1970 Polish protests

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Polish 1970 protests
Polish 1970 protests - Zbyszek Godlewski body.jpg
Polish 1970 protests in Gdynia: the body of Janek Wiśniewski (real name Zbyszek Godlewski) is carried by the demonstrators.
Date December 14–19, 1970
Location Gdańsk, Gdynia, Elbląg, Szczecin
Caused by Massive increases in the prices of basic foodstuffs
Methods Demonstrations
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
Non-centralized leadership
Units involved
Several thousand protesters
  • 27,000 soldiers
  • 5,000 members of special squads of police
  • 550 tanks
  • 700 armoured personnel carriers
Deaths: 42
Injuries: 1,000+
Arrests: 3,000+
Several killed, injured
Monument to victims of December 1970 in Gdynia
Monument of victims of massacres during Polish 1970 protests in Elbląg.

The Polish 1970 protests (Polish: Grudzień 1970) occurred in northern Poland in December 1970. The protests were sparked by a sudden increase of prices of food and other everyday items. As a result of the riots, which were put down by the Polish People's Army and the Citizen's Militia, at least 42 people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded.


In December 1970 the government suddenly announced massive increases in the prices of basic foodstuffs, especially dairy products after a bad harvest throughout the course of that year. The rise in prices proved to be a major shock to ordinary citizens, especially in the larger cities.[1]


Demonstrations against the price rises broke out in the northern Baltic coastal cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia, Elbląg, and Szczecin. Gomułka's right-hand man, Zenon Kliszko, made matters worse by ordering the army to fire on workers as they tried to return to their factories.[citation needed] The regime was afraid of a wave of sabotage that was being started, which however is often believed to be inspired by the secret police, who wanted to legitimize a harsh response to the protesters.[2][3]

Another party leader, Stanisław Kociołek, appealed to the workers to return to work.[citation needed] However, in Gdynia the soldiers had orders to stop workers returning to work and on December 17 they fired into the crowd of workers emerging from their trains; hundreds of workers were killed or wounded. The protest movement then spread to other cities, leading to strikes and occupations. The government mobilized 5,000 members of special squads of police and 27,000 soldiers equipped with heavy tanks and machine guns. Over 1,000 people were wounded and at least 40 killed (other numbers often cited are 39[4] and 44[5] though the exact death toll remains unknown) and 3,000 arrested, by modern accounts. However, only six people were reported dead by the government at the time. All those who perished were buried overnight, with only the closest relatives present, in order to avoid spreading the riots.


The Party leadership met in Warsaw and decided that a full-scale working-class revolt was inevitable unless drastic steps were taken. With the consent of Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow, Gomułka, Kliszko, and other leaders were forced to resign: if the price rises had been a plot against Gomułka, it succeeded. Since Moscow would not accept Mieczysław Moczar, Edward Gierek was drafted as the new leader. The price increases were reversed, wage increases announced, and sweeping economic and political changes were promised. Gierek went to Gdańsk and met the workers, apologised for the mistakes of the past, promised a political renewal and said that as a worker himself he would now govern for the people.[6]


Despite the fact that the aims of the protesters were mostly social and economic rather than political, the crushed riots had reinvigorated the dormant political activity of Polish society.[7] Nevertheless, the workers from the coast did not ultimately prevent the government from implementing its agenda of increased food prices. This was achieved a few weeks later, after the 1971 Łódź strikes.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Daniel Singer (1981). The Road to Gdansk. Monthly Review Press,U.S. p. 157. ISBN 0-85345-567-8. 
  2. ^ Which however is often believed to have been inspired by the secret police, who wanted to legitimize a harsh response to the protesters
  3. ^ IPN (2000). Jerzy Eisler, ed. Grudzień 1970 w dokumentach MSW (in Polish). Warsaw: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej. ISBN 83-11-09265-6. Archived from the original on 27 June 2006. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  4. ^ "Polegli". Grudzień 1970 (in Polish). Magazyn Solidarność. Archived from the original on 2006-07-16. Retrieved 2006-11-06. 
  5. ^ Piotr Golik (June 1998). "Answering for December 1970". Warsaw Voice (789). Archived from the original (Internet Archive) on September 29, 2007. Retrieved 2015-02-06. 
  6. ^ Andrzej Burda, ed. (1975). Sejm Polskiej Rzeczypospolitej Ludowej (in Polish). Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich. p. 55. 
  7. ^ Bronisław Misztal (1985). Poland After Solidarity. Transaction Publishers. p. 6. ISBN 0-88738-049-2. 

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