From 1948 to 1989 a communistic party – Polish United Workers’ Party ruled in Poland. The party and its leaders were subjects under the control of the Soviet Union. The communistic party also controlled the armed forces of Polish People’s Republic – the official name of Poland at that time. In December 1970, the country faced a tragedy, which affected many of those living in Tricity.
On the 12th of December Polish United Workers’ Party introduced the law rising prices of food in Poland. As a result prices of basic products increased approximately around 23%. The rise caused a wave of protests in the country. The most serious protests took place in Gdynia, Gdansk, Szczecin and Elbląg.
First days of riots
On Monday, the 14th of December workers of the Gdansk Shipyard refused to begin their work. Thousands of people gathered in front of the premisses of the local committee of PUWP. On the following day, more work places joined the general strike. Protesters in Gdynia wrote down 8 main postulates which they passed to vice-PM Stanislaw Kociolek. The statements included among many adjusting the wages to the increasing prices and reducing the differences between wages of workers and executives. Additionally, the workers demanded increasing of social security in case of sickness.
In the evening of this day the protesters in Gdansk started a fire at the building of the committee of PUWP. The army and civic militia blocked harbours and shipyards. The strike continued on Wednesday, December 16th. In his speech on that day, Stanislaw Kociolek was encouraging the workers to come back to work. He stated, that leaving work opened the way to riots and said that the only way to end the crisis is to come back to normal work.
On Thursday morning, the workers were traveling to their workplaces by the SKM train. Around 6:00 a.m. the train stopped at Gdynia Stocznia station. The wave of people moved their usual way toward the main gate of the shipyard. However, they didn’t know that the government decided to use military forces to block their workplace. High tension which arose between the civic militia and military officers on one side and the growing number of workers on the other led to the first shots. The militia opened heavy fire towards the unarmed people. Bullets were drilling through upcoming SKM trains in which many unarmed civilians traveled to their workplaces. As a result 10 people died from shots at the gates of the shipyard in Gdynia.
A big group of people gathered to march toward the town hall in the centre of Gdynia. They put one of the dead bodies on a door wing and carried it at the front of the march. The killed person was an 18 years old Zbyszek Godlewski, who became a symbol of December 1970. Next fights with civic militia and soldiers took place at Swietojanska Street and near the town hall. Armed forces continued to shoot at the protesters from the earth and from the air. They also arrested many people, whom they treated in a very brutal way. As a result 18 people in total died in Gdynia that day.
Result of protests
Due to the aggressive answer to the protests in December 1970 a total of 41 people died in Gdynia, Szczecin, Gdansk and Elblag. 1164 suffered from wounds. The civic militia arrested nearly 3000 people. The rioters put fire in 17 buildings, damaged 220 shops and burned dozens of cars.
The amount of victims led First Secretary of PUWP Wladyslaw Gomulka to resignation. However the workers from the coast did not manage to prevent the party from implementing the increased food prices.
The government chocked the protests in a bloody way. This however did not kill the anti-communistic spirit which awaken in later years. December 1970 was one of the first steps of the wind of change which blew in the Eastern Europe leading to the fall of the Soviet Union.