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    65th Anniversary of Poznań June '56

    Sixty-five years ago, on June 28th and 29th, 1956, workers’ protests took place in Poznań, which escalated into street fights. The authorities used the military to suppress them. As a result, at least 58 people were killed and more than 600 injured. Poznan June (also known as Poznań protests of 1956) was the first Polish workers’ revolt against the injustice of the communist system.

    Shortly after Stalin’s death in March 1953, social tension was mounting in many Soviet-controlled countries. Already in May 1953, a strike broke out in the Czech Pilsen armaments plant. The speech was violently suppressed by security forces. Only days later, a workers’ uprising broke out in East Berlin, which quickly spread to many other East German cities. The protest was put down by Soviet tanks.


    The Poznan workers’ protest in June 1956 was also triggered by dramatic living conditions contrasted with the privileges enjoyed by the ruling elite. The Six-Year Plan, which had been implemented for several years, provided for extensive industrialization focused on the development of the heavy industry. The price was freezing wages while raising strict labour standards. The situation was particularly difficult in the most developed regions of the country. The communist authorities allocated fewer funds for investment in Poznań and Wielkopolska than in other regions of the country, explaining this with the need to support the most backward areas. The situation was worsened by attempts to collectivize agriculture. The establishment of agricultural cooperatives meant a decline in agricultural production. There was also a shortage of coal, which was mainly destined for heavy industry.


    The average wage in Poznań was lower by 8 per cent than the national average. A huge problem was the lack of housing. The attitude of Poznań workers was also strongly influenced by the tradition of protests in this region, dating back not only to the interwar period but also to the partitions. It was also significant that most of the workers in Poznań’s industrial plants were natives of the city.


    Faced with growing frustration, on 26 June 1956 a delegation selected by the workers went to Warsaw for talks at the Ministry of Metal Industry and the Main Board of the Metalworkers’ Trade Union. Minister Roman Figielski in talks with their representatives agreed with many of the demands presented to him. However, on 27 June, during his visit to the Stalin Works in Poznań, he did not confirm his earlier declarations to the gathered crew. This caused outrage among the workers.


    At 6.30 AM on 28 June, a siren sounded over the Stalin Works. The “Cegielski” workers announced a strike and marched in a march towards the Municipal National Council, which was located at Mickiewicz Square (then bearing the name of Stalin). During the march, they were joined by workers from other plants.


    In recent years, through verification of archival sources, it has been established that there were at least 1,113 people arrested and detained in connection with June – 274 arrested and 839 detained. A total of at least 746 people have been admitted so far.


    Poznań June 1956 was the first “Polish month”. The mass uprising of workers against the communist authorities seriously accelerated political and economic changes in the People’s Republic of Poland. According to some historians, it also prevented an armed and dramatic uprising in October 1956. It was the last case in the history of the Polish People’s Republic when protesters turned their weapons against the representatives of the authorities, which makes this rebellion the last Polish armed uprising. The next big workers’ protests – in 1970/1971, 1976, 1980, 1988 – were peaceful.


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