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56 Program on Central and Eastern Europe

Explaining Labor Quiescence in Post-Communist Europe: Historical Legacies and Comparative Perspective

Jul 13, 2024 – Stephen Crowley


Studies on the changing labor relations in post-communist countries have flourished in recent years, such that a review and analysis of what has been reported is overdue. Yet, interestingly, these studies have not reached a consensus on what they seek to explain. Indeed, some of the main questions remain under contention. First, is labor in post-communist societies weak, or (in at least some countries) strong? What should the referent be in determining strength or weakness? To the extent labor is weak, what would explain this weakness? If labor's power varies throughout the region, what would explain this variation? There have been a number of answers posed to these questions to date, but not a thorough testing of rival hypotheses. This paper will demonstrate, using a variety of measures, that labor is indeed a weak social and political actor in post-communist societies, especially when compared to labor in western Europe. This general weakness is rather surprising when one examines it against the now considerable economic and political diversity that exists in the post-communist world. The paper will then examine a number of hypotheses that have been proposed to explain labor's weakness, concluding that the institutional legacies of post-communist trade unions, and the ideological legacy of the discourse of class, best explain this overall weakness. However, the concept of legacy is itself found wanting, since it is unable to account for the extent of this weakness or the trends that have occurred in the region over time.