An Anatomy of ‘Collective Anti-Collectivism’: Labor Sociology in Ukraine and Romania
Excluding war-hit economies, no other country witnessed such a deep and prolonged crisis of transition from socialism to capitalism as Ukraine. Industrial workers were particularly hard hit by transition, with steep increases in prices, stagnating wages, and the destruction of millions of jobs. Machine-building and metal-processing in general were at the heart of labor market restructuring in Ukraine, the industrial sector to see the biggest drop in employment, from 3m in 1990 to 1.8m in 1995, and down again to 974,000 in 2001. Millions more jobs were destroyed in farming, the construction sector and in light industry. In comparison to the 7.5m industrial workers in 1985, in 2001 there were only 3.2m left (Simonchuk 2005: 17-18, using data from the State Statistics Office of Ukraine). Did the massive changes in the situation of the working class foster the development of labor sociology? This article shows that far from accompanying the working class with their studies, sociologists avoided analyzing the new situation of the working class.
[...] organizational resources, property, social and cultural capital. The macro-group consists of politicians, civil servants, employers, highly qualified specialists, and parts of the studentship, all people who could profit from the introduction of markets. The members of the other macro-group fight for survival, have less means at their disposal to achieve anything but survival and therefore are subject to exploitation. Workers, pensioners, lower level state personnel all fall under this category. (Kutsenko 2000a: 31)
Is it helpful to think of sociologists and workers as belonging to opposing social worlds, and argue that this is the reason why the former ignore the latter in Ukraine and Romania? I think so, as this explanation better explains the near total absence of studies of workers from the work of sociologists, despite a tradition of studies of work (at least in Ukraine), and despite a vocal labor movement in Romania. Furthermore, such an explanation is also suited for explaining another characteristic of sociology in the two countries: the lack of studies of other subaltern groups (pensioners, homeless, the unemployed). Such studies are equally missing, while studies of peasants, despite being highly present in Romanian sociology, tend to focus on peasants as carriers of national culture rather than peasants in the context of the newly introduced market economy.
This article asked what sociology had to say about the working class and the post-communist deterioration of the material situation of the working class in two of Eastern Europe’s most recession-hit societies, Ukraine and Romania. The paper showed by researching three sociological journals of professional associations and Academies of Sciences that topics such as worker rights and living standards, the labor movement, and the fate and outlook of trade unions have been conspicuously absent from the works of local sociologists. The few studies published in Kyiv and Bucharest using notions such as class for other purposes than just describing income categories bear the names of Western scholars. The paper reviewed several possible explanations for why where there so few studies of labor in the two countries’ sociological literatures. The answer that the author finds most convincing relies on situating sociology in its wider national context and noting that the current generation of sociologists might have more in common with the countries’ ruling elites than with workers and other subaltern groups, and therefore might be reluctant to study workers and their life-worlds.