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
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5
Trade-Union Strategies

It has been clear from the earliest moments of transformation that the trade union movements in the five countries discussed here play a more complex role in political and economic change than their earlier history in the planned economies might have suggested. The aim of the analysis in this chapter is to uncover the processes of strategy formulation and strategic choice in the trade unions, both in the wider context of the political transition as well as in the transformation of industrial relations. A fundamental question is to what extent the new patterns of unionism are dependent on the past or are creatures of the current situation. To what degree is there national and regional specificity and are there conditions for the repetition of the historic experience and the models of behaviour of the Western trade unions from the periods of large-scale societal changes? The discussion is organized in four main sections. The first is the legacy of the previous Soviet system and its transmission belt model of trade unionism. Secondly, there are the alternative models of trade unionism which emerged in Eastern Europe, in particular the prototype of Solidarity. Thirdly, trade unions' organizational strategies in the context of transformation are examined. Finally, there is the question of the political choices of trade unions towards economic reform. The operation of trade unions in collective bargaining and at enterprise level is fully considered in Chapters 6, 7 and 8.


THE LEGACY OF THE SOVIET SYSTEM: THE TRANSMISSION BELT

The concept of legacy offers considerable analytical potential for explaining the transitory and mixed nature of social and structural changes, such as the those in the field of trade unions and industrial relations in Eastern Europe. Three aspects of that legacy can be differentiated: the first relates to the structure of interests and authority, the second concerns the structure of organizations, and the third is behavioural. It is the interaction between these different aspects that generates the sustainability of certain structures and the undertow of conservatism amongst certain groups and individuals. In order to assess the significance and the limits of this legacy, it is worth briefly reviewing the key elements of trade-union organization in the past.

The transitional trade-union movements emerge from a relatively long history in the framework of one universal model -- the transmission-belt model. The term is taken from the metaphor used by Lenin in the debate of 1920-1 about the role of the trade unions in the transition to socialism and the

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