Labor Reforms

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Subject essay: James von Geldern

Ten years after the end of the Great Patriotic War, Soviet workers were still criminally liable for changing jobs without proper authorization and for arriving at work more than twenty minutes late. Enforcement of this draconian law, passed in June 1940, had become increasingly lax in the post-war years, but it was not until a decree of the Supreme Soviet was issued on April 25, 1956 that it was abolished.

Liberalization of labor laws also included the reintroduction of a minimum wage in September 1956, and Standard Factory and Office Regulations introduced in January 1957. The regulations were designed to give increased security of employment as well as to strengthen workers’ rights of appeal through the creation of commissions on labor disputes, which contained an equal number of representatives from management and trade unions. At the same time, a major overhauling of the wage system was phased in, beginning with heavy industry and eventually (by 1960) encompassing all branches of large-scale industry and (by 1962) other sectors of the waged economy. The wage reform included the simultaneous raising of piece rates and output norms, a reduction in the number of wage scales and rates within each scale, and the reduction of the working day from eight to seven hours and in the coal-mining industry from seven to six hours

While the reforms went some way towards fulfilling the objectives of reducing wage anomalies, curbing labor turnover, and providing incentives for increased productivity, structural impediments continued to plague the Soviet economy. The bureaucratically administered “central command” system virtually compelled managers to underestimate capacity and overestimate their need for resources and labor. Workers, denied the opportunity to defend their interests collectively, continued to exercise their individual control over the pace and quality of work. The result was a perpetuation of the shortage economy based on a massive over-consumption of labor. Labor management thus proved no easier, leading frustrated managers in five years to pass the infamous “parasite law” of 1961.

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