East German workers strike to protect wages, 1953

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The actual uprising lasted three days, but inspired more action later on.
15 June
17 June
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Location Description: 
Strike took place at the Potsdamer Platz, an important public square and traffic intersection in the centre of Berlin, Germany
To eradicate newly formed laws that demanded workers increase production by 10% while decreasing their wages.

On 15 June 1953, in East Berlin, construction workers on the Stalinallee Avenue began to voice their issues with the SED’s (Socialist Unity Party) new regulations. The SED trade union officials, following mass worker emigration from East Germany, increased worker production requirements to fulfill their desired targets. However, the SED trade union officials announced that workers would be paid at the same rate, thus effectively decreasing the value of each worker.

Workers did not like the new terms, and demanded that the old wage and worker production rates be put back into effect. Two worker delegates were chosen to take their demands to Grotewohl, the Prime Minister, and Ulbricht, the General Secretary of the SED. When union representatives could not be reached for discussion, workers decided they would not resume work until the issue had been resolved. They called for a general strike for the following day.

Workers arrived to work the next day, and once again agreed to go on general strike. Workers took to the streets with handmade signs demanding that old wage rates be put back into place. The demonstrators grew from 300 to 2,000 people that first day.

Another general strike was called for the following day, and on 17 June, 300,000 workers in 272 towns throughout East Germany also went on strike. Some German police even joined the campaign. The demonstrators were careful not to harm German police because the strikers saw their campaign was directed at Soviet police and troops. The strike was generally nonviolent, and many of the striking workers asked the others with them not to use violence. However, some demonstrators destroyed property, fought police, and in some places, beat and killed government officials and informers. However, these instances were committed by a small portion of participants.

The demonstrators called for a mass meeting and rally that evening. However, before the meeting could take place, Soviet troops with tanks and guns found the crowd and fired into them, killing twenty-one people. The demonstrators, unprepared for this kind of repression, scattered and the movement was repressed. The SED made 20,000 arrests following the strike.

While the strike gained significant traction in only two days, the violent Soviet soldiers were able to stem the movement quickly. The demonstrators did not succeed in their goals, although their movement did point out the potential solidarity among East Germans.

Research Notes
Ebert, Theodore, "Non-violent resistance against communist regimess" in Roberts, Adam (ed.) Civilian Resistance as National Defence, pp. 204-27,

Brant, Stefan, The East German Rising, 17th June 1953. London, Thames and Hudson, 1955

Sharp, Gene, "The Politics of Nonviolent Action" Porter Sargent Publisher, Boston, MA, page 675.

Associated Press dispatch, datelined Berlin, 22 June 1953, quoted in Miller, Nonviolence, p. 352.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
John Pontillo, 24/02/2013