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Former Polish President Lech Walesa Opens Exhibit At Reuther Labor Library In Detroit

Published Thursday, November 4, 2010 11:00 am
by The Am-Pol Eagle
Former Polish President Lech Walesa Opens Exhibit At Reuther Labor Library In Detroit

(DETROIT) - Lech Walesa, the former President of Poland, spoke at the opening of the new “Solidarnosc: Poland’s Struggle for Freedom” exhibit at the Walter P. Reuther Labor Library at Wayne State University (WSU) in Detroit.  Pope John Paul II and U.S. President Ronald Reagan are featured prominently in the presentations.  It’s the 30-year anniversary of Solidarity and Wayne State will run the displays until July 1st, 2011.

Walesa also talked about the influence that the Reverend Jerzy Popieluszko had on the unity of Solidarity.  Popieluszko was a Roman Catholic priest in Poland, associated with the Union.  In 1984 he was murdered by agents of the Polish communist internal intelligence agency because of his motivational sermons at Sunday Mass.  Popieluszko has a significant chronicle in the exhibit.

Walesa spoke freely about his own imprisonment by the communist regime because of Union organization and the loss of friends in the Smolensk plane crash recently, including President Lech Kaczynski.  

During a preview luncheon at the WSU McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Walesa had a strong Labor Message of unity.  The former leader of Solidarnosc and U.S. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan (Democrat) had a chance to share ideas and reminisce.

Said Senator Levin: “I was delighted to meet once again with President Walesa this week and to help welcome him to Michigan.  I have long admired his courage and tenacity and his historic role in defeating communism and bringing freedom to the people of Eastern Europe.  When I visited with him in Poland in 1988, I was honored to bring messages of support from people of Michigan.  When he was elected president two years later, it was a great victory over totalitarianism and for free Trade Unions.  It was great to chat with him about the current state of the world.”

Beforehand, Walesa spoke about the Solidarity movement in Poland, saying: “We didn’t have guns or missiles, but we had spirit and faith - and Union Workers need to act as one when facing foes that want to drive them apart.  The spirit is stronger than missiles, tanks and nuclear power.”

Walesa was very open and his words verified the help Solidarnosc received from former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. “When Pope John visited Poland it was more powerful than nuclear weapons and tanks.  Pope John unified the factions, he brought us together.  We got financial help from the Unions in America.  We could not have succeeded without the overseas help,” Walesa added.

The Reuther Labor Library director Michael Smith and staff documented the history of the turbulent time period.  Smith who went to Poland last year to authenticate items and document first person accounts received assistance from local historians and Labor Activists.

Especially unique are the vintage poster displays. Poster Art is a big genre in Poland, and the exhibit is presented in both Polish and English.  

Archivists Dan Golodner, Elizabeth Clemens and librarian Kristen Chinery put on view informative displays with compelling information.  “We got great help from the Polish Mission in Orchard Lake, Michigan, the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers and the United Auto Workers.  They had great stuff from thirty years ago,” Golodner said.

“In the new era of globalization, there is opportunity for peace and prosperity, providing we have some essential reform,” added Walesa, who was folksy with humor and joked about Polish Democracy.  “We have over 100 political parties in Poland and there is a saying: When two Poles talk politics they start another political party.”

“We are equal under God. We are all essentially needed.  We cannot have disproportions between countries or manufacturing plants will transfer from country to country,” Walesa said.

Special visitors to the opening of the exhibit were Marcin Chumiecki of the ‘Polish Mission’ at Madonna College, Piotr Cywinski of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland, Artur Patek of the University of Krakow-Jagiellonian University and Wanda Strozyk, President of Solidarnosc-Fiat.

Strozyk, commenting on current Union situations in Detroit, said: “To the Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) at Delta Airlines, vote and support the Union.  It is a no brainer.  With the Union, Labor can exercise their rights.”  Added Walesa, with Sebastien Szczepanski translating for Strozyk: “Unity is the key for success,”.

Both Walesa and Strozyk were aware of the flight attendants’ vote which is currently in progress at NWA-Delta Airlines.  It affects over 50,000 F/As and Delta is now the largest commercial carrier in the world.  The Labor Leader was ably assisted by translator Magda Iwinska.  Walesa was in New York recently for an Ironworkers rally in Times Square.  He next travelled to Chicago for a political fundraiser.

The Reuther Labor Library was named after the longtime head of the United Auto Workers (1946-1970).  He was famous for raising the standard of living in Middle-America and was famous for a special non-Labor quote: “There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow man. There is no greater contribution than to help the weak. T here is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.”  Reuther and his wife May were killed in a 1979 plane crash near Pellston, Michigan.

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