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September 23, 1976

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

Historical context

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.

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). 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”).

Document text

Apel do społeczeństwa i władz PRL

Robotniczy protest przeciwko wygórowanym podwyżkom, który był wyrazem postawy niemal całego społeczeństwa, pociągnął za sobą brutalne prześladowania. W Ursusie, Radomiu i innych miastach bito, kopano i masowo aresztowano demonstrantów. Najszerszy zasięg miało wyrzucanie z pracy, co obok aresztowań szczególnie uderzyło w rodziny represjonowanych.

Stosowanie represji z reguły związane było z łamaniem prawa przez organa władzy. Sądy wydawały orzeczenia bez materiału dowodowego, z pracy wyrzucano naruszając przepisy k.p. Nie cofnięto się przed wymuszaniem przemocą zeznań. Postępowanie takie nie jest niestety u nas nowością. Wystarczy przypomnieć bezprawne represje, które spadły na sygnatariuszy listów protestujących przeciwko zmianom w konstytucji: niektórych wyrzucano z pracy, uczelni, bezprawnie przesłuchiwano, szantażowano. Od dawna jednak represje nie były tak brutalne i masowe jak ostatnio. Po raz pierwszy od wielu lat aresztowaniom i przesłuchiwaniem towarzyszył terror fizyczny.
 
Ofiary obecnych represji nie mogą liczyć na żadną pomoc i obronę ze strony instytucji do tego powołanych, np. związków zawodowych, których rola jest żałosna. Pomocy odmawiają też agendy opieki społecznej. W tej sytuacji rolę tę musi wziąć na siebie społeczeństwo, w interesie którego wystąpili prześladowani. Społeczeństwo bowiem nie ma innych metod obrony przed bezprawiem jak solidarność i wzajemna pomoc.
 
Dlatego niżej podpisani zawiązują Komitet Obrony Robotników w celu zainicjowania wszechstronnych form obrony i pomocy. Niezbędna jest pomoc prawna, finansowa i lekarska. Nie mniej istotna jest pełna informacja o prześladowaniach. Jesteśmy przekonani, że jedynie publiczne ujawnianie poczynań władzy może być skuteczną obroną. Dlatego m.in. prosimy wszystkich, którzy podlegali prześladowaniom lub wiedzą o nich, o przekazywanie członkom Komitetu wiadomości na ten temat.

Według informacji posiadanych przez członków Komitetu dotychczas zebrano i użyto na cele pomocy około 160 tys. zł. Potrzeby są jednak o wiele większe. Potrzebom tym jest w stanie zaradzić jedynie szeroka inicjatywa społeczeństwa. Gdziekolwiek w kraju są represjonowani obowiązkiem społeczeństwa jest organizowanie się w celu ich obrony. W każdym środowisku, w każdym zakładzie pracy powinni znaleźć się ludzie odważni inicjujący zbiorowe formy pomocy.

Zastosowane wobec robotników represje stanowią naruszenie podstawowych praw człowieka uznanych zarówno w prawie międzynarodowym, jak i obowiązujących w polskim prawodawstwie: prawo do pracy, strajku, prawo do swobodnego wyrażania własnych przekonań, prawo do udziału w zebraniach i demonstracjach. Dlatego Komitet domaga się amnestii dla skazanych i aresztowanych i przywrócenia wszystkim represjonowanym pracy - solidaryzując się w tych żądaniach z uchwałą Konferencji Episkopatu z dnia 9 września.

Komitet wzywa społeczeństwo do poparcia tych żądań.

Jesteśmy jak najgłębiej przekonani, iż powołując Komitet Obrony Robotników do życia oraz działania - spełniamy obowiązek ludzki i patriotyczny, służąc dobrej sprawie Ojczyzny. Narodu, Człowieka.

Komitet Obrony Robotników - ofiar represji w związku z wydarzeniami 25 czerwca 1976

Jerzy Andrzejewski
Stanisław Barańczak
Ludwik Cohn
Jacek Kuroń
Edward Lipiński
Jan Józef Lipski
Antoni Macierewicz
Piotr Naimski
Antoni Pajdak
Józef Rybicki
Aniela Steinsbergowa
Adam Szczypiorski
ks. Jan Zieja
Wojciech Ziembiński

Appeal to Society and the Authorities of the PRL
 
The workers’ protests against the excessive price increases, which was an expression of the opinion of virtually the entire society, were followed by brutal persecutions. In Ursus, Radom, and in other cities, demonstrators have been beaten, kicked, and arrested en masse. Dismissals from work have been the most widespread form of reprisal; along with arrests, they struck with particular severity at the families of the persecuted.
 
As a rule, these reprisals have involved violations of the law on the part of government organs. The courts have issued verdicts without material evidence; and dismissals from work have violated the regulations of the Labor Code. Testimony has been extorted by means of force. Unfortunately, such procedures are not new in our country. It is enough to recall the illegal repressions used against the signatories of letters protesting against changes in the Constitution, when people were thrown out of work, expelled from schools, illegally interrogated, or blackmailed. But it has been a long while since the repressions have been as massive and as brutal as in recent times. For the first time in many years, arrests and interrogations are now accompanied by physical terror.
 
The victims of the current repressions cannot count on any help or defense from those institutions whose mission it is to help and defend them, such as the trade unions, whose role has been pathetic. Social welfare agencies also refuse their help. Given this situation, this function must be assumed by the society in the interest of which those who are now being persecuted were protesting against the price increases. Society has no other means of defense against lawlessness than solidarity and mutual aid.
For this reason, the signatories of this Appeal are forming a Workers’ Defense Committee which will initiate various forms of defense and help. Legal, financial, and medical aid is needed. Equally important is full information about the persecutions. We are convinced that only public presentations of the actions of the authorities can constitute an effective defense. This is why we are asking anyone who has been persecuted, or who knows about persecutions, to transmit this information to the members of the Committee.
 
According to information in the possession of the members of the Committee, 160 000 zlotys have thus far been collected and used for purposes of aid. But the needs are much greater. Only a broad social initiative will be able to meet these needs. Wherever the repressed live, throughout the country, it is the responsibility of society to organize itself in order to defend them. In every social group, in every work-place, courageous people should be initiating collective relief actions.

The repressions used against the workers constitute violations of fundamental human rights recognized both by international law and by Polish law: the right to work, the right to strike, the right to express one’s opinions freely, and the right to participate in meetings and demonstrations. This is why the Committee is demanding amnesty for those arrested and convicted, and that all the persecuted be returned to their jobs. In making these demands, the Committee wishes to express its solidarity with the Resolution of the Conference of the Episcopate of 9 September 1976.

The Committee calls on society to support these demands.

We are deeply convinced that by creating the Workers’ Defense Committee and initiating its activities, we are fulfilling a human and a patriotic responsibility and serving well the Fatherland, the Nation, and Mankind.

 
Workers’ Defense Committee, with the workers being victims of the repressions after the 25 June 1976 events

Jerzy Andrzejewski                                             
Stanisław Barańczak                 
Ludwik Cohn                             
Jacek Kuroń                             
Edward Lipiński                         
Jan Józef Lipski                        
Antoni Macierewicz                 
 
 

Source: Jan Józef Lipski, KOR — Workers’ Defence Committee in Poland 1976–1981, trans. Olga Amsterdamska and Gene M. More (Berkely, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1985).

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