Edward Gierek was born in a poor village in industrial Polish region Zaglebie in 1913. People were joking that if the dog is waging a tail in one farm, its tail extends to the neighbor´s farm. His father was a miner and died in a mining accident when Edward was 4 years old.
Soon his family (his mather remarried) decided to leave for France. Edward started working when he was 12 years old - first on a farm and later in potassium salt mine. When he was 17 he became a member of the French Communistic Party. He was so active organizing strikes that the French authorities deported him to Poland in 1934. Soon afterwards he was called to the army.
Shortly after he left military he got married (1937) and went to work in Belgium. He was working as a miner in coal mine near Gent. After the war Edward together with his wife and two sons returned to Poland. He join the communist Polish United Workers´ Party and settled in Katowice (capital of Silesia).
In 1957 he became the party leader in Katowice. This was quite important position since Katowice region is one of the most industrial regions in Poland. Edward Gierek was responsible for initiating or continuing with many large-scale investments in this region (Sport and Concert Stadium "Spodek", Recreation and Entertainment Park). During his leadership, miners in Silesia had a privileged positions, special shops, better access to housing, cars, and even vacations. But the conditions of work and safety in mines did not improve greatly.
In March 1968 during students' protests in Warsaw and Krakow, Gierek eagerly supported the government in Warsaw with leader Gomolka. Gierek warned the students in his speech that if anybody would try to mess up with the calm Silesian water - this water will break their bones. In spite of that, in December 1970, after the anti-governmental protests in Gdansk harbor caused by the announcement of the drastic food price increase just a week before Christmas, Gierek was chosen to be the First Secretary of the Central Committee (KC) of the Polish Workers Party (PZPR). Supposedly, he did not allow for tanks to be sent to Silesia.
Gierek promised more openness to the West as well as internal reforms. He was alluring people with hopes for a better standard of living, launched programs to modernize Poland´s outdated industry, encouraging foreign investment and taking multibillion dollar credits from the West. Much of the money borrowed by his government was spent on, as some people would say, ill-considered industrial projects, which contributed to a $40 billion debt that is still being repaid 12 years after the end of Communist rule.
Rising prices, deteriorating living standards and human rights violations sparked dissatisfaction and strikes in 1976 and in 1980.
Gierek was also responsible for unpopular ammendments in Polish constitution. He institutionalized the leading role of the PZPR and a friendship with a Soviet Union. These ammendments were eliminated as soon as the opposition won the governmental elections in 1989. Gierek resigned in the fall of 1980 as a result of anti-communist worker protests that gave birth to Solidarity, the former eastern bloc´s first independent labor federation. One year later, blamed by other communist leaders for Poland´s mounting economic crisis, he lost his party membership. Since his retirement from politics, Gierek had lived at Ustron in southern Poland. He died on the 29th of July 2001.
Gierek and his cabinet were seen as people who took advantage of their positions. They were living a luxury lifestyle owning several houses, cars and boats, going hunting etc. The lifestyle that is very different from the life of an ordinary Polish citizen. The revealing of these facts was a shock for a public opinion since they were considered…communists.