02 November 2023

The Power and Its Decline

In December 1970, after the massacre of workers on the coast, a team led by Edward Gierek came to power in the country. He introduced a policy based on accelerating the country's economic development and significantly raising the living standards of its inhabitants. In addition to wage increases, increased housing construction, and the "freezing" of prices for food and industrial goods at a low, artificially set level, there was also noticeable openness of the Polish industry to the Western world - the purchase of licenses and efforts to increase the export of its own products. Although official propaganda claimed that the country's economic development was based on its own profits, in reality, a significant portion of it was financed by loans from the West. The need to repay these loans led to a gigantic economic crisis and social protests, culminating in the emergence of "Solidarity." A completely new chapter in the country's history was opened when martial law was introduced in December 1981. Almost the entire following decade was shaped by its realities.

All these transformations, presented in a nutshell, had an impact on the functioning of "Walter." In the early 1970s, it entered a period of very serious investments. They included the construction of a galvanizing plant, a phosphating plant, forging facilities, a precision casting foundry, finished goods warehouses, as well as two new factories - a typewriter factory (later also a sewing machine factory) in the Gołębiów district of Radom and a branch plant in Zwolen. From 1971 to 1975, production was expanded and modernized, the machine economy was organized, and a number of devices were purchased. The forced incorporation of the plant into the "Predom" Household Equipment Industry Union had relatively little significance for its operation. As a result of this move, in May 1972, it received a new name: "Predom-Lucznik" Metal Works named after Gen. Walter in Radom. Two years earlier, a change was made in the position of the director, with the role being entrusted to Engineer Marian Błoński. During martial law, in the autumn of 1982, another name change was introduced: "Lucznik" Metal Works named after Gen. Walter in Radom. Three years later, Engineer Andrzej Korbecki was appointed as the CEO.

Similar to previous decades, the functioning of "Walter" was based on the production of weapons. The Radom plant specialized in one model, namely the AKM assault rifle, which was a modernized version of the basic "Kalashnikov." Design changes in Radom included the trigger mechanism and the use of a new bayonet, marked with the symbol 6H4. As we know, "Walter" produced standard AKMs with a wooden stock and AKMS carbines with a folding metal stock. There is no precise data available on the scale of this production, except for very general statements that its peak occurred in 1978-1979.

The designers from "Walter" also actively participated in the "Tantal" project, which aimed to create a Polish, improved version of the AKM. After a period of suspension, the project was resumed in 1981. Despite the use of interesting solutions, the initial reviews of the weapon were negative, primarily due to its large dimensions. After design changes, including the shortening of the bolt chamber and adapting the weapon to standard AKM magazines, the "Tantal" entered serial production. The PM-84 submachine gun, known as the "Glauberyt," had much more success. Development work on it began in the 1970s in three separate design teams. Their goal was to create a weapon that would replace the increasingly outdated "Rak" submachine gun. In this competition, the team consisting of engineers from Radom - Ryszard Chełmicki, Janusz Chętkiewicz, and Stanisław Brix - emerged as the winners, defeating, among others, the designers from the Military Institute of Armament Technology in Zielonka. They developed a weapon intended for armored vehicle crews, reconnaissance units, special services, and the police. What was completely new was that the "Glauberyt" was made from thermally treated sheet metal. After relatively short tests, this pistol was included in the armament of the People's Army of Poland. The engineers from "Walter," Ryszard Chełmicki and Marian Gryszkiewicz, also achieved great success in constructing the P-83 "Wanad" pistol, which was an improved version of the widely used "Czak" pistol in the military and other uniformed services. In the 1980s, it was introduced as standard equipment in the military and uniformed services.

Although the scale of production of individual types of weapons is unknown, official documents stated that from 1979 to 1983, the Radom plant produced 80,000 units of weapons annually. In addition to this, special products were produced in short series for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the maritime rescue services - tear gas launchers, smoke candles, and rescue ropes.

Similar to previous years, military production was accompanied by civilian production. It was focused on two groups of products - sewing machines and typewriters. The production of sewing machines was an area where the employees of the Radom plant already had extensive experience. In the early 1970s, the work of the designers was based on systematically modernizing the "Lucznik" machines and introducing new models to the market. However, the real breakthrough for the plant came with the signing of a licensing and cooperation agreement with the American company "Singer" in 1973. "Singer" was one of the world's most renowned sewing machine manufacturers. The agreement, valid for several years, allowed for the production of at least two models of "Singer" machines in Radom and their free sale worldwide. To meet the requirements of this production, a completely new, modern production facility was built from scratch in the Gołębiów district. The adopted assumptions envisioned an annual production of 520,000 machines there. "Singer" machines were almost exclusively directed for export to Western countries, while "Lucznik" machines were for the domestic market and so-called countries of people's democracy.

