Lech Walesa: 'My work here is done'

Lech Walensa

"My work here is done." Twenty-five years after leading Poland to its first democratic elections, that is the message of the former Polish solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

"I've done my job here, I fought with communism and now... democracy prevails," says the 71-year-old, who still lives in the picturesque town of Gdansk in northern Poland, home to the shipyards where he made his name leading the strikes that would eventually become the catalyst for the fall of Soviet communism.

"If somebody had told me [when I was younger] that I would be the leader to bring down communism... I never would have believed them. That is why I am the happiest man in the whole galaxy."

But Mr Walesa, who went on to be Poland's president as it transformed into a capitalist economy, is not entirely satisfied with the way things have worked out.

"Under communism everybody was equally poor and now some people - not necessarily the smartest - have wealth and most people don't have it."

Souvenir shop in Gdansk The souvenir shop at the famous Gate 2 shipyard in Gdansk

The historic shipyards where he worked are no longer the economic force they once were. The famous Gate 2 - centre of the solidarity strikes - is now a tourist attraction with a souvenir shop beside it. There is more activity further along the docks - but parts of it are an expansive wasteland.

As we arrive, the final touches are being made to a ship by workers at the Gdansk Shipyard Group Towers (GSG Towers).

Poland's path to a free market

After seven years and tens of millions pounds, it may be the last ship to be made from start to finish by this particular company, which went bankrupt in 1997 before being bought up by new investors the following year.

The shipyard was designed to make big ships that need big investments with big lead times, explains Adam Kowalski, vice-president as GSG Towers, and the market now is about small ships. In addition the global competition means that it is just not economically viable anymore.

"We have diversified into three businesses now - wind farms and turbines, offshore constructions such as oil and gas platforms and pieces of ships for bigger customers," he says.

A ship in Gdansk shipyard One of the few big ships still being built at the Gdansk shipyards

It's a thoroughly capitalist story of adapting to the market to survive, symbolic of Poland's transition from communism, and the way that it has embraced capitalism.

Start Quote

Quality was like a weather forecast - you just hoped everything would work out well.”

End Quote

Of all the former communist states, it has been the most economically successful. It has seen steady, uninterrupted growth and was the only EU country to avoid recession after the financial crisis.

At the other end of the country from the shipyards, in southern Poland lies the manufacturing plant of Fiat Poland - or FSM as it was known in its state-owned communist days.

When Fiat bought the company in 1992 it was one of the first major privatisations by a foreign investor post-communism. The Italian company streamlined the operation to turn it from a loss-making business into a highly efficient, profitable one with state-of-the-art technology.

Fiat poland in the 1930s Fiat's history in Poland dates back to 1921
Syrena car After World War Two Poland ended its contract with Fiat. During the communist era the state owned car firm FSM made the Syrena car
Fiat 126 made in the 1970s In a secret ceremony in 1965 Poland signed an agreement to make Fiat cars again
Fiat 500 The Fiat 500 is made in the Tychy plant in the south of Poland

FSM used to make lawnmowers, bikes, shaving equipment and even machetes for Cuba with which to cut sugar cane. Now the factory just makes cars - churning out 4,700 a week (with another plant making powertrains).

The workers at its plant in Tychy describe a complete transformation.

"The conditions were very different from the 70s... the level of hygiene is nothing to compared with conditions we have now, " says Jozef Filipiak.

"We used to joke that whoever was the least hygienic went further up in this company."

Indeed in the company's own handbook the former boss of FSM is quoted as saying: "Quality was like a weather forecast - you just hoped everything would work out well."

It goes on to say that FSM operated "like a confederation of 20 independent and spread out entities, each managed as a separate company, frequently competing against each other".

Fiat Poland workers Wojciech Checinski and Jozef Filipiak have both worked at this car plant since the 1970s

The workers who've been there since the communist days don't remember it all badly. One tells me about the cheap holidays the company used to provide for workers, in the Polish countryside or on the Black Sea, and another about the childcare facilities. There's a sense that while it may all be more modern now they've lost some of their security.

