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In May of 1988 students from Wrocław demonstrated their solidarity with (the) striking workers. They also put forward their own postulates, demanding, among others, the legalisation of the Independent Students’ Association (NZS), and the change of the patron of the University of Wrocław. We are recalling those events on the occasion of the University’s 75th birthday.

In spring of 1988 social tension grew in connection to the prolonged economic crisis, substantial increase in prices introduced in February, lack of political reforms, and the radicalisation of young people. The tension found an outlet in the form of a wave of strikes started by public transport workers in Bydgoszcz. On 26 April the strike spread to part of the Nowa Huta factory. On 2 May, the Gdańsk Shipyard and “Dolmel” – the Wrocław factory specialised in producing electric machines – along with a couple of other factories, stalled. The demand to legalise the “Solidarity” trade union was added to the economic demands. Despite the limited scope of the strike, the authorities considered starting negotiations with workers. Ultimately, however, they chose to use force – during the night of 4 – 5 May, Nowa Huta was brutally pacified.

Despite the relatively small number of striking factories, it was the first such serious strike in years. Activist from the Independent Students’ Association (NZS) decided to support the workers. One of the places where the students’ activities were the most widespread was Wrocław. Collecting signatures under an open letter, in which it was demanded that NZS be legalised, was the prologue to the strike. Nearly 3,000 students of the University have signed the letter.

The letter with signatures was supposed to be handed in to the UWr authorities during the rally planned for 5 May. Naturally, it was dominated by the issue of the ongoing strikes and the pacification of Nowa Huta. Not only the representatives of NZS (Jacek Protasiewicz) and the independent local government group “Dwunastka” (Paweł Skrzywanek and Paweł Kocięba), but also Leszek Budrewicz of the NSZZ “Solidarity” Regional Executive Committee, and Jolanta Skiba, representing the Polish Socialist Party, have given speeches to the nearly 2,000 students who have gathered in front of “Szermierz” – the famous fountain in front of the main University building.

The participants of the rally supported the idea of organising a 24-hour solidarity strike the following day. A group of more determined students had made an attempt to start the strike immediately by occupying the Faculty of Historical Sciences, however they were eventually persuaded to act according to the joint decision.

Even though Paweł Skrzywanek was arrested in the morning of 6 May, the strike started according to plan. Several hundred students occupied the building of the Faculty of Polish Philology on Plac Biskupa Nankiera (Bishop Nankier’s Square). The University Strike Committee, led by Krzysztof Jakubczak, headed the protest. The presidium consisted of Paweł Kocięba, Piotr Pawełczyk, Jacek Protasiewicz, and Tomasz Szaynok, while Grzegorz Braun, Dariusz Duda, Roman Kowalczyk, Wojciech Król, Mateusz Morawiecki, Sławomir Sobieszek, Andrzej Tomczak, and Arkadiusz Urban, among others, were the members of the Committee. When it comes to other people actively involved in organising the strike, Eugeniusz Dedeszko-Wierciński, Paweł Kasprzak, Radosław Kujawa, Wiesław Mielcarski, Grzegorz Schetyna, Aleksander Srebrakowski, Władysław Stasiak, Marek Szwad, and Jarosław Obremski, should be mentioned. The student security group was ensuring safety.

The postulates included some demands of a nationwide scale: legalising “Solidarity” and NZS, freeing political prisoners and people arrested during the recent events, allowing Kornel Morawiecki (deported from the Okęcie airport on 2 May) to return to the country, shortening military service for students, ending censorship of scientific papers, and increasing scholarships. People also demanded implementation of the postulates related to university life, from “allowing actual activity of the student council” and the right to “unhindered activity of discussion clubs and scientific societies”, through increasing investment in dormitories, to changing the patron of the university (it was still Bolesław Bierut). Students were informing about their demands through leaflets (printed in a printing house organised ad hoc) and banners hung in the windows of the Faculty of Polish Philology.

Strike life was not limited, however, only to political issues. The leader of the protest, Krzysztof Jakubczak, gave a recital of songs accompanied by guitar (people also sung in smaller groups), the courtyard of the occupied building was the centre of social life – students took advantage of good weather. A famous students’ chaplain and a Dominican friar, father Ludwik Wiśniewski O.P., said mass.

On 6 May at 11 AM, students and employees of the Wrocław University of Science and Technology made an attempt to organise a solidarity rally at the Pomnik Pomordowanych Profesorów Lwowskich – the monument commemorating the murdered Lviv professors. That proved impossible because of the great number of ZOMO police units. While dispersing the gathering crowds, the militia have arrested 23 people. Because of the situation, the participants of the rally moved to the main building of the university where they adopted a resolution and proclaimed a strike until the following morning. A strike committee was established, its members including: Adam Chabiński, Wiesław Gierus, Piotr Lorenz, Andrzej Matusiak, Joanna Metzger, Dariusz Stanek, and Janusz Zajączkowski. The formulated postulates corresponded to the University students’ demands.

Meanwhile, in the occupied building of the Faculty of Polish Philology, a dispute over the time when the strike was supposed to end arose. Next to the supporters of maintaining the earlier proclaimed length of the protest (24 hours) appeared radicals who demanded the strike be prolonged indefinitely. They hoped that the striking students would convince the citizens of Wrocław to join, and that, like in 1980, they would demonstrate universal solidarity. Ultimately, after much discussion, it was decided that the occupation of the building would end according to plan. Also in the morning of 7 May, striking students have left the main building of the University of Science and Technology.

In the following days other big rallies were organised at Wrocław University and the University of Science and Technology, as well as the University School of Physical Education, the Academy of Music, and the Agricultural University. There was also an attempt at organising an absenteeism strike. Rallies have also been organised in multiple Wrocław factories – “Pafawag” (locomotive manufacturer), Stocznia Rzeczna (river shipyard), ZNTK (rolling stock maintenance and construction factory), and FAT (automatic lathe factory). Generally speaking, however, the protests have started nearing their end, which was also a result of the strike in Gdańsk Shipyard ending in the evening of 10 May.

The May protests were unsuccessful, they did not manage to persuade the communist authorities to make any concessions. They did, however, help invigorate resistance activities on Wrocław universities, and develop the structures of the Independent Students’ Association. On 17 May, Wrocław Universities Agreement, constituted of representatives of five universities, was established. NZS was gradually expanding its public activity.

In May 1988, the slogan “There is no freedom without Solidarity” was born. One year later, it became a reality, not without Wrocław students.

Dr. Łukasz Kamińśki, Faculty of Historical Sciences UWr


  1. K. Dworaczek, Burzliwa Dekada. NZS we Wrocławiu 1980–1989, Warszawa 2012.
  2. Ł. Kamiński, NSZZ „Solidarność” Region Dolny Śląsk, [w:] NSZZ „Solidarność“ 1980–1989, t. 6. Polska południowa, pod red. Ł. Kamińskiego i G. Waligóry, Warszawa 2010, s. 317–465.
  3. J. K. Popińscy, Od SKS do NZS. Niezależne Zrzeszenie Studentów we Wrocławiu 1980-2010, Wrocław 201
  4. Wyboista droga do wolności, red. J. Szymonik, Wrocław 2005.


Published by: Tomasz Sikora

16 Nov 2020

last modification: 17 Nov 2020