Labor in State-Socialist Europe, 1945–1989

Contributions to a History of Work
$111.00 / €93.00 / £79.00
Publication date: 
484 pages, 3 figures, 2 tables

Labor regimes under communism in East-Central Europe were complex, shifting, and ambiguous. This collection of sixteen essays offers new conceptual and empirical ways to understand their history from the end of World War II to 1989, and to think about how their experiences relate to debates about labor history, both European and global.

The authors reconsider the history of state socialism by re-examining the policies and problems of communist regimes and recovering the voices of the workers who built them. The contributors look at work and workers in Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. They explore the often contentious relationship between politics and labor policy, dealing with diverse topics including workers’ safety and risks; labor rights and protests; working women’s politics and professions; migrant workers and social welfare; attempts to control workers’ behavior and stem unemployment; and cases of incomplete, compromised, or even abandoned processes of proletarianization. Workers are presented as active agents in resisting and supporting changes in labor policies, in choosing allegiances, and in defining the very nature of work.

List of Tables and Figures

List of Abbreviations

Marsha Siefert

Finding Work, Making Workers

Natalia Jarska
Unemployment in State Socialism: An Insight into the Understanding of Work in 1950s Poland

Alina-Sandra Cucu
The Impossibility of Being Planned: Slackers and Stakhanovites in Early Socialist Romania

Ulf Brunnbauer and Visar Nonaj
Finding Workers to Build Socialism: Recruiting for the Steel Factories in Bulgaria and Albania

Alena K. Alamgir
“Inappropriate Behavior”: Labor Control and the Polish, Cuban and Vietnamese Workers in Czechoslovakia

Workers, Rights, and Discipline

Małgorzata Mazurek
Dishonest Saleswomen: On Gendered Politics of Shame and Blame in Polish State-Socialist Trade

Ulrike Schult
Labor Discipline in Self-Managed Socialism: The Yugoslav Automotive Industry, 1965–1985

Eszter Bartha
“This Workers’ Hostel Lost Almost Every Bit of Added Value It Had”: Workers’ Hostels, Social Rights and Legitimization in Hungary and the German Democratic Republic

Chiara Bonfiglioli
Discussing Women’s Double and Triple Burden in Socialist Yugoslavia: Women Working in the Garment Industry

Workers, Safety, and Risk

Thomas Lindenberger
Governing the State of Emergency: Large Industrial Accidents in Communist East Germany

Adrian Grama
Labor’s Risks: Work Accidents, the Industrial Wage Relation and Social Insurance in Socialist Romania

Marko Miljković
Nuclear Yutopia: The Outcome of the First Nuclear Accident in Yugoslavia, 1958

Workers, Protest, and Reform

Peter Heumos
Strikes in Czechoslovakia, 1945–1968: Systems Analysis and the Debate over the Causes of the Collapse of State Socialism

Susan Zimmermann
“It Shall Not Be a Written Gift, But a Lived Reality”: Equal Pay, Women’s Work, and the Politics of Labor in State-Socialist Hungary, Late 1960s to Late 1970s

Sabine Rutar
Labor Protest in the Italian-Yugoslav Border Region During the Cold War: Action, Control, Legitimacy, Self-Management

Rory Archer and Goran Musić
When Workers’ Self-Management Met Neoliberalism: Positive Perceptions of Market Reforms among Blue-Collar Workers in Late Yugoslav Socialism

Toward an Inclusive History of Work

Anca Glont
Not Just Socialist Miners, but Miners of the World: Internationalism, Global Trends and Romanian Coal Workers

