Appeal of the Workers’ Defense Committee to Society and the Authorities of the PRL

the beginnings of the democratic opposition in Poland

In the communist People’s Republic of Poland (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa, PRL) the authorities had full control of the economy. They decided about the production volume, distribution manner, and retail prices. The December 1970 increase in food prices sparked social unrest. Even though it was forcedly suppressed by the government (a few dozen people were shot) it did lead to the removal from power of the government of Władysław Gomułka, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, PZPR). Fearing social discontent, his successor, Edward Gierek, protracted the announcement of price increases. However, with growing food shortages in stores, the communist government was forced to take that step. On 24 June 1976 the communists announced an increase in prices of numerous food products: for instance, the price of sugar, meat, and rice increased by 90, 69 (on average), and 150 percent respectively.

Warsaw-Ursus Monument of June 1976 (photo by Rafal Klisowski; CC BY 2.5)

That announcement brought the entire country to a boil. On 25 June 1976 workplaces in many parts of Poland went on strike, with major protests, also on streets, staged in Płock, Ursus, and Radom. In Radom the protesters showed their discontent by, for instance, setting ablaze the building of the PZPR Provincial Committee. The authorities brutally suppressed that unrest, beating their participants during the protests and also after arrest, with the use of sophisticated torture.

Worried by the scale of those protests, the authorities cancelled the price increases and introduced sugar rationing. But that did not mean that the workers’ protests in June were deemed justified. On the contrary, they were officially condemned and their participants were called hooligans. During the subsequent weeks the Security Service (Służba Bezpieczeństwa, SB) repressed the individuals engaged in the protests; a lot of people were fired or received prison sentences.

The victims of those persecutions received financial and legal aid organized by the young people associated mostly with the scouting milieu of the Czarna Jedynka Scout Team, the ‘Commandos’ milieu, the Warsaw Club of Catholic Intelligentsia (Klub Inteligencji Katolickiej, KIK), and the Catholic University of Lublin. Deprived of means of livelihood, the arrested individual’s families could also count on their help. In September 1976 the milieus engaged in those efforts decided to establish an organization to deal with the issue of human rights violation in communist Poland. Among its leaders were Piotr Naimski and Antoni Macierewicz (the scouting milieu) and also Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik (the ‘Commandos’ milieu).

A hunger strike organised in Holy Cross Church in Warsaw by Worker’s Defence Committee members. October, 1979 / photo Leszek Krzyżewski, KARTA Archive

That was how the Workers’ Defense Committee (Komitet Obrony Robotników, KOR) was formed — the first overt opposition organization in Poland since the 1940s. Some of its members and co-workers, particularly printers and distributors of independent publications, operated in the underground. The KOR collected information about violations of human rights, helped the repressed, distributed underground periodicals, leaflets, and publications, and also organized protests and hunger strikes. KOR members and co-workers were often repressed — they were imprisoned, fired, beaten up by ‘unidentified perpetrators’, or surveilled by the SB. The Committee, later transformed into the KOR Social Self-defense Committee (Komitet Samoobrony Społecznej KOR), operated until 1981, when it was dissolved because its tasks were taken over by the Solidarity Independent Self-governing Trade Union (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy „Solidarność”).

The whole text of the Appeal of the Workers’ Defense Committee to Society and the Authorities of the PRL