KOR was founded after a crackdown by the communist government in the summer of 1976.
The announcement of a drastic increase in food prices prompted widespread unrest, leading to strikes and open rioting, above all in the south eastern city of Radom, but also in Plock and the Warsaw suburb of Ursus.
Several thousand people were arrested, including many bystanders, with fines and prison sentences meted out in large numbers. Many were dismissed from work.
A group of intellectuals set about trying to help the repressed and their families – focusing first on legal and financial imperatives.
On 23 September the Workers’ Defence Committee was formally established.
An appeal was sent to the government that day calling for an amnesty for all those who had been convicted or imprisoned, while those who had been dismissed from jobs would be allowed to return to work. KOR also called for full disclosure from the authorities on the measures the state had taken.
Among the 14 signatories were writer Jerzy Andrzejewski, translator Stanislaw Baranczak, and the two main initiators of the action, Jacek Kuron and Antoni Macierewicz.
It was not until the following year that the state began to cooperate with KOR. As it happened, the breakthrough occurred following the mysterious death of student activist Stanislaw Pyas – who had collaborated with KOR – in May 1977.
The unexplained death – which activists believed was an assassination by the security services – prompted widespread strikes and the arrest of most of the central KOR committee.
An amnesty was finally declared in July, freeing, among others, the last of the remaining workers who had been imprisoned the previous year.
KOR, which also had an underground printing press that distributed banned literature, functioned until the summer of 1981, gathering about 3,000 employees. It was partly funded by groups in the West.
With the eruption of Solidarity in Gdansk in august 1981, KOR was subsumed into the new movement.
Ultimately, the main figures from KOR took part in the Round Table Talks of 1989, which ushered in democratic elections and the fall of communism. (nh/jb)