Forum Index > nationalization and income redistribution

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Czechoslovakia, of all the East European countries, entered the postwar era with a relatively balanced social structure and an equitable distribution of resources. Despite some poverty, overall it was a country of relatively welloff workers, smallscale producers, farmers, and a substantial middle class. Nearly half the populace was in the middleincome bracket. Ironically, perhaps, it was balanced and relatively prosperous Czechoslovakia that carried nationalization and income redistribution further than any other East European country. By the mid1960s, the complaint was that leveling had gone too far. The lowestpaid 40% of the population accounted for 60% of national income. Earning differentials between bluecollar and whitecollar workers were lower than in any other country in Eastern Europe. Further, equitable income distribution was combined in the late 1970s with relative prosperity. Along with East Germany and Hungary, Czechoslovakia enjoyed one of the highest standards of living of any of the Warsaw Pact countries through the 1980s.

Even in Czechoslovakia, where the party's pursuit of socialist equality was thorough, the "classless" society turned out to be highly diverse. In the mid1980s, Czechoslovak censuses divided the population into several occupational groups: workers, other employees, members of various cooperatives (principally agricultural cooperatives), small farmers, selfemployed tradesmen and professionals, and capitalists. Of these categories, "other employees" was the most diverse, encompassing everyone from lowlevel clerical workers to cabinet ministers. "Workers" were those whose jobs were primarily manual and industrial. There was the timehallowed distinction between:

workers (manual or lowlevel clerical employees),In 1984 workers made up about onehalf of the economically active population and were beneficiaries of policies geared toward maintaining the people's standard of Wholesale NFL Jerseys living. According to many observers, Czechoslovakia's internal stability rested on an unspoken bargain between workers and the ruling KSC: relative material security in return for acquiescence to continued Soviet domination.

Much of workingclass life reflected the regime's efforts to increase labor productivity without precipitating major labor unrest. Virtually full employment did not make the task easier. In 1984, nearly half the population worked. Some 85% of workingage women were employed (not including those on maternity leave), and there were almost 141,000 fulltime university students. Working age for women was from fifteen through fiftyfour, and for men it was from fifteen through fiftynine. "Voluntary" brigades of students and apprentices supplied agricultural (harvest) and other labor during summer months. In Czechoslovakia, as in other socialist countries, virtually full employment often disguises underemployment. Large numbers of people work in positions below their qualifications. This is the result of different factors: some people are reluctant to move to other parts of the country to find work; politically and ideologically "objectionable" people must often turn to menial work; and politically "correct" people hold jobs for which they are not fully qualified. At many enterprises, instead of streamlining operations and dismissing employees whose job performance is unsatisfactory, managers merely shift workers to other positions or juggle employment statistics.

The party's compulsion to avoid labor unrest, enterprise managers' need to meet (or at least approach) production quotas, and a pervasive shortage of labor define the social dynamics of the workplace. Workers have relatively secure employment and income but lack sufficient consumer goods to absorb their income (the rate of saving is extremely high). Nor do workers have a substantive role in organizing work; Ota Sik, noted economic reformer during the 1960s, characterized the Czechoslovak worker as "alienated from the Wholesale Jerseys production process, from the fruits of labor, and from the management of industrial enterprises."

Workers' complaints have changed over the years as labor has become more scarce.

In the 1950s real wages declined, resulting in periodic work stoppages.

The 1953 currency reform sparked protests and demonstrations in major industrial centers that were little short of riots. Throughout the decade, party leaders complained about workers' "trade unionist" and "anarchosyndicalist" attitudes and their "take what you can" mentality. Those arrested in the 1953 demonstrations were denounced as "bourgeois elements dressed up in overalls."

During the Prague Spring, Cheap Jerseys workers organized to support demands for political liberalization and more representative trade unions.

By the late 1970s, forced overtime had become the workers' most insistent complaint, followed by poor working conditions. These complaints were coupled with steadfast opposition to linking wages with gains in productivity. Workers most frequently called for compliance with the labor code, which limited compulsory overtime (the maximum workweek was supposed to be fortysix hours) and provided for work safety regulations.

