Thursday, January 1, 2009

"New Year's Day" - U2, 1983 (post-punk rock)

All is quiet on New Year's Day
A world in white gets underway
I want to be with you
Be with you night and day
Nothing changes on New Year's Day
On New Year's Day

I will be with you again
I will be with you again

Under a blood red sky
A crowd has gathered in black and white
Arms entwined, the chosen few
The newspapers says, says
Say it's true it's true...
And we can break through
Though torn in two
We can be one

I...I will begin again
I...I will begin again

Maybe the time is right
Oh...maybe tonight...

I will be with you again
I will be with you again

And so we're told this is the golden age
And gold is the reason for the wars we wage
Though I want to be with you
Be with you night and day
Nothing changes
On New Year's Day

Happy New Year, Auld Lang Syne, and all that good stuff! Welcome, 2009 today, and in January 1983, Irish rockers U2 broke through the Billboard Top 10 with "New Year's Day", hoping to fan the flames of political unrest in Europe. As is true for all U2 songs, Bono and the gang never actually intended for this one to become an instant pop hit (and eventual rock classic). Even though the band is part of the "entertainment industry", if you know anything about U2 then you know that very little of their music (if any) is written for entertainment. "New Year's Day" is no different. Frontman Bono had originally penned the lyrics as a love song to his wife; however, true to U2 custom, they were eventually re-fashioned to suit a more political purpose. The lyrics we know today were inspired by Poland's Solidarity Movement, co-founded by human rights activist, Lech Walesa.

The Solidarity Movement began in 1980 in the shipyards of Gdansk, Poland. Prior to the forging of Solidarity, Poland experiened a 'shortage economy', which was politically engineered by the oppressing Communist regime to keep the country and its citizens "in check." It is a dispicable tactic which has been used more than once by rulers who wish to maintain political power by keeping the people physically and emotionally weakened by depriving them of their life's essentials so that they are too weak and fearful for any uprising to occur; plus, if the government provides the essentials, the people would be forced to do completely without should there be a revolt. In essence, the government forces the people to be so depraved and dependent that they cannot retaliate against the government's harsh and unfair treatment. This artificial, intentionally engineered state of depravity put stress on the every day lives of the people of Poland, who were unable to buy even such basic amenities as toilet paper and bread. To even try to receive such items, they waited in endless queues, which even then rarely had a positive outcome.

History also records the boundaries of the collective human spirit. While man and his neighbors may suffer together and bend under the pressures of his rulers for what feels like an eternity, they are not infinitely flexible, nor can they withstand such stress without limits. In July of 1980, the Polish government was again "forced" to raise the price of goods while at the same time lower the rate of workers' wages. This was the last straw for Poland's labor force. On August 14, at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk, the shipyard workers united, their tempers additionally fueled by the firing of outspoken activists. Walesa continued to give a voice to the workers, even more adamantly than ever. He instigated the monumental strike which demanded the institution of legislation for independent labor unions.

Even with a lack of any form of organized network, labor force strikes spread throughout the country. Dispite the government's ability to control media and communication, no matter how hard they tried, they could not disconnect Gdansk from the rest of the country. The Polish government instituted national censorship, even disconnected phone lines. Nonetheless, underground presses succeeded in passing the story from one place to the next. Walesa's and the dock workers' message had spread across Poland and the Eastern Bloc like wildfire. Within 2 days, on August 16, other strike committees joined Walesa and the crew in Gdansk. Two days after that, the unified strikers successfully put forth 21 demands. These demands called for the formation of independent labor unions, an end to media censorship, the right to strike, new rights for the Church, the freeing of political prisoners, and improvements to the national health system.

On August 18, the Szczecin shipyard joined the Gsansk shipyard and ingnited a slew of labor strikes all up and down the Polish coast. Within days, the entire country experienced factory shut-downs. Industry was grinding to a halt as more and more unions formed. Because of the monumentous effort made by the shipyard workers of Gdansk, they and the other strikers began to receive international media coverage. Of course, international media cannot be censored by the local, domestic government, and when human rights activities receive international notoriety, they often also gain international support. It was because of this international news coverage and support that this strike effort was such a success - Walesa and his collegues were able to hold out much longer than any other effort to overthrow the oppression experienced as a result of greedy government.

Poland's Soviet government couldn't ignore the people anymore. On September 3, the Governmental Commission was sent to Gdansk with an agreement to be signed, which ratified many of the workers' demands. This became known as The Gdansk Agreement, and is today often considered to be the first blow dealt in dismantling the Soviet empire. By successfully achieving the right to form unions free from Communist Party control or influence, Walesa and the other shipyard workers showed the world that it WAS possible to introduce democratic changes to the communist political structure!

On September 17, Solidarnosc ("Solidarity") was born. This was the very first completely independent, Communist-Party-free labor union in the entire Soviet Bloc. In the two years that followed, 10 million people joined Solidarnosc or one of its sub-organizations. People from all walks of life were quick to sign up: students, intellectuals, workers, farmers, etc. As much as 80% of Poland's workforce eagerly enrolled. This was the only time in history that such numbers of a country's population ever voluntarily joined any single organization.

Solidarity escalated into something much greater than an economic reforem effort; it snowballed into an international governmental revolution. However, to the credit of Walesa and Solidarity, unlike their opponents, they never once used violence. But no matter how peaceably they assembled (or dis-assembled as it were), Solidarity members still endured governmental backlash.

Moscow did what they could to put leadership into power to tighten the loosening Soviet grip on Poland, including the renig of certain terms agreeed upon in the Gdansk Agreement, particularly the term involving censorship, which was again instituted and implemented even more vigorously than before. In 1981, conflict had escalated enough for the Soviet government to declare Poland in a state of martial law. Martial law gave the government free reign. As a result, thousands of members of Solidarity were arrested in the middle of the night. Riot police patrolled the streets and easily put down workforce riots, which was Solidarity's staple push-back for when the government pushed. Still refusing to resort to violence and insurrection, it seemed as if Solidarity was crippled and perhaps the movement quashed forever. Solidarity was delegalized and banned.

Of course, whenever a good cause becomes illegal, it goes underground. It never lost its international support. Never in the history of the world has any cause been so supported. Reagan, Thatcher, the Pope, Carrillo (head of communist Spain); NATO, Christians, Western communists, liberals, conservatives, and socialists - all voiced support for Solidarity's cause. Ronald Reagan and the U.S. imposed sanctions on Poland, which forced the government to ease its policies. The CIA and the Catholic Church even provided monetary funds, training, and equipment to the Solidarity underground. No matter what the Soviets did to try and stop Solidarity, they couldn't. It was inevitable that even under harsh restrictions and martial law, the Solidarity movement would continue to gain momentum and change the world for the good of the people, systematically dismantling the Soviet Bloc brick by brick until it's final collapse in 1989.

The moral of the Solidarity story is: Never give up. Members were limitlessly persecuted. Thousands were thrown in jail. Their terms were agreed upon and then retracted. Because of their movements, the country's people were forced to endure periods of martial law. It may have taken 10 years, but in the end it was worth it. Today, Poland stands an independent democracy, thanks to a handful of dock workers who maintained the courage of their convictions. Their spark for democracy and independence spread throughout all of Communist Europe and changed not only the and fortunes of the people of one country, but also those of an entire continent.

Many people sacrificed much and risked their lives for the movement's success. History has not passed without recognizing them, particularly Lech Walesa, who earned the Nobel Peace Prize in October of 1983. In 1990, he was elected President of Poland and was the first Polish President ever elected by a popular vote.

"New Year's Day" - U2, 1983

~Information solidified from:

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