It began in Swidnik

25th anniversary of the Lublin July'80

Maria Wrzeszcz

Open fair doors
to the fresh breeze of life...
Oracle's key to life
lies in nation's hands.

(Maria Konopnicka)


On 1 July 1980 there was a considerable rise of prices for some kinds of meat and cold cured meat. However, there was no announcement in the media. This made the difficult economic situation of the society even worse and it caused strikes, which spread almost all over the Lublin province. The strikes were started by the workers of the Transport Equipment Plant in Swidnik on 8 July. On that day certain worker saw that the price of a pork cutlet went up from 10.20 to 18.10 zloty. Following the inspiration of Miroslaw Kaczan who first switched off the machines, Department 320 went on strike first. The news about the strike spread like wildfire in the entire plant. Other departments stopped working. People were bursting with energy and emotions.
Almost all workers of the Transport Equipment Plant went towards the building of the management singing the revolutionary song 'Miedzynarodowka' and the prayer for the fatherland 'Boze, cos Polske' (God, You Who Blessed). The manager Jan Czogala ordered the gathered workers to organise a committee and write their demands. Zofia Bartkiewicz became the leader of the committee, which was called a stoppage committee instead of using the irritating word 'strike'. The other members of the committee we in Lublin in Lublin re: Andrzej Sokolowski, Roman Olcha, Zygmunt Karwowski, Alfred Bondos and Urszula Radek - leading figures of the future Enterprise Commission of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union 'Solidarnosc'.
The demands were not concerned with pork cutlets, but with honesty, justice and human dignity. People had enough of that government, its lies, deviousness and 'grovelling to it'. Return to work was out of the question. The entire staff went on strike for four days. Over 600 demands ordered in 160 points were put forward. People demanded that differences in pay would be decreased, the lowest salary would be raised, the city would be better supplied with food (especially meat), the scarce article rations would be eliminated, and the maternity leave would be lengthened.
The news about the strike in Swidnik spread like wildfire. The next days other factories went on strike: the Agricultural Machine Factory 'Agromet', Lublin Car Repair Works, Truck Factory, Pulawy Nitrogen Works 'Azoty', 'Eda' in Poniatow. The protest was on a rotation basis. It ended in one factory and began in another.
On 16 July the railwaymen in Lublin, the engine section, went on strike. In several days more sections joined the strikers: wagon and car sections as well as workshops. The protesting railwaymen paralysed the railway junction by leaving dead steam engines on the rails. The direct reason for protesting was terrible working conditions. 'We repaired wagons in canals, completely smeared with mud', one worker recollected. Czeslaw Niezgoda was elected chairman of the Strike Committee and then of the Interfactory Commission in Lublin.
The strikes in the municipal transportation in Lublin paralysed the city completely. On Thursday 17 July no bus left the depot except those buses run by the director of the municipal transportation in Lublin and by some party members.
The governmental delegation headed by deputy Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Jagielski came to Lublin. They managed to end the strikes making a compromise concerning salaries. The city was posted all over with appeals to the society for peace and return to work. For the first time 'Sztandar Ludu', the communist party organ, published some texts on the basis of which people could conclude that there was something going on in the region. In more than 150 plants almost 50,000 people went on strike. The strikes in the Lublin province ended on 25 July. Three weeks later the strikes on the coast started.
The protesting workers in Lublin knew the experiences of Radom '76 and did not take to the streets. They did not take sit-in strikes. They came to work, stood at the machines and ... did not work. They managed to organise themselves, chose their representatives and negotiated to have their demands met. The inhabitants of Lublin were hungry to hear the news during the entire strike. No wonder, they began buying short-wave radios. They wanted to listen to the news via Paris, London, Washington or Munich. There were jokes: 'Do you know the paper is writing about our strike?' one worker asked his colleague. 'Which one?' the colleague asked, being interested in the news. 'The Times in London'.
The Lublin workers demanded that Polish consumer goods would not be sold in the 'internal export' shops called 'Pewex', that business trips abroad and expenses on propaganda, entertainment allowances in plants and regions would be limited; that workers would not be treated with contempt, that workers would not be punished and dismissed for 'telling the truth' and that workers would have their interests defended by trade unions. The demand to establish free trade unions was put forward later. One of the most important demands was that protesting workers would not be repressed.
The Lublin strikes exposed the real face of the government, its bureaucratization, lack of competence, indecision and compromise only when facing determination and strength.
Generally speaking, people did not feel like smiling - they feared repression and arrests. They took into account the possibility of a force confrontation. Despite that they were glad that they decided to protest and oppose the authorities. And they won.
At the same time there was a polarisation of opinions within the party apparatus, which made it easier to reach a social compromise in August.
The Lublin July brought about a final break in the propaganda of success and an awakening of the intelligentsia circles, which also yielded fruit a month later.
The Swidnik 'plague', broken out on 8 July 1980 by 'the wheat-beet working class', spread in the entire country one month later. The compromise on salaries, worked out in Lublin and Swidnik, triggered a chain reaction. The process could not be stopped. Workers 'regained' their subjectivity.

"Niedziela" 30/2005

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Ireneusz Skubis • Translation: Aneta Amrozik • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl