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The Polish protests of December 1970 (Polish: Rewolta grudniowa; also known as Black Thursday) were sparked by a sudden increase of prices of food and other everyday items, which lead to widespread strikes that were put down by the Polish People's Army and the Milicja Obywatelska, resulting in 42 fatalities and about 1,000 injuries.

Polish protests of 1970
Part of the Cold War
Polish 1970 protests - Zbyszek Godlewski body.jpg
Protestors carry the body of Zbyszek Godlewski
DateDecember 14–19, 1970 (1970-12-14 – 1970-12-19)
Caused byIncrease in basic foodstuffs' prices
MethodsDemonstrations, labor strikes
Resulted inResignation of Władysław Gomułka
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
  • 27,000 soldiers
  • 5,000 special police
  • 550 tanks, 700 APCs
42 killed, 1,000+ injured
Several killed, injured



In December 1970, the Polish United Workers' Party suddenly announced major increases in the prices of basic foodstuffs—especially dairy products—after a bad harvest throughout the course of that year. The rise in prices proved to be a major shock to ordinary citizens, especially in the larger cities.[1]


Demonstrations against the price rises broke out in the northern Baltic coastal cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia, Elbląg, and Szczecin. The regime was afraid of a wave of sabotage that was being started, which may have been inspired by the secret police, who wanted to legitimize a harsh response to the protesters.[2]

In Gdynia, soldiers had orders to stop workers returning to work. On December 17, they fired into the crowd of workers emerging from their trains; hundreds of workers were killed or wounded.[3] The protest movement then spread to other cities, leading to strikes and occupations. The government mobilized 5,000 members of special squads of police and 27,000 soldiers equipped with heavy tanks and machine guns.

Casualties were high, with about 39 to 44 fatalities,[4][5] and in excess of 1,000 injured and 3,000 arrested by modern accounts. Only six people were reported dead by the government at the time. All those who died were buried overnight, with only the closest relatives present, to avoid the spread of discontent.


The Party leadership met in Warsaw and decided that a full-scale working-class revolt was inevitable unless drastic steps were taken. With the consent of Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow, Gomułka, Kliszko, and other leaders were forced to resign: if the price rises had been a plot against Gomułka, it succeeded. Since Moscow would not accept Mieczysław Moczar, Edward Gierek was drafted as the new leader.

The price increases were reversed, wage increases announced, and sweeping economic and political changes were promised. Gierek went to Gdańsk and met the workers, apologised for the mistakes of the past, promised a political renewal and said that as a worker himself he would now govern for the people.[6]


Despite the fact that the aims of the protesters were mostly social and economic rather than political, the crushed riots reinvigorated the dormant political activity of Polish society.[7] Nevertheless, the workers from the coast did not ultimately prevent the government from implementing its agenda of increased food prices. This was achieved a few weeks later, after the 1971 Łódź strikes.


  1. ^ Singer, D. (1981). The Road to Gdansk: Poland and the U.S.S.R. New York: Monthly Review. p. 157. ISBN 9780853455677.
  2. ^ Eisler, J., ed. (2000). Grudzień 1970 w dokumentach MSW. Warsaw: Bellona. ISBN 9788311092655.
  3. ^ Krzymieniecki, M. (December 26, 2017). "December 1970: When Polish workers' revolt threatened Stalinist rule". In Defence of Marxism. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  4. ^ "Polegli". Grudzień 1970 (in Polish). Magazyn Solidarność. Archived from the original on July 16, 2006. Retrieved November 6, 2006.
  5. ^ Piotr Golik (June 1998). "Answering for December 1970". Warsaw Voice (789). Archived from the original (Internet Archive) on September 29, 2007. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  6. ^ Andrzej Burda, ed. (1975). Sejm Polskiej Rzeczypospolitej Ludowej (in Polish). Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich. p. 55.
  7. ^ Bronisław Misztal (1985). Poland After Solidarity. Transaction Publishers. p. 6. ISBN 0-88738-049-2.

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