MIAMI — Former Polish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa recalled his time working at the Gdansk Shipyard, where he once fought for workers’ rights and where Sunreef Yachts are built today.
Speaking at a cocktail reception Feb. 15 at the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach, Walesa told a large crowd from the Sunreef Yacht called Abuelo that he still misses the sea, having spent his adult life working in what was then known as the Lenin Shipyard.
“All my adult life I spent on working for ships in the shipbuilding market,” Walesa said via a translator. “But today I’m retired, and my retirement is away from the sea and the shipyard where I was constructing boats. I thank you for your presence here, but mostly I thank [Sunreef Yachts president] Francis Lapp, who brings me closer to the sea.”
The older guests remember, but Walesa wanted to inform younger visitors about the divisions and barriers his generation encountered and surpassed.
“It’s the cause of Solidarity that helped to unify Germany and unify Europe,” Walesa told the group. “And we had such success in Solidarity that we didn’t even know ourselves how to handle it properly. We have to have success, and we should be glad that this generation can enjoy it.”
The former Polish president’s demeanor was relaxed and funny; he elicited laughter from the audience as he complimented Lapp for the beautiful products he builds.
“Unfortunately he still doesn’t build enough boats because in the past the shipyard employed 17,000 people,” Walesa joked. “But he’s still young, and I believe he will multiply and will bring the shipyard that I worked in in the past to success. I’m sure he will make his business, and the people like him at the shipyard will make his business, as well.”
Walesa quipped that perhaps his long speech, which actually was only a few minutes long, would prevent him from being invited back next year.
“But if Francis still dares to invite me, let’s make it here next year and see how our success went for the year,” Walesa said.
Lapp introduced Walesa, also via translator, saying it was his first time at the Miami show.
“I’m also very happy to have an office here in Fort Lauderdale. I can see a huge potential for the company in the U.S., and also in Central and South America,” Lapp said. “Here what is very interesting as a company is the power catamaran market. I see this as growing.”
Walesa’s history with the shipyard is long. In 1967 he was employed in the Gdansk shipyard as an electrician, according to NobelPrize.org.
During a clash in December 1970 between workers and the government, he was one of the leaders of the shipyard workers and was briefly detained. In 1976, however, as a result of his activities as a shop steward, he was fired and had to earn his living by taking temporary jobs.
In 1978, with other activists, he began to organize free non-communist trade unions and took part in many actions on the seacoast. He was kept under surveillance by the state security service and frequently detained.
In August 1980 he led the Gdansk shipyard strike, which gave rise to a wave of strikes over much of the country, with Walesa seen as the leader. The primary demands were for workers' rights. The authorities were forced to capitulate and to negotiate with Walesa the Gdansk Agreement of Aug. 31, 1980, which gave the workers the right to strike and to organize their own independent union.
In 1983, he received the Nobel Peace Prize and he served as Poland’s second president from 1990-1995.
— Reagan Haynes