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His family emigrated to France, where he was raised. He joined the French Communist party in 1931 and was later deported to Poland for organizing a strike. He went to Belgium, joining the Communist party there. He returned to Poland in 1948 and rose through the party ranks to become by 1957 a member of the Polish parliament. As first secretary of the Katowice city party organization (1957-70), Gierek created a personal power base and became the recognized leader of the young technocrat faction of the party. When rioting over economic conditions broke out in late 1970, Gierek replaced Władysław Gomułka as party first secretary. Gierek promised economic reform and, with the aid of foreign loans, instituted a program to modernize industry and increase the availability of consumer goods. The standard of living inceased markedly and for a time he was hailed a miracle-worker. The economy, however, began to falter during the 1973 oil crisis, and by 1976 price increases became necessary. New riots broke out, and although they were forcibly suppressed, the increases were cancelled. High foreign debts, food shortages, and an outmoded industrial base compelled a new round of economic reforms in 1980. Once again, price increases set off protests across the country, and Gierek was forced to grant legal status to Solidarity and to concede the right to strike. Shortly thereafter, he was replaced as party leader by Stanisław Kania. The next strongman to rule Poland was General Wojciech Jaruzelski who subsequently introduced the martial law on December 13, 1981.
See also: History of Poland