Work-Based Welfare as a Ritual: Understanding Marginalization in Post-Independence Lithuania

Article excerpt

The paper analyzes the functioning of the newly created labor exchange in post-Soviet Lithuania. It is argued that the labor exchange in post-Soviet Lithuania operates under the conditions of a structural contradiction: welfare services are designed to reintegrate unemployed into the labor force under the conditions of (a) increasing competitiveness of the labor markets and (b) a rapid decline of employment within the Lithuanian economy. As a result, labor redundancy is produced which consists predominantly of low skill/education individuals. Because the economy is unable to generate employment, job searches for this segment of the population are transformed into a highly bureaucratized and ritualized activities directed and supervised by the labor exchange. The purpose of the activities is to impose social order and control over those marginalized from the labor force via the creation of the divisions between deserving and undeserving poor. Foucault's theory of governmentality is used to examine two types of rituals employed by the labor exchange: individual and group based. The effectiveness of the labor exchange as a mechanism of social control and the impact the labor exchange has on the marginalization of some categories of the unemployed are discussed.

Key words: work-based welfare, marginalization, Lithuania, ritual

Introduction

In the former Soviet Union social policy was a part of the industrial policy. Work was not only guaranteed by the constitution but also was an obligation. Universal social insurance was implemented by the state and a wide range of social services and fringe benefits were provided by state-owned enterprises. While the system had numerous drawbacks and inefficiencies, it functioned reasonably well in providing basic social security of the population (Emigh and Szelenyi 2001; Rein et al. 1997; Standing 1996).

Post-independence reforms, driven by neo-liberal ideological commitments and fiscal constraints imposed by international organizations (International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Union) introduced a competitive labor market in the region. In addition, privatized enterprises ceased to provide social services to employees. Unemployment, poverty and mortality rates increased alarmingly (United Nations Development Program 1999; Grinspun 2001). In response welfare reforms were initiated. While not identical, all post-socialist countries restructured their universalistic social insurance systems into "residual social nets" providing varying degrees of coverage. The goals of the reform were to (a) provide temporary relief during the economic transition and (b) support the development of a competitive labor market (Collier 1999; Esping-Andersen 1996; Genov 1998; Pestoff 1995).

Especially representative of this trend was the creation of unemployment benefits, which did not exist during the Soviet period. By the late 1990's newly created unemployment services increasingly resembled workfare, which required conducting both means tests and behavioral tests for eligibility. Critics asserted that instead of integrating the unemployed into the workforce, the newly created restrictive welfare provisions themselves were becoming a tool for controlling the lives of the poor by creating new social divisions. Of these, the division of deserving and undeserving poor was most prominent (Lorenz 1999; Scherr 1999; Standing 1996).

In this paper we argue that the labor exchange in post-socialist Lithuania, in addition to integrating some unemployed into the labor force, is also increasingly used as a means to control the excluded and/or marginalized individuals from the labor force. This is done by subjecting the labor exchange clients to a variety of disciplinary mechanisms, which differentiates clients into the social categories of the deserving and undeserving poor. Unemployed males with low skills and limited education are especially targeted for surveillance. …