In 1984 workers made up about one-half of the economically
active population and were beneficiaries of policies geared
toward maintaining the people's standard of living. According to
many observers, Czechoslovakia's internal stability rested on an
unspoken bargain between workers and the ruling KSC: relative
material security in return for acquiescence to continued Soviet
domination. Given the persistent economic problems the regime
faced, it was a delicate balance. Much of working-class life
reflected the regime's efforts to increase labor productivity
without precipitating major labor unrest.
Virtually full employment did not make the task easier. In
1984 nearly half the population worked. Some 85 percent of
working-age women were employed (not including those on maternity
leave), and there were almost 141,000 full-time university
students. Working age for women was from fifteen through
fifty-four, and for men it was from fifteen through fifty-nine.
The proportion of pensioners who had returned to work rose from
12 percent in 1966 to 23 percent in 1983. By the end of the
1970s, the labor shortage was extreme enough for officials to
call for greater efforts to employ "internal reserves" of labor,
i.e., the partially disabled (of whom nearly one-third were
already employed), full-time students, and farmers (during
agricultural off-seasons). "Voluntary" brigades of students and
apprentices supplied agricultural (harvest) and other labor
during summer months.
In Czechoslovakia, as in other socialist countries, virtually
full employment often disguises underemployment. Large numbers of
people work in positions below their qualifications. This is the
result of different factors: some people are reluctant to move to
other parts of the country to find work; politically and
ideologically "objectionable" people must often turn to menial
work; and politically "correct" people hold jobs for which they
are not fully qualified. At many enterprises, instead of
streamlining operations and dismissing employees whose job
performance is unsatisfactory, managers merely shift workers to
other positions or juggle employment statistics.
The party's compulsion to avoid labor unrest, enterprise
managers' need to meet (or at least approach) production quotas,
and a pervasive shortage of labor define the social dynamics of
the workplace. Workers have relatively secure employment and
income but lack sufficient consumer goods to absorb their income
(the rate of saving is extremely high). Nor do workers have a
substantive role in organizing work; Ota Sik, noted economic
reformer during the 1960s, characterized the Czechoslovak worker
as "alienated from the production process, from the fruits of
labor, and from the management of industrial enterprises."
Workers' complaints have changed over the years as labor has
become more scarce. In the 1950s real wages declined, resulting
in periodic work stoppages. The 1953 currency reform sparked
protests and demonstrations in major industrial centers that were
little short of riots. Throughout the decade, party leaders
complained about workers' "trade unionist" and
"anarcho-syndicalist" attitudes and their "take what you can"
mentality. Those arrested in the 1953 demonstrations were
denounced as "bourgeois elements dressed up in overalls." During
the Prague Spring, workers organized to support demands for
political liberalization and more representative trade unions.
By the late 1970s, forced overtime had become the workers'
most insistent complaint, followed by poor working conditions.
These complaints were coupled with steadfast opposition to
linking wages with gains in productivity. Workers most frequently
called for compliance with the labor code, which limited
compulsory overtime (the maximum workweek was supposed to be
forty-six hours) and provided for work safety regulations.
One solution to the labor shortage was foreign manpower. For
a long time, Poles provided the largest percentage of foreign
manpower. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, the
proportion of Vietnamese workers grew rapidly. By the end of
1982, there were approximately 26,000 Vietnamese workers in
Czechoslovakia, about 0.3 percent of the total manual work force,
including apprentices. Reasons given for the rapid expansion of
the Vietnamese contingent ranged from the Czechoslovak
government's interest in training qualified labor for a friendly
socialist country, to repayment of Vietnamese war debt, to the
labor surplus in Vietