Trade unions in the Soviet Union

Trade unions in the Soviet Union

Trade unions in the Soviet Union trace their history back to Russian Revolution of 1905. Many trade unions were shut down or restricted on the eve of World War I and during the War, but they revived after the February Revolution and their leaders were democratically elected during 1917.

Some Bolshevik trade unionists hoped that unions would manage industry after the October Revolution. But, during the establishment of the Soviet power, and Russian Civil War with its politics of war communism, trade unions lost staff to government, Party, and military organs. Government economic organs, like the All-Russian Council of the Economy (VSNKh), increasingly took the primary role in directing industry, which lost many workers due to economic crisis. The Communist Party exerted increasing control over trade unions, which even many Communist trade union leaders resisted. By the end of the Civil War a Dispute about Trade Unions (Дискуссия о профсоюзах) occurred within the ruling Communist Party. Leon Trotsky, Nikolay Krestinsky and some others insisted on militarization of trade unions and actually turning them into part of the government apparatus. The Workers' Opposition (Alexander Shlyapnikov, Alexandra Kollontai) demanded that trade unions manage the economy through an "All-Union Congress of Producers" and that workers comprise a majority of Communist Party members and leaders. There were several other factions. Eventually, all of them were defeated at the 10th Congress of the RCP(b) by the so-called "Platform of the Ten" headed by Lenin, which called for trade unions to educate workers, under the control of the Communist Party. Since these times Lenin's saying, "Trade Unions are a School of Communism" has become an indisputable slogan.

The Dispute about Trade Unions was extremely acute, and its by-product was a special resolution, "About the Party Unity", which dissolved and banned any factions within the Party under the pretext that intra-Party discussions distract from "solving actual practical problems". This resolution radically shifted the balance in the notion "democratic centralism" from "democratic" to "centralism" and enhanced the groundwork of future Stalin's dictatorship.

The newspaper "Trud" and the magazine, "Soviet Trade Unions" (Советские профсоюзы) were major media of the Soviet trade union system.

Like the CPSU, the trade unions operated on the principle of democratic centralism, and they consisted of hierarchies of elected bodies from the central governing level down to the factory and local committees.

Unlike labor unions in the West, Soviet trade unions were, in fact, actually governmental organizations whose chief aim was not to represent workers but to further the goals of management, government, and the CPSU. As such, they were partners of management in attempting to promote labor discipline, worker morale, and productivity. Unions organized "socialist competitions" and awarded prizes for fulfilling quotas. They also distributed welfare benefits, operated cultural and sports facilities, issued passes to health and vacation centers, oversaw factory and local housing construction, provided catering services, and awarded bonuses and prepaid vacations.

Although unions in the Soviet Union primarily promoted production interests, they had some input regarding production plans, capital improvements in factories, local housing construction, and remuneration agreements with management. Unions also were empowered to protect workers against bureaucratic and managerial arbitrariness, to ensure that management adhered to collective agreements, and to protest unsafe working conditions.

Late Soviet Union

The trade union system in the late Soviet Union consisted of thirty unions organized by occupational branch. Including about 732,000 locals and 135 million members in 1984, unions encompassed almost all Soviet employees with the exception of some 4 to 5 million kolkhozniks. Enterprises employing twenty-five or more people had locals, and membership was compulsory. Dues were about 1 % of a person's salary. The All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (Всесоюзный Центральный Совет Профессиональных Союзов, ВЦСПС) served as an umbrella organization for the thirty branch unions and was by far the largest public organization in the Soviet Union.

Union membership influenced union operations only at the local level, where an average of 60 % of a union's central committee members were rank-and-file workers.

After the Polish labor union movement, Solidarity, had achieved some success in Poland Soviet labor unions became more vocal in protecting workers' interests.

ee also

*Creative unions in the USSR, analogs of trade unions for creative workers (writers, artists, etc.)


*loc - [ Soviet Union]


Ashwin, Sarah and Simon Clarke. "Russian Trade Unions and Industrial Relations in Transition". NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Bonnell, Victoria. "Roots of Rebellion: Workers' Politics and Organizations in St. Petersburg and Moscow, 1900-1914". Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.

Davis, Sue. "Trade Unions in Russia and Ukraine, 1985-1995". NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Ruble, Blair. "Soviet Trade Unions: Their Development in the 1970s". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Sorenson, Jay. "The Life and Death of Soviet Trade Unionism, 1917-1928". New York, 1969.

External links

*ru icon [ Trade Unions in the USSR]

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