Labor and Liberalization

Trade Unions in the New Russia

Linda J. Cook
Release Date: May 1, 1997

With the passing of the Soviet state and its promise of a “workers’ paradise,” what protections remain for Russian labor? Who is best suited to speak for the interests of the workforce in Russia: the old, established unions with their long history of colluding with Communist managers, or the newer, independent unions? Will labor-management relations develop along European-style corporatist lines? Will they evolve in the more adversarial Anglo-American manner? How can American labor unions productively assist their counterparts in Russia? What role should U.S. government agencies play in strengthening worker representation and fostering a climate where collective bargaining in good faith is possible?

Linda Cook sets out to answer these and other questions related to the problems of labor in the new Russia in this fourth book in the Twentieth Century Fund’s Russia in Transition series. She recounts the recent history of Russian unionism: the adjustments that the old union federation (now called the FNPR), tainted by its undemocratic nature and its association with the Soviet regime, had to make in order to preserve its dominance and the rise of independent unions and their contribution to supporting economic reform, which tended to strip away the privileges enjoyed by the FNPR. She also examines the political and cultural barriers to further development of trade unionism, such as the lack of an entrenched legal tradition after seventy years of Communist Party rule and the growth of a dynamic but largely unregulated private sector.

Cook reviews the efforts of U.S. government-supported agencies, in particular the AFL-CIO’s Free Trade Union Institute, to offer litigation assistance and policy advice aimed at strengthening the capacity of Russian unions to gather vital information, organize, negotiate, and communicate effectively among themselves and with the broader public. She concludes that, of the services provided by the Americans, the ones that have been themost effective and most widely appreciated by the Russians are those that are self-sustaining, such as training and legal advocacy.