was an office-based engineer with BT.
Hart had broad intellectual interests. He was Chairman of the H.G. Wells Society. He was extremely knowledgeable about cinema, and one could always hope to run into him at obscure films at the Goethe-Institut or the National Film Theatre. He was vice-chairman of the Havering branch of the Humanist Society. On the day of his death, in the bus bombing in Tavistock Square on 7 July, he was due to give them a talk on the lesser-known works of Lewis Carroll. Now that distinctive flat voice is stilled.
In recent years Giles Hart had instituted the Polish Solidarity Campaign annual picnic, held in September in Battersea or latterly Ravenscourt Park, to keep alive the memory and fellowship of common struggles.
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