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58 Program on Central and Eastern Europe

Capital, Labor, and the Prospects of the European Social Model in the East

Jun 15, 2024 – Dorothee Bohle and Béla Greskovits


During the past decade of European economic integration vastly worse standards have emerged in work conditions, industrial relations, and social welfare in Eastern Europe than in the West. Area scholars explain this divide by labor weakness caused by the ideological legacy of communism, and do not problematize the impact of transnational capital. In contrast, this essay argues that the reason why the European social model has not traveled to the East is that its socio-economic foundations, the industrial building blocks of the historical compromise between capital and labor, have not traveled either. In the West, the compromise had been rooted in capital-intensive consumer durables industries, such as car-manufacturing, and their suppliers. These sectors brought together organized and vocal labor with businesses willing to accommodate workers' demands, because for them labor had been less a problem as a cost-factor and more important as factor of demand. However, the main driving force of the eastward expansion of European capital has been the relocation of labor-intensive activities where business relies on sweating masses of workers, whose importance as consumers is marginal, and who are weak in the workplace and the marketplace. With this general conceptualization of how the emerging new European division of labor constrains the social aspects of East European market societies as a background, the essay studies the cases of Hungarian electronics and Slovak car industries in order to better understand how particular features of various leading sectors mediate the general pattern.