Their livelihoods depend on the success of the company - and they know from bitter experience that when the factory makes fewer cars, jobs will go.

"I remember in the 70s we had only a part of production and took no wider responsibility," says Wojciech Checinski. "Now if we don't make the car we have no money."

But for the moment the future at Fiat Poland looks bright. Production of the next generation Fiat 500 will be ramped up towards the end of next year and a new five-door version is expected to be built there in early 2016.

As Poland builds on its transition to capitalism - one man is watching the country especially carefully.

"I'm an old man and I'm thinking about the other life," says Lech Walesa.

"I will be watching from up there and looking at what you're doing down below."

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    08:57: Greek election BBC Radio 4

    Mr Varoufakis tells Today he wants to tell German voters the problem isn't that they haven't paid Greece enough to save its economy but that they have paid far too much - €240bn - in the last five years. The problem, he says, is that only 10% of that money has gone to the Greek government; the rest has gone "into a black hole of debt."

     
  2.  
    08:43: Greek election BBC Radio 4

    Mr Varoufakis quotes Dylan Thomas (which doesn't happen every day on the live page). The glimmer of light he says came on Sunday when the Greek electorate chose "to stop going gently into the night and to rage against the dying of the light." Now Greece can have a rational conversaation with its European partners about what to do next, he says.

     
  3.  
    08:37: Paper review
    papers

    Unsurprisingly, this morning's papers are united in leading on the Greek election result. The Times reports Greece "sent shockwaves across Europe," while the FT calls it a "momentous poll victory" for Syriza. The Wall St Journal says an "astonishing upset of Europe's political order" is on the cards, while the Telegraph puts Greece on a "collision course" with the rest of Europe.

     
  4.  
    08:24: Greek elections BBC Radio 4

    Yanis Varoufakis, who has just been elected to parliament in this weekend's Greek poll and has been talked of as a possible finance minister talks to Today. He says Europe, in its infinite wisdom, responded to Greece going bankrupt by "unloading the largest loan in human history on the weakest of shoulders.... on condition that the bankrupted nation was going to have to shrink its income by a quarter". He adds: "An eight or nine-year-old can understand this will not end well. What we have had since... is a kind of fiscal water boarding policies that have turned Greece into a debt colony."

     
  5.  
    08:16: Greek elections BBC Radio 4

    There are "some pretty hardcore" anti-capitalist, anti-austerity, anti NATO, anti-negotiation, anti-Europe members of Syriza, Constantine Buhayer, Greek country analyst at Jane's Intelligence tells Today. Alexis Tsipras is at the head of a political coalition that includes Maoists and Communists, he says, so keeping all of those moving parts together while trying to renegotiate the Greece's bailout terms will not be easy.

     
  6.  
    08:01: Greek election BBC Radio 4

    "The obligation on the eurozone is to come forward with an economic policy that delivers jobs and growth," Mr Osborne tells Today. It's not just about the public finances. Alongside fiscal responsibility, you have to active monetary policy and create environments in which businesses want to invest, Mr Osborne adds.

     
  7.  
    07:46: Rolls-Royce engines
    mtu

    Rolls-Royce's MTU business, which makes large diesel engines, has won a €100m order for freight locomotive engines for South African trains. The 20-cylinder engines, pictured, kick out 3,300 kilowatts of power.

     
  8.  
    07:35: Greek election BBC Radio 4

    Speaking about the huge support for Syriza, Chancellor George Osborne tells the Today programme that with the Greek economy suffering: "I can understand why you are looking for other answers". But he adds, the party's election promises will be "very difficult" to implement. He urged Syriza and eurozone policymakers to "act responsibly" over any forthcoming renegotiation of Greece's bailout.

