Workers bid farewell to the doomed yards of Gdansk

The monument to the shipyard workers of Gdansk bears three anchors, to symbolise hope. But hope is in short supply as the shipyard, birthplace of Solidarity, is finally being closed after 17 years of financial problems and attempted restructuring.

The Polish government is mumbling about a deal to save the yard involving a joint programme with the profitable Szczecin shipyards, but the future looks bleak.

After being threatened with closure in 1980, then again in 1988, the Gdansk yards were reprieved, to limp along during the early Nineties while their champion, Lech Walesa, was President of the Republic.

Mr Walesa returned to work in the shipyard briefly when he lost the presidential elections n 1995, but his time there was short-lived. He went back to work, he said, because without a presidential pension, he had no money to support his family of eight children. After this stunt, the government passed a new law allowing for ex-presidents to receive a pension. Now he spends his time between the Lech Walesa Institute, where he gives interviews, lecture tours abroad, and the new house he is building in Warsaw's exclusion Oliwa district.

An air of resignation hangs over the town as the remaining 3,800 men are given their cards and prepare to search for jobs. But resignation is the preserve of the townsfolk. The workers are angry, as evidenced by the daily protests in the past weeks, not only in this port but throughout Poland.

At the Lenin yard, Wojciech Kowalczyk is clocking in for his final shift, as he waits to be laid off the following day. "They said they would reconstruct Gdansk for the city's millennium this year," he says, "but this is what they meant. This is their gift to us. The yard could stay open if only we had support."

Mr Kowalczyk has been a locksmith at the yard since he left school, and earns 700 zloty a month (pounds 140) for a 55-hour week. He will receive no redundancy pay. The local job agency says there are nearly 1,500 jobs vacant in the region - a figure disputed by Solidarity - but none of them is related to the shipping industry. "I don't know what I will do now," Mr Kowalczyk, says. "There is no work, and I am angry."

The announcement of the shipyard's closure was extremely bad timing; simultaneously, the "Order of the White Eagles" - a medal of honour - was being awarded by President Aleksander Kwasniewski to Mieczyslaw Rakowski, the former prime minister who tried in vain to close the Lenin yard in 1988. "The President is trying to destroy people," said the widow of a shipyard worker. "Rakowski gets a medal, while we go to the unemployment office."

On the other side of the tram lines, workers whose shifts are over cram into a small, smoke-filled bar. One, nearing 65, is worried about his pension. "I'm due to retire," he says. "I don't know whether my pension is secure. But at least I don't have to worry about work. It's the young men I feel sorry for." Another rails at Lech Walesa, sparking a fierce argument. "Walesa has abandoned us. I was at school with him, but he has forgotten us. He is a pig. Anyway, he is nothing now. He is just a small man."

They are angry at what they see as a political move to crush the yard by the government, which is largely composed of former communists, and with the bank which denied them a crucial loan to fulfil orders for five ships.

But the protests in Gdansk have been a muted affair, poorly attended by the public, in spite of their sympathy for the men.

At a special Mass at St Brigitte's Church celebrated by Fr Henryk Jankowski, a high-profile priest known in the West for his anti-Semitic views, the ageing congregation fills the collection plates with money for the workers. Stanislaw Kaczmarek, 70, has come to pray for them. "I pray daily that the yard won't close," he says. "I live near here, and I remember everything that happened in 1970. I saw it all." As Poland shuffles ever nearer to the European Union, all sorts of jobs are in danger, not just those of the shipyard workers. Since the Eighties the yard has been a financial liability, but no one has managed to close it because it has never been free of political symbolism.

The yard's director, appointed in 1995, was given until 28 February this year to save the yard, or sell it. Its book value is $88m (pounds 55m), but one reputed offer was for as little as $20m.

Now, the only real hope is a slim one: that a deal can be forged with the Gdynia yard 32km up the coast and the Szczecin yard 300km away. Gdynia has a full order book until mid-1998, and will deliver 12 vessels worth $400m this year. The proposal would involve bank loans to finance production of five ships for a Polish company, Polska Zegluga Morska, which would provide work for 2,000 of the 3,800 workers. Analysts are sceptical. They say the proposal would endanger Szczecin's strong position, and that without deadlines and guarantees, it would be nothing more than a state subsidy with political motives.

In the meantime, the workers and Solidarity will continue protesting.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Development Manager (District Heating)

£55000 Per Annum plus company car and bonus scheme: The Green Recruitment Comp...

Lead Hand - QC

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Hand - QCProgressive are recruiting...

Chemical Engineer/Project Coordinator

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn