Academic journal article Capital & Class

State, Labour and Market in Post-Revolution Serbia

Academic journal article Capital & Class

State, Labour and Market in Post-Revolution Serbia

Article excerpt

A place where there isn't any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It's not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain. (Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, 1939)

Introduction

Studies of the transformation of work and labour in the countries of central and eastern Europe (CEE) have concentrated on two key developments. First, the establishment of forms of tripartism and social dialogue; and second, on the emergence of different forms of employee-relations regimes within states (Thirkell et al., 1998; Casale, 1999; Martin & Cristescu-Martin, 2001, 2004; Duric, 2002; Kohl & Platzer, 2003; Mailand & Due, 2004). A key factor shaping and responding to these two important variables has been the trade unions. Studies on this subject have drawn attention to the development of trade unions under post-Communism, as new, independent unions emerge and old, 'official' unions either collapse or reform. They point in particular to the resultant pluralism and fragmentation of unions (Smith & Thompson, 1992; Thirkell et al., 1998; Pollert, 1999). However, the role of organised labour remains something of a paradox. On the one hand, it forms a large interest bloc in a new but unstable 'civil society', and has potential influence and associative power beyond its mass. In two cases, for example, trade union leaders have risen to become leaders of their countries. In others, the political parties formed or favoured by trade unions have taken or shared power. On the other hand, CEE labour has been described as 'weak' and fragmented by ideological differences, with its market power suppressed by unemployment, and as subject to negative public perceptions inherited from the past (Ost & Crowley, 200l; Crowley, 2004). While considerable attention has been focused on trade unions, less attention has been paid to the role of employers or to that of the state, and so an incomplete analysis has resulted. Other important actors in the process of regime formulation have been the international financial institutions, which have been able to construct agendas and influence policy as they distribute aid and loans in return for neoliberal market reform (Gowan, 1995; Gradev, 2001).

In assessing the transformation experience, both in terms of labour's role and influence and in broader terms, it is clear that the interplay between state, labour and the market is more complicated than the original proponents of 'shock therapy' had anticipated. This approach was based on a belief that the clearance of market rigidities, including those of the labour market, would be enough to encourage a positive economic take-off leading to endogenous growth fed by profit-seeking. Trade unions had little role in this framework. In reality, many of the old inefficiencies of the previous command economy have persisted, and insufficient foreign investment has been attracted. Production levels fell substantially throughout the CEE in the decade after transformation, and only in recent years has some stabilisation and recovery been effected. A long trail of unemployment has persisted in the wake of restructuring. What has occurred has been a complex interplay between the forces of market (in the form of neoliberal restructuring); the actions of the state (in terms of its regulating the market and tempering its effects); and society (in terms of the activities and agendas of the affected actors and interest groups).Within this more complex scene, organised labour has indeed had a role and function, as more sophisticated analyses have shown. Some commentators, for example, have argued for the primacy of path-dependent outcomes factored by history and culture (Stark, 1992; Whitley, 1998). In this framework, old work practices and labour relationships have an influence on new trajectories. Others have emphasised the conflictory nature of transformation, and point in particular to the role of organised labour in shaping, adapting or contesting the new environment (Clarke et al. …

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