     
  9.  
    07:27: Aer Lingus bid
    Aer Lingus jets parked in an airport

    Aer Lingus has confirmed that it has received a revised offer from British Airways owner IAG, which values the Irish flag carrier at €2.55 per share and therefore a little above €1.3bn. It says it is releasing the information "without the prior agreement or approval of IAG". Aer Ligus advises shareholders to do nothing at this stage adding it is "considering" the proposal.

     
  10.  
    07:14: Cleaning up in windows

    Safestyle UK - they of the shouty window man adverts - reported 2014 revenue increased 9% to £136m. It expects pre-tax profit will meet market expectations of £16.7m, it said.

     
  11.  
    SSE lowers gas prices by 4.1% Breaking News
    Gas rings on a cooker.

    SSE is the latest energy supplier to lower its gas prices. It says it will cut its main gas tariff by 4.1% on 30 April and extend its household gas and electricity price guarantee - meaning prices won't go up - to at least July 2016.

     
  12.  
    06:59: Greek elections BBC Breakfast
    bbc

    "The question is how Syriza is going to deliver," says Lena Komileva of G+ Economics on Breakfast. Promising to rehire workers and its other campaign pledges "without running Greece into an economic catastrophe" will be difficult to do, she says. Negotiating some leeway with the European Central Bank, European Union and International Monetary Fund - the institutions to which it owes money - will be the likely plan, she adds.

     
  13.  
    06:46: Greek elections BBC Radio 4

    So now Syriza has won this weekend's Greek election, what happens next? There are going to have to be some renegotiations. That might lead to something being put to the European Commission that can bring about a deal, Greek economist, Vicky Pryce tells Today. She says "of course, they're [the EU] not going to like it ..... and will say at first no way are we going to do a deal with you". But eventually the EU will have to negotiate, she says.

     
  14.  
    06:32: Tax collection Radio 5 live

    More on tax. Wake Up to Money presenter Adam Parsons asks, if you pay your tax, surely there's no problem? "People will always do things which are sometimes debateable if tax is payable or not," says Mr Bullock. Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK says £137m is a "paltry effort compared to the amount of tax not being paid."

     
  15.  
    06:21: Tax collection Radio 5 live

    James Bullock, a partner at Pinsent Mason specialising in tax is on Wake Up to Money. A crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion by people who HM Revenue & Customs call "mass affluent" netted 60% more money in 2014, his firm's report says. It raised £137.2m in tax, up from £85.7m in 2013. Mr Bullock warned on not damaging the economy, as "an HMRC investigation can be a very time intensive procedure" and can leave people unsure what they owe.

     
  16.  
    06:10: Greek election Radio 5 live

    More from Kerry Craig from JPMorgan on Wake Up to Money. "We are likely to see an extension of 6 months to the bailout agreement" to Greece, he says. "I don't think you'll see the Greek 10 year bonds test the highs we saw.... more and more you aren't seeing the markets price in contagion..." as Italian and Spanish bond yields are also lower than before, indicating less concern among investors, he says.

     
  17.  
    06:01: Greek election Radio 5 live
    Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Syriza party and Greece's new Prime Minister

    There'll be a great deal of interest in the Greek election from the markets and Kerry Craig from JPMorgan Asset Management is on Wake Up to Money to talk about them. "The market reaction will be fairly muted" immediately after the election since anti-austerity party Syriza was tipped to win by polls, he says.

     
  18.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning. Get in touch via email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or twitter @BBCBusiness

     
  19.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning everyone. BHS owner Sir Philip Green says he is considering selling the department store chain, the euro has dived after the anti austerity Syriza party won this weekend's snap election in Greece and Aer Lingus is believed to be ready to accept a takeover bid from British Airways owner IAG. We'll bring you reaction to the Greek election result, plus anything else we unearth, as it happens.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • Water droplets bouncing off a laser-etched water repellent metal surfaceClick Watch

    The laser-etched metal surfaces that repel water, plus other technology news

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.