List of contributors

"Вводная редакционная статья в рецензируемом сборнике начинается c вопроса, который Стивен Коткин поднял еще в 1996 г.: есть ли у истории труда при коммунистических режимах будущее? Рецензируемая книга дает утвердительный ответ на этот вопрос и подытоживает более чем десятилетний период возрождения исследований труда в странах государственного социализма. Удержание фокуса на конкретных кейсах при сохранении более широкой теоретической рамки является одним из достоинств обсуждаемой книги. Другой важной чертой сборника является широкое использование авторами социологической литературы, созданной внутри обществ государственного социализма."
"Labor in State-Socialist Europe is a coherent edited volume, focusing on the tensions and contradictions that work, the labor movement, and policies toward them posed for state socialist societies in East-Central Europe. In the forty-four years of their existence between the end of World War II and 1989, these societies had to fi nd a position for work, workers, and workers’ demands within nations that defi ned themselves as 'workers’ states.' As several of the authors remark, workers’ states are sometimes overlooked in global histories of work. This volume convincingly argues that they are an interesting special case and should be included. It also shows that socialist workers and industries were often in contact with their Western peers, the political isolation of the Eastern bloc notwithstanding."
"This book can be included in the currently developing dynamic field of state socialist labour history, whose pioneering studies were published approximately 25 years ago. It continues the exploration of the dictatorships from the perspective of workers’ experiences while insisting on “taking the promises and practices of state socialism seriously”. Both approaches are more than appropriate in the context of the decades-long politicization of state socialist labour history by both communists and anti-communists. The book is a relevant and useful contribution to global labour history. The authors provide accessible but also in-depth factually oriented texts. They introduce new ideas and use a great variety of sources. In sum, the book provides thorough and inspiring groundwork for further reflection."
"The crux of the book is uncovering why and how, crucial top-down levers of organising and managing labour were circumvented by workers, with the management’s tacit acknowledgement. By drawing on previous studies that had centralised the role of agency, the main argument, which gives coherence to the breadth of individual case studies, is that labour laws, employment contracts, and social welfare policies and benefits were essentially derived by means of ‘negotiation from below.’"
This is the first comprehensive labor history focusing on Eastern Europe during the Cold War Era written for an international audience. The authors in this collection analyze specific forms of work, categories of workers, and sectors in diverse countries using new approaches and topics suggested by global labor history, which represents an added value of the volume.
"As a volume of essays, Labor in State-Socialist Europe is noteworthy for its clear, probing, and focused contributions that derive not just from a single historical event but from scholars who had an opportunity to interact with one another and who convincingly argue for a postwar history of labor and workers that transcends the Iron Curtain and contextualizes these themes on a comparative basis. It is worth reading across the volume to collect the rich knowledge about, for example, workers’ agency, since this aspect is a topic in nearly all the book’s contributions. Other topics frequently addressed are gender, race/ethnicity, and disability, which have hitherto been treated separately in the historiography of the region. Central Eastern and Southeastern European communism can be understood as an engine of modernity that shares more similarities with Western Europe than with other regions of the world. Labor in State-Socialist Europe offers rich arguments and approaches and... more
"With Labor in State-Socialist Europe Marsha Siefert presents a history of work that focuses on state-socialist labor experiences, which have so far been marginalized in historical research. In this volume, the supposedly 'backward' countries 'east of west' constitute a 'more inclusive European history of labor relations' that may catalyze a new global history of work. Building on the work of Stephen Kotkin, E. P. Thompson, and Mark Pittaway, the case studies in this volume highlight workers’ individual agency. What makes it an original and very contemporary read from the beginning is the explicit attention to the lived experiences of workers, who become tangible."
This exciting collection advances our understanding of the complexities, contradictions, failures, but also successes of a state-socialist approach to workers and exemplifies the best of what is being done in labor history not only in east-central Europe but around the world.
"The revival of labour history in the West since the 1990s has been characterized not only by global perspectives but also by a move away from organized labour and towards the history of workers and their everyday life-worlds, a tendency that is also characteristic of the present volume. However, the volume under review here manages to explore the interaction between organized labour, in this case ruling communist parties, and the life-worlds of ordinary workers. In addition, it pays due attention to the repercussions of the interactions between a transnational capitalism and a transnational communism during the Cold War. What therefore can be seen as characteristic of many of the contributions in this excellent book is the combination of micro-perspectives with large-scale questions, onto which those micro-perspectives often throw a revealing light."
"Siefert ist unbedingt zuzustimmen, wenn sie in ihrer Einleitung darauf hinweist, dass die sozialistische Arbeitsgeschichte integraler Bestandteil der europäischen Arbeitsgeschichte ist. Wie sehr all die Anknüpfungspunkte auf der Hand liegen, stellt dieser Sammelband eindrücklich unter Beweis. Nun müssen die westeuropäischen Historiker die Osteuropäerinnen nur noch lesen. Bleiben wir optimistisch."