|4th First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party|
December 20, 1970 – September 5, 1980
|Preceded by||Władysław Gomułka|
|Succeeded by||Stanisław Kania|
January 6, 1913|
Porąbka, Russian Empire
|Died||July 29, 2001
|Political party||Polish United Workers' Party|
Life and career
Gierek was born in Porąbka, outside of Sosnowiec. He lost his father to a mining accident in a pit at the age of four. His mother married again and emigrated to northern France, where he was raised. He joined the French Communist Party in 1931 and was later deported to Poland for organizing a strike. After his military service in Stryj, Galicia, Gierek went to Belgium in 1934, where he joined the Communist Party of Belgium while working in the coal mines of Waterschei. During World War II, he remained activist of the Communist Party of Belgium. He returned to Poland in 1948 and rose through the party ranks to become by 1957 a member of the Polish parliament. As first secretary of the Katowice voivodship party organization (1957–70), Gierek created a personal power base and became the recognized leader of the young technocrat faction of the party. When rioting over economic conditions broke out in late 1970, Gierek replaced Władysław Gomułka as party first secretary. Gierek promised economic reform and instituted a program to modernize industry and increase the availability of consumer goods, doing so mostly through foreign loans. His good relations with Western politicians, especially France's Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and West Germany's Helmut Schmidt, were a catalyst for his receiving western aid and loans.
The standard of living increased markedly in the Poland of the 1970s, and for a time he was hailed a miracle-worker. The economy, however, began to falter during the 1973 oil crisis, and by 1976 price increases became necessary. New riots broke out in June 1976, and although they were forcibly suppressed, the planned price increases were canceled. In 1979, he reluctantly allowed Pope John Paul II to make his first papal visit to Poland (June 2–10) after Brezhnev first warned him not to allow this visit, then warned him not to "do anything that he (Gierek) would regret". High foreign debts, food shortages, and an outmoded industrial base compelled a new round of economic reforms in 1980. Once again, price increases set off protests across the country, especially in the Gdańsk and Szczecin shipyards. Gierek was forced to grant legal status to Solidarity and to concede the right to strike. (Gdańsk Agreement).
Gierek was jailed for a year in December 1981 by the next ruler of Poland, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who introduced martial law on December 13, 1981, in an effort to make him a scapegoat for the economic troubles Poland was experiencing.
Gierek married Stanisława, née Jędrusik, and they had two sons, one of whom is MEP Adam Gierek. Edward Gierek died of a lung illness in Cieszyn, which is near the southern mountain resort of Ustroń where he spent his last years.
Polish society is divided in its assessment of Gierek. His regime is fondly remembered by some for the increase in the standard of living Poland experienced in the 1970s under Gierek's rule. Others emphasize that this increase was made possible by unsustainable foreign loans that were used unwisely, leading directly to the economic crisis the country experienced in the 1980s.
Decorations and awards
- Order of the Builders of People's Poland
- Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry (Portugal)
- Order of Lenin (Soviet Union)
- Time magazine article from January 4, 1971, The World: Poland's New Regime: Gifts and Promises
- Time magazine article from October 14, 1974, POLAND: Gierek: Building from Scratch
- Time magazine article from November 8, 1976 POLAND: The Winter of Discontent
- Time magazine article from September 22, 1980, POLAND: A New Party Boss Takes Charge
- Time magazine article from December 21, 1981 Poland: Crackdown on Solidarity
- Rzeczpospolita article, February 6, 2010 
|Party political offices|
|General Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party