Labor in Czechoslovakia

under the Command-Economy

by Melba Juez

Productivity in the Czechoslovak economy in 1949 was considered to be in the hands of the workers. Not only were they shifted from the light to the heavy industry, but also they were asked to work in "three work shifts, so that the machines would be utilized uninterruptedly." (Chalupa, 203). Unlike in the capitalist system where "the worker naturally tried to produce as little as possible for as high a wage as possible" (Chalupa, 204) pressure was put on the workers to use all their capabilities. Officials complained about the "declining work discipline" (Nyrop, 128), paid and unpaid absenteeism, and alcoholism. Absenteeism was a problem that already by the late forties caused "shortcomings" as expressed by Antonin Zapatocky:,"While total hours increased last year by 2.7%, absenteeism rose by 21%. 55 million man-hours were missed in the first quarter of 1947; 69.3 million in the same period of 1948, and in the first quarter of this year 75.5 million man-hours were lost. In comparison with 1947, absenteeism rose by 26% in 1948, and 37.3% in this year" (Chalupa, 202).

In the agriculture the main change of the 1950's was collectivization. It was launched by the 'Unified Agricultural Cooperatives Act' of 1949 (Nyrop, 89). Throughout the 1950's there was a large migration of workers from agriculture to industry. Working in agriculture became disadvantageous because farm workers earned 15% less although they worked more than workers in other sectors. Consequently they tried to move to better paid jobs. By the end of May 1950 30 thousand men bellow 35 years of age transferred to the heavy industry. The open positions were filled by women, older workers (Nyrop, 86) and also "persons with lower capability" (Chalupa, 201). Two decades later the "gap between rural and urban conditions narrowed down" (Nyrop, 89).

Between 1948 and 1959 industrial employment increased by 44% and industrial output by 233% in the Czech part of Czechoslovakia. this increase was even higher in Slovakia where employment in industry increased by 70% and industrial output by 347%. (Nyrop, 49). In 1950s the official labor week was reduced from 48 to 46 hours but due to the shortage of labor pressure was put on workers to work overtime. The extensive working hours and decline in real wages induced workers to organize themselves in trade-unions (ROH). This and the "anarchosyndicalism" were often the causes of party leaders complains (Nyrop, 86).

During the Prague Spring of 1968, workers organized themselves to support demands for political liberalization and "more representative trade-unions" (Nyrop, 86). The centralized structure of the official trade union ROH that was in past fully controlled by Communist party and government disintegrated (Jancar, 184). Transport and Communications Workers separated from ROH and were further subdivided. New independent trade unions as for example the Federation of Railroad Engineers and the unions of Printers and Miners began to emerge.

One of the reasons for this development was probably fear that the new economic model would cause unemployment and a decrease in wages (Jancar, 184). The closing of 1300 production units in period 1964-65 justified by the need to eliminate "unproductive enterprises" caused dissatisfaction of workers. (Jancar, 184). The arguments of reformers in favor of greater wages differentials could have also contributed to the dissatisfaction of workers. The unskilled and lazy workers "were too well relative to the skilled and productive" (Nyrop, 86). Education and technical training brought little payoffs to the workers.

Throughout the 1970's labor shortages continued and new workers had to be attracted through "bonuses". The independent trade-unions were suppressed and the Communist Party reestablished its full control over the trade unions.


  • Chalupa, Vlastislav: Rise and development of a totalitarian state. Leiden: H.E. Stenfert Kroese, 1959.

  • Jancar, Barbara Wolfe: Czechoslovakia and the absolute monopoly of power; a study of political power in a Communist system. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971.

  • Nyrop, Richard F. Ed. Czechoslovakia, a country study, 2nd ed. Washington: American University, 1982.


  • Sik, Ota. Czechoslovakia: The Bureaucratic economy. White Plains, N.Y.:International Arts and Sciences Press, 1972.





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