Monday marks 65th anniversary of June ’56 workers’ revolt

65 years ago, on June 28, 1956, in Poznań, Western Poland, the workers’ protests, which turned into street fights, started in Poznań, Western Poland. It was the first Polish workers’ revolt against the injustice of the communist system. The authorities used the army to suppress the protests, which led to the deaths of at least 58 people plus several hundred injured.

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The protest of Poznań workers in June 1956 was triggered by their poor living conditions contrasted with the privileges enjoyed by the ruling elite. The communist authorities allocated less funds to investments in Poznań than to other regions of the country, explaining this by the need to support the most economically underdeveloped areas. The average salary was eight percent lower than in the rest of the country and there was a shortage of housing.

The immediate cause of the workers’ revolts in June 1956 was the long-lasting conflict at Joseph Stalin Metal Works in Poznań, which employed around 13,000 people. The facility’s crew demanded a reimbursement of incorrectly calculated bonus taxes, a reduction in extremely high production standards, improved working conditions and better organisation that would eliminate hours of downtime. The postulates also included wage increases and price cuts.

In the early morning of June 28, at around 6:30 am, workers announced they were going on strike and marched to the premises of the Poznań National Council, the local authority at the time. Employees of other working entities joined them along the way.

Tens of thousands of people gathered at the premises of the National Council and the provincial committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR). They sang the national anthem and other patriotic and religious songs. Some protesters got inside the buildings, others broke into other institutions, such as a court, prison, and the provincial headquarters of the militia.

The ruthless regime fired the first shots at the protesters around noon, at the premises of the Office of Public Security (UBP), the secret police. There were casualties and wounded, according to reports, shots were also aimed at women and children.

The fighting in the city lasted until June 30. The communist authorities made a decision to extinguish the protest by deploying the army. The protesters destroyed and damaged dozens of tanks, but they did not stand a chance against fully-equipped troops. At least 58 people died and approximately 240 were injured. A total of ten soldiers and militia officers also died in the fighting. Many people participating in the strike were detained by the authorities.

After the pacification of the protests, Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz uttered the famous sentence: “Any provocateur or lunatic who raises his hand against the people’s government can be sure that his hand will be chopped off.”

The June ‘56 events were the first major anti-communist protest in Poland after the imposition of the regime in the aftermath of WWII. It also had an influence on the process of relative liberalisation of the regime that started in October 1956, after the period of Stalinism in Poland had ended.

This revolt is considered to be the last Polish armed uprising.