Poland's shipbuilders face ruin

Gdansk, the birthplace of Solidarity movement, may be living on borrowed time.


    If the EU forces the yard to pay back
    government subsidies it may have to close
    The future of Poland's Gdansk shipyard, once the birthplace of the country's Solidarity movement, is now in doubt.

    It is the yard that launched not just a thousand ships, but also a cry for freedom that was heard around the world.

    The Gdansk shipbuilders are proud of their history - but now they worry they are on borrowed time.

    Back in communist days it took courage for the shipbuilders to come out on strike - they locked themselves into the yard and formed an independent union, known as Solidarity, or "workers standing together", which took on the might of the Soviet bloc.

    Today there are still new ships to build, but orders are slowing down - and if the European Union makes the yard pay back government subsidies, it may be forced to close.

    'Scrap metal'

    Baranowski has worked in the shipyards
    for 23 years
    Brunon Baranowski is a foreman, in charge of the monthly wages at Gdansk.

    He has worked here for 23 years and took part in Solidarity's struggle - but he is bitter that the yard's future is now in doubt.

    "I feel like an old hammer that has done its job and can now be thrown away for scrap metal," he says.

    "The politicians of the European Union have no idea about shipbuilding. They do not understand how this yard should function."

    Much of the shipyard already lies abandoned and many thousands of jobs have already been lost, so the city of Gdansk has to reinvent itself and look for new ways to secure its future.

    A younger generation is more likely to be building websites than ships. For example, one internet company started in a local garage 12 years ago now employs 200 young people.

    'Yesterday's man'

    e will always remember places where justice was born, like the Gdansk shipyard

    With the Solidarity struggle becoming a blurred memory for many of the younger generation, its leader, Lech Walesa, is beginning to look like yesterday's man.

    These days he enjoys the role of Gdansk's elder statesman; warning the world that it cannot just abandon the famous shipyard.

    "In the future, when we have real European unity and globalisation, we will want to forget the bad things in our history, like wars," says Walesa.

    "But we will always remember places where justice was born, like the Gdansk shipyard."

    "We can't destroy it; future generations will not forgive us."

    Back at the yard, Brunon is still hoping that a new foreign investor will step in.

    However, he - and the other brave men who helped bring down communism - are learning that the free market is not always kind.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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