One solution to the labor shortage was foreign manpower. For a long time, Poles provided the largest percentage of foreign manpower. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, the proportion of Vietnamese workers grew rapidly. By the end of 1982, there were approximately 26,000 Vietnamese workers in Czechoslovakia, about 0.3% of the total manual work force, including apprentices. Reasons given for the rapid expansion of the Vietnamese contingent ranged from the Czechoslovak government's interest in training qualified labor for a friendly socialist country, to repayment of Vietnamese war debt, to the labor surplus in Vietnam. Problems arose as the number of Vietnamese increased drastically and as a program of merely hard work replaced what was to have been a program for training the Vietnamese in work skills. Other foreigners who worked in Czechoslovakia came from Cuba, Laos, the Mongolian People's Republic, and Hungary. Poles and Hungarians generally worked in their respective border areas.

Most women in Czechoslovakia worked, a reflection in part of the labor shortage and in part of the socialist belief that employment for women is the answer to inequality between the sexes. Although women in Czechoslovakia have had a long history of employment (they were over onethird of the labor force in 1930), the postwar surge in female employment has been truly dramatic. Fourfifths of the workers who entered the labor force from 1948 through 1975 were women. By the end of 1976, about 87% of workingage women had jobs; in 1984 about 90% of women in their reproductive years were in the labor force. In 1983 women remained concentrated in the traditional fields of female employment. Women's salaries have lagged behind those of men throughout the socialist era. Only 6 to 7% of middle and upper management positions were held by women. This represented a dramatic change from the First Republic with its politically active middlesized farmers, small landholders, and differentiated labor force. Collectivized agriculture has not lacked occupational specialists, but there is no doubt that the socialist regime has streamlined rural society. Differences have persisted, but a dramatic leveling has taken place.

Collectivization began in 1949 with the Unified Agricultural Cooperatives Act. The KSC pushed collectivization efforts early in the 1950s and again later in the decade. Large landholders unwilling to join cooperatives and unwise enough to demur were condemned as "kulaks" and evicted without compensation. Subsequent criticism was muted. By 1960, when collectivization was essentially complete, 90% of all agricultural land was in the state sectora proportion that slowly increased to 95% in 1985. During the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, the number of cooperatives declined. Land was not returned to private cultivation, but rather the cooperative enterprises themselves were consolidated.

Farmers suffered through the 1950s: compulsory collectivization took their property, and the 1953 currency reform eradicated their savings. By the early 1960s, farm laborers worked longer than their nonagricultural counterparts and earned an average of Cheap NFL Jerseys 15% less. During the late 1960s and 1970s, agricultural earnings rose rapidly. Since the mid1970s, the incomes of cooperative farm members and industrial workers have been comparable. So dramatic was the improvement that in a 1968 poll more than twothirds of cooperative farm members preferred collectivized agricultural production to private farming.

The disparity between urban and rural living conditions narrowed in the 1970s. Government planners focused on improving rural daycare facilities; bringing cooperative and statefarm pensions to parity with those of other workers; and increasing the medical, educational, and shopping facilities available to rural dwellers. There was significant construction and renovation of rural housing. The number of new housing units available to cooperative members rose dramatically in the 1960s and then leveled off, although the number fluctuated from year to year. The general improvement in the amenities did not benefit agricultural workers alone; in the early 1970s, over 40% of all industrial workers lived in the countryside.

One result of increased incomes and improved rural living conditions was a rise in the educational level of the agricultural labor force.

The year 1948 saw a turnover in civil service personnel (especially the police) and a substantial influx of workers into political and managerial positions. The upheaval of nationalization and collectivization efforts that went further than anywhere else in Eastern Europe, coupled with two currency reforms, signaled a flux in economic fortunes during the first decade of communist rule. A Czech, for example, who was a chief executive in industry in 1948, worked as a carpenter for several years thereafter, served a number of years in prison, and then retrained for a career in law was not exceptional.

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