Edward Gierek

Edward Gierek : Poland

Edward Gierek, the son of a miner, was born in Porabka, Poland, in 1913. His family moved to France during the dictatorship of Josef Pilsudski.

Gierek joined the French Communist Party in 1931. He was deported to Poland in 1934 but moved to Belgium in 1937 and during the Second World War fought with the Belgian Resistance.

Gierek returned to Poland in 1948 and he joined the ruling Polish United Workers' Party. He was elected to the politburo in 1956 and became party boss in Silesia.

In 1970 Poland experienced an economic crisis. After riots took place Wladyslaw Gomulka resigned from office and was replaced by Gierek. In an attempt to solve the country's economic problems Gierek instigated an ambitious industrialization programme. This plunged the country into debt and in 1980 the country suffered from food shortages.

Lech Walesa along with some of his friends founded Solidarnosc (Solidarity). It was not long before the organization had 10 million members and Walesa was its undisputed leader. In August 1980 Walesa led the Gdansk shipyard strike which gave rise to a wave of strikes over much of the country. Walesa, a devout Catholic, developed a loyal following and the communist authorities were forced to capitulate. The Gdansk Agreement, signed on 31st August, 1980, gave Polish workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union.

In 1981 General Wojciech Jaruzelski, replaced Gierek as leader of the Communist Party in Poland. In December 1981, Jaruzelski imposed martial law and Solidarnosc was declared an illegal organization. Soon afterwards Walesa and other trade union leaders were arrested and imprisoned.