• Short Summary

    INTRODUCTION: Poland's Communist Party Congress has voted to expel former party leader Edward Gierek and his one-time Prime Minister Edward Babiuch from the party.

  • Description

    GV & SV Elysee Palace, France: Gierek speaking to former President Pompidou. (2 SHOTS) 1.04

    Background: INTRODUCTION: Poland's Communist Party Congress has voted to expel former party leader Edward Gierek and his one-time Prime Minister Edward Babiuch from the party. The two men were among seven former senior officials sacked by the delegates at the end of a five-hour closed-door debate on the role of the disgraced Gierek administration, according to the official PAP News Agency. The Congress ruled on Wednesday (15 July) that Mr. Gierek and the other six held personal responsibility for mistakes which led to last summer's labour revolt and Poland's serious economic problems. Ironically, Mr. Gierek had come to power in 1970 when Wladyslaw Gomulka was toppled in the wake of food price riots.

    SYNOPSIS: Mr. Gierek rose to become one of the most powerful figures in Poland over the last 20 years. He began life as a humble miner in Katowice, Silesia, among men like these. They voted him on to the Polish United Worker's Party and he eventually became their First Secretary.

    In that position he was a powerful and influential figure who dominated Polish affairs. He was also a popular figure with the ordinary people, having developed a reputation for getting things done. He took over from veteran leader Wladyslaw Gomulka at a time when the authorities were trying to combat food price riots in many parts of the country.

    Because of his eminent position at the head of the party, he found himself being received by some of the world's most important leaders. France was the first country he visited after taking office: - An ironic return for a man who was expelled 30 years earlier for organising miners' strikes there. In 1974, with the rumblings of discontent being heard in Poland, Mr. Gierek paid an official visit to the USA. He regarded it as a highly significant occasion. The visit was another re-affirmation of international detente, said Mr. Gierek at the time.

    Two years later he was being received in the capital of the world's other super-power, Russia. He had gone there for the 70th birthday celebrations of Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, representing a Polish nation firmly allied to Moscow and the Warsaw Pact, economically and spiritually.

    But in August 1980 the true situation in Gierek's Poland began to reveal itself. Workers in the now famous Gdansk shipyards were in the vanguard of a wave of strikes. And Gierek admitted publicly that the authorities had made serious economic mistakes.

    He said there could be no basic changes in the country's political system. But by the time workers' leader Lech Walesa secured a peace agreement, Gierek was on the way to losing some of his credibility in the eyes of the Communist world. Conceding the right to strike and the right to form trade unions was not in accord with Soviet thinking.

    Gdansk was not the end of the matter, though it was the beginning of the end for Gierek as a powerful force in Polish politics. New waves of strikes hit Poland last year as the workers tried to improve certain conditions with the backing of their fledging union branches. The confusion that permeated the authorities, combined with grave economic difficulties, finally brought down Mr. Gierek, paving the way for Mr. Stanislaw Kania.

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