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41 years ago, on December 16, 1981, on the order of the military junta of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the security forces brutally quelled a strike at the “Wujek” mine. Nine miners were killed by bullets from the militia’s guns. It was one of the largest and not fully judged crimes of martial law.
The communist authorities regarded the outbreak of mass protests as the greatest threat to the effective introduction of martial law. The first action of the security forces, even before the formal introduction of martial law, was the arrest of the leaders of potential strikes and the leadership of “Solidarity”, which could coordinate the action of opposition to the regime. Sunday (December 13, 1981) was selected as the day of the declaration of martial law because the vast majority of large workplaces were empty.
On December 14, the first shift started a strike
However, from the morning of December 14, reports began to arrive in Warsaw about an expanding strike action, which involved the most important industrial centres in the country. According to incomplete estimates by historians, about 200 workers went on strike during the first days of martial law. One of the strike centres was the “Wujek” mine in Katowice.
The miners had decided to start the strike hours after their trade union leader, Jan Ludwiczak, had been arrested by the regime on the night before martial law was declared. Up to a thousand miners participated in the sit-in strike directed against the regime. Considerable forces were deployed on December 16th against the miners. Riot police were aided by Infantry Fighting Vehicles and tanks. After the riot police had failed to empty the mine with the help of water cannons, tear gas and batons, a commando-type special unit of riot police armed with automatic weapons encroached on the mine.
Bloody toll of the strike
December 16, before 11 tanks broke through the mine wall, and armed ZOMO units (Motorized Reserves of the Citizens’ Militia) had entered the plant, the miners were shelled with chemicals and doused with water. The ZOMO special platoon was also introduced to the action, shots were fired. Neither of the miners gave up resisting the workplace. Six miners died on the spot, one died a few hours after the operation, and two more at the beginning of January 1982.