Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe: From the Congress of Vienna to the Fall of Communism

By Richard Frucht | Go to book overview

L
Labor

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the population of East Central Europe grew at a rate that far outpaced that of Western Europe. The number of industrial and agrarian laborers increased as the region gradually shifted toward mechanized agriculture on large estates, the factory system, and large-scale production. At the same time, increasingly obsolete methods of farming and handicrafts persisted as modernization spread unevenly. Specifics varied widely from region to region, but industrialization affected most people's lives, even if indirectly. With the exception of the Czech lands, pockets of industrial labor surrounded by a sea of peasants practicing age-old methods of farming was a characteristic pattern throughout the region.

A rural proletariat and an underemployed and impoverished group of smallholders emerged after most peasants were freed from serfdom following the 1848 revolutions and after the abolition of serfdom in Congress Poland in 1861. Given only a very small portion of the land, the peasants found freedom to be no panacea to their daily struggle to make ends meet. They often had to rent land and/or work as day laborers for thirteen to seventeen hours on aristocratic estates. Others migrated to different parts of the Habsburg Empire, especially to the larger cities or emigrated overseas in order to earn enough to support their families. Laborers found opportunities for self-betterment to be somewhat limited because the economic expansion could not keep pace with the rapid rise in the population.

In parts of the Balkans, life for laborers was often worse than elsewhere in East Central Europe, often resembling feudal conditions. Many peasants did not even have the freedom to move. Until 1908, in Bosnia-Hercegovinia, a hereditary laborer was bound to uphold a lease and paid one-third of his earnings to his landlords. Most peasants lived at near subsistence level and continued to do so even after land reform following World War I.

The predominance of impoverished peasants should not belie the fact that in terms of percentage, the industrial labor force rose rapidly, particularly in the Austrian lands and in parts of Hungary and partitioned Poland. For example, from 1898 to 1913, the number of workers employed in Hungarian industry jumped from 226,000 to over 417,000. In Congress Poland, 250,000 laborers found work in industry. But only in highly industrialized Bohemia and Moravia did more laborers work in industry than in agriculture. In contrast, the Balkans remained far more backward. The 1905 Serbian census showed only 16,000 workers employed in 470 factories, or about 7 percent of the population. Likewise Bulgaria in 1911 counted 15,886 workers in 345 industries.

Although World War I temporarily relieved the demographic crunch, prewar social patterns for labor continued to persist in the newly independent and reconstituted states. In 1920, 65 percent of the region's 81 million people still depended upon agriculture for their livelihood, and in the Balkans the proportion was 80 percent. Land reform divided up some of the huge estates but in many cases only created more smallholders.

Excluding farm laborers, only 14 percent of labor received wages from employment in industrial enterprises. Not until 1922 did some of the

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Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe: From the Congress of Vienna to the Fall of Communism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe xv
  • A - Abakanowicz, Magdalena (1930–) 1
  • B - Babits, Mihaly (1883–1941) 45
  • C - Cankar, Ivan (1876–1918) 117
  • D - Dalmatia 211
  • E - East Prussia 235
  • F - Family 265
  • G - Gafencu, Grigore (1892–1957) 283
  • H - Habsburg Empire 317
  • I - Iancu, Avram (1824–72) 375
  • J - Jagiellonian University 395
  • K - Kádár, János (1912–89) 411
  • L - Labor 441
  • M - Macedonia (Geography) 469
  • N - Načertanije 519
  • O - Obradović, Dositej (Dimitrije) (C. 1739–1811) 543
  • P - Paderewski, Ignacy Jan (1860–1941) 555
  • R - Račić, Josip (1885–1908) 647
  • S - Sabin, Albert Bruce (1906–93) 707
  • T - Taaffe, Count Eduard (1833–95) 785
  • U - Udržal, František (1868–1938) 819
  • V - Varna 825
  • W - Wajda, Andrzej (1926–) 837
  • X - Xenopol, Alexandra D. (1847–1920) 863
  • Y - Yalta Conference 865
  • Z - Zadruga 899
  • Index 909
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