The „Paris Commune Shipyard“ in Gdynia / Stocznia Gdynia
The history of the Shipyard in Gdynia dates back to the year 1922, when the private ship-repair enterprise was officially registered in nearby town Wejherowo. Gdynia, then still a village located at the short Polish Baltic shore, started rapid expansion and few years later became the most modern and fastest developing city of Poland – with the newly built, and the only, Polish high sea port. The Shipyard was thought and build as a Polish competitor for the ship industry of the Free (but practically German) City of Danzig. Due to constant financial problems, the world economic crisis and harsh German competition however, these plans could be fulfilled only to very limited extend before the outbreak of World War II. During the war the shipyard in Gdynia – a city directly incorporated to the Third Reich – served entirely for the military needs of national-socialist Germany.
Immediately after the end of the Second World War, the completely destroyed infrastructure of Gdynia’s shipyard and harbor was taken over by the Polish state, which started their reconstruction and reuse. Next to Gdańsk and Szczecin, Gdynia quickly became the key center of the state owned shipbuilding industry in POland. Its economic, social and political importance was accelerating continuously. The first ship built by the yard that received the name of “Paris Commune Shipyard” was a 820 dwt general cargo ship named “Melitopol” produced in 1952 for Soviet Union – the main customer of Polish Ship industry until 1989.
The rising demand for large vessels resulted in development of the enterprise. A modern hull production centre with the first dry dock were built in Gdynia in 1959-1963. The shipbuilding boom started for Gdynia. At the beginning of the 1970ies, after the construction of 20.000 dwt tankers and 23.000 dwt bulk carrier,s the size of ships built there was doubled. The multipurpose bulk carrier “Marshal Budionny” was two times larger than any vessel hitherto built by the Polish shipbuilding industry. Specialization in large vessels, the length of which could reach 250 m, created the need for mechanization and automation of a part of the shipbuilding process. In 1976 the second dry dock able to accommodate vessels up to 400.000 dwt was delivered. Gdynia shipyard became unquestionable leader of Polish ship production – constructing biggest, most modern and internationally recognized highest quality vessels of various types.
Next to these technological and economic successes the Gdynia Shipyard was an arena of the most important workers protest in Poland that took place in years 1970 and 1980 and developed into the mass social movement of “Solidarity”.
The political and economic break of 1989 caused harsh turbulences for the entire Polish ship industry. Still, the Shipyard in Gdynia managed to survive this dramatic period – mostly thanks to its strong international position built in previous decade(s). Changing legal frameworks of its activity and adapting to global market competition – also through employment reductions – the Shipyard in Gdynia was overcoming reoccurring financial crises and regaining the company standing, stability in cash-flow and capital availability. New contracts with strong worldwide ship owners for modern, high quality vessels secured the company’s position. Nevertheless, rapidly rising steel prices and strong competition by Asian shipbuilders, led to such deep financial problems in the years 2002-3 that the state – still the main owner – decided to restructure and subsidize the company. After Poland’s entrance to the European Union in 2004, this support policy was considered as unauthorized public aid. In consequence the Gdynia Shipyard went bankrupt and had to be closed down in 2009. Its infrastructure is still used by several minor private companies which produce and repair ship and offshore installations for the global market and according to new, previously unknown, economic and social rules.
Our research project focuses on the last three decades of the Gdynia Shipyard existence and aims to explore biographical perspectives on all these external, structural, economic and political changes. To grasp these various perspectives and human experiences “from below”, we are conducting interviews with workers, technicians and engineers who worked in the Shipyard for several decades. Their personal stories are treated as equally important – if not privileged – source for our research questions. There is no other shipyard in Poland than offers insight into these combination of biographical-professional longue durée with multilayered, turbulent structural transformations “from above”.
Janusz Wikowski and Mirosław Piotrowski (eds.): Stocznia Gdynia. 1922-2007. Gdynia 2007
Jan Dudziak: Polski Przemył Okrętowy. 1945-2000. Gdańsk, 2000.
Tomasz Czayka: Stocznia im. komuny paryskiej. 1922 – 1982. Gdańsk, 1983.