At the same time, the management of the plant decided to open a branch in Zwolen, located thirty kilometers away from Radom, and also build a new plant there from scratch. Initially, the plan was to produce only simple sewing machine parts, but over time and with the increasing qualifications of the staff, the product range was expanded. The production of "Łucznik" and "Singer" machines brought both widespread recognition and significant financial profits to the Radom plant. By the late 1970s, the annual production volume reached 260,000 and 140,000 units for both types respectively. Despite the challenges posed by the growing economic crisis in the country, the production was maintained at a high level. Machines from Radom were exported to Belgium, France, the United States, and even distant countries such as Japan, Jamaica, Togo, and Senegal.

In the early 1970s, a new category of products, typewriters, was added to the "Walter" offer. Their production was based on a licensing agreement with the Swedish company "Facit." Based on this agreement, the "Łucznik" typewriter model 660 was developed and subsequently produced in three variants. The favorable location and modern equipment of the plant in Gołębiów allowed for the production of 32,000 "Łucznik" typewriters in Radom in 1973, which became a standard piece of equipment in Polish offices. As the only place in Poland where typewriters were manufactured, their production steadily grew, reaching around 30,000 units annually. The product range was expanded to include portable typewriters and modern electric machines. Over time, in the 1980s, typewriter production was almost exclusively focused on exports. They were exported to nearly 40 countries, primarily in the Arab world, with fonts adapted to local alphabets.

In addition to sewing machines and typewriters, the "Walter" plant also produced electric presses, pneumatic components, and for a period of time, gas and electric stoves. The production of pneumatic firearms, intended for civilian markets, also played a significant role. The production of sport rifles was maintained at a level of 12,000 units per year, with exports to Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Australia. However, due to the inability to break into global markets with their products, plans for mass production of hunting weapons were abandoned.

The expansion of the plant in the early 1970s led to an increase in the workforce. Although there is no certainty, it is estimated that the number of employees reached approximately 12,000 men and women. However, the ongoing mechanization and modernization of technological processes resulted in a reduction in the workforce to around 10,000 employees by the mid-1970s.

Repressions following the events of the "Radom June" had a significant impact on the workforce's situation at the "Walter" plant. On the morning of June 25, 1976, in response to the previous evening's televised speech by the Prime Minister announcing radical increases in food prices, the women employed at the plant did not show up for the first shift. Soon, the strike spread throughout the entire plant, and the management was unable to calm the crowd. After some time, the workers left the factory halls and headed to the headquarters of the Provincial Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR). They were joined by employees from other companies who also participated in the protest. After several hours of waiting for a decision from Warsaw regarding the withdrawal of price increases, the crowd stormed the committee building. The building, from which the red flag was torn down, was set on fire. Demonstrators took control of the city center, where numerous criminal acts, including looting and theft of attractive goods from stores, took place. In the afternoon, the protest was pacified by the authorities, but many participants faced brutal repressions. The "health paths" became a symbol of these repressions, as detainees were forced to pass through lines of militia functionaries who would strike each of the demonstrators dozens of times with rubber batons. Numerous employees of "Walter" who participated in the protest faced trials and disciplinary dismissals. Although the scale of these dismissals remains unknown to this day, it is widely believed that around 940 people, including 360 employed in metalworking plants, lost their jobs in Radom. They were issued a "wolf ticket," effectively preventing them from finding employment in any other state-owned enterprise. It is noteworthy that when "Solidarity" established a rehabilitation committee in the plant in 1981, as many as 1,500 employees who had experienced repression after the June protest came forward.

The economic crisis that became apparent to the public in 1980 and continued to escalate had a very negative impact on the "Walter" workforce. Cases of abandoning work became increasingly common, with even highly experienced workers leaving to work in private craft workshops and other companies. This was mainly due to relatively low wages. These phenomena, combined with the retirement of the oldest members of the workforce, led to a serious labor shortage in the plant. For example, in 1983, over 1,200 employees left under various circumstances, while the number of newly hired employees was less than 1,000. This problem could not be overcome, and even in 1988, there were nearly 400 vacant positions waiting for applicants that could not be filled. In this situation, the management of "Walter" tried to encourage employees to stay and take up work through social initiatives. Efforts were made to allocate housing for the staff, as well as support individual construction projects. The employees of the plant and their families enjoyed exceptional privileges in Radom, such as access to comprehensive and professional medical care, as well as numerous opportunities for recreational and holiday activities. Similarly, to previous decades, several social organizations operated within "Walter" during this period, with the most popular including the League of Defense of the Country, the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society, and the Club of Honorary Blood Donors. The activities of the Plant Cultural Center, which housed the "Łucznik" Song and Dance Ensemble, renowned throughout the country and beyond, as well as the highly awarded "Zarys" Art Photography Club, garnered widespread recognition. Many people also took an interest in the activities of the "Broń" Radom Workers' Sports Club, for which a sports hall on Narutowicza Street was built despite numerous difficulties. The club achieved its greatest successes in boxing, track cycling, and football. Another characteristic of "Broń" was the development of table tennis, which was becoming increasingly popular in the country and was exceptional in the region. Additionally, the Radom Shooting Sports Club "Walter," established in 1976, represented high standards.

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