Our project, Metropolitanka (the Metropolitan woman) reveals stories of Polish political activists, workers of Vladimir Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk and artists who were devoted to this place after democratic transformation. We would like to encourage people running similar projects to cooperate with us.The crew working in Vladimir Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk had a great impact on democratic transformations in Middle East Europe which finally led to the collapse of communism in 1989. You must have heard about Lech Walesa, prizewinner of Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for his political activities. But many more people were involved in work for this political success. What is more, it seems that over years the role of women has been nearly forgotten. Metropolitanka is a project that brings back the memories of the near-forgotten stories of those women (HER Stories). The project is carried out by The City Culture Institute and city residents. Our aim is to pay tribute to all those women, political activists, shipyard workers and artists, who were devoted to Gdańsk Shipyard but, until now, remained anonymous.
Scheduled walks in the post-shipyard areas, visited according to key based on HERstories.
On August 14, the shipyard workers began their strike, organized by the Free Trade Unions of the Coast. The strike was an attempt to reinstate Anna Walentynowicz, recently dismissed worker. She was one of the best crane drivers and a Free Trade Unions of the Coast (WZZ) activist. Alina Pienkowska, who was a nurse and a WZZ activist, conveyed the information about strike and informed Janusz Kuroń (Committee for Defense of the Workers activist) about it. Then he passed the information further and it was broadcasted by Radio Liberty (Radio Wolna Europa). Other employing establishments joined the movement which was supported by public opinion and the society. Strike, supposed to defend fired crane driver evolved and resulted in permission to establish NSZZ “Solidarność” (which can be translated as Independent and Self-governing Trade Union called Solidarity*). It was the first organization of its kind in a country belonging to the Communist Block. Women were doing many things simultaneously: striking, writing and negotiating demands, controlling, preparing meals. Finally, they signed an agreement between the government and the workers called the August Agreement.
Although those events were overused for historical and feature purposes, no one really tried to present it as HERstory. There were over 5 000 women working in Gdańsk Shipyard on different positions such as crane drivers or welders. Despite that, their involvement in the development and prosperity of this place is still underestimated. It should be remembered that they had to combine full-time physical job with household duties. What is more, they had very few promotion prospects despite superficial equality of rights offered by communism. Also, their jobs caused health problems such as asbestosis, allergy or miscarriage. Even worse, women working in the Shipyard were sexually abused, which is proved by a case of a child conceived as a result of the rape.
What were artists doing in the Shipyard – a purely industrial place? Before 1989, it had its own cinema, concert hall, male orchestra and people painting propaganda materials. Someone was also making strike banners. The real boom started after the collapse of communism when some estate agencies bought out part of Vladimir Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk areas. Wanting to make this place more attractive in order to advertise housing developments that were about to be built, they encouraged artists to form a workshop in the Shipyard premises.
As a result, the Artists’ Colony (2001) and The Wyspa Institute of Art (2004) were established. Also, there were numerous independent women artists woring for the Shipyard, such as Iwona Zając, Magdalena Małyjasiak, Agata Nowosielska, Ania Witkowska. We can’t forget about Elżbieta Szczodrowska, a sculptor who co-designed of The Monument of the Fallen Shipyard Workers. This monument became a worldwide recognizable symbol of Gdańsk.
More about Metropolitanka
Metropolitanka is the series of meetings for those who want to listen to HERstories, visit Gdańsk Shipyard and get to know with alternative perception of this famous place. Three routes (“A”, “S” and “P”) will enable that and, hopefully, they will encourage strollers to take part in our project. Every visitor will receive a map with caption.
Our visitors got very involved in the project. Thanks to them, we were able to meet amazing women telling HERstories about Gdańsk Shipyard. They are very inspiring for us. But the story has not come to an end yet. There are still missing elements in their autobiographies, unspoken stories and confessions. These confessions will result in publishing a book about women devoted to Gdańsk Shipyard in 2013. A similar project was conducted by Fundacja Przestrzeń Kobiet (The Women’s Space Foundation). Their work resulted in publishing toll-free books.
That is not the end, though. We have some ideas for other parts of our region. What is more, we collect information about women living in the Pomerania Region. Mutual inspiration, support and cooperation are extremely important for us. That is why we are open to cooperation with other people, institutions and organizations that would like to start some historical projects.
Everyone who would like to visit the Shipyard and follow the women route is invited to Gdańsk. You can also visit our blog (currently, available only in Polish).
Maps to download:
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* A trade union (British English) or labor union (American English) is an organization of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals such as protecting the integrity of its trade, achieving higher pay, increasing the number of employees an employer hires, and better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members (rank and file members) and negotiates labour contracts (collective bargaining) with employers. The most common purpose of these associations or unions is “maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment“.
Translation : Magdalena Ossowska
Proofreading: Michał Ciemiński