Warsaw – 1976 Protest in Ursus

The ‘Factory’ on the right of the above photo is now a shopping centre, but this was once an industrial area linked to the Ursus Tractor Company. Poland, which it’s fair to say wasn’t the economic miracle that it is today, was lurching from one crisis to another in the 1970s and the beleaguered Prime Minister Piotr Jaroszewicz needed a solution. The obvious one to him was to increase prices and to try and hide that from the Polish people as best as he could.

This wasn’t the greatest plan, as it led to a revolt in Radom which then started to spread. The workers at the tractor factory at Ursus decided that they would smash the railway line which ran to Warsaw, a major line which connected the country to France in one direction and to the then Soviet Union in the other direction. The Prime Minister wasn’t impressed with the 1,000 demonstrators and their little rearrangement of the railway line and the protest was soon broken up.

There was a balance in punishing some people without leading to an uproar and although there were 131 arrests, only seven people were given prison sentences. The political situation in Poland was already tense and the Soviet Union had to intervene to order the cancellation of the proposed price increases across the country. This was likely a wise move, as a revolution in Poland would have caused substantial disruption across the Warsaw Pact countries.

Although the Government seized back control after the the troubles in 1976, the economy remained in crisis and shrank in 1979. Revolution was perhaps inevitable and Solidarność, or Solidarity, was established in Gdansk (where there’s a rather lovely museum on this) in late 1980 and this spread throughout Poland. This monument marks the bravery of the workers in 1976 and also its indirect connection to the creation of Solidarity.