The Transformation of Labour Relations: Restructuring and Privatization in Eastern Europe and Russia

By J. E. M. Thirkell; K. Petkov et al. | Go to book overview

4
Privatization, Ownership Change, and Labour Relations

There has been a widespread expectation that privatization of large state enterprises, and the resulting weakening in centralized control of the economy, would radically alter the context for labour relations in Russia and Eastern Europe and, in particular, would greatly enhance the opportunities for strategy formulation at enterprise level. This chapter looks at the processes of ownership change and privatization, as a broad category of developments, and as a strategic issue at enterprise level. It is not the task here to debate the need for privatization but rather to interrogate the assumptions made about its impact upon labour relations. The discussion is organized around three themes. First, it considers the theForetical and ideological significance of privatization as a driving force for transformation in these societies. Secondly, it argues for the concept of ownership change as a contested process in preference to 'privatization' as a better means for uncovering the role of the enterprise in transformation. Finally, it explores the considerable variations inrivatization processes and methods adopted in the different countries and endeavours to explain their significance for labour-relations issues. Thus, the chapter provides a bridge from the macroeconomic and political context of the earlier chapters to the enterprise-case-study focus of later chapters. In so doing it seeks to stress the interaction between the national and enterprise levels and to counter the assumption that labour relations are merely derived from the macroeconomic and political context.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PRIVATIZATION

In order to explore the impacts of privatization on labour relations it is necessary to unpack the notions of privatization and ownership change and look at the economic and political imperatives behind reform. In the early days of the post-communist regimes the desire to move rapidly to a market-, rather than a state-, driven system gave an enormous ideological significance to ownership changes and the assumption that privatization was the chief mechanism for industrial and economic reform. As Przeworski ( 1993: 141-2) has commented about Poland, this was often presented as the need to return to a 'normal economy' (see also Dabrowskiet al. 1991; Aslund 1992). The advice and commentary of many Western economists who counselled the need for a rapid transformation of the economy reinforced such views ( Kiss 1992: 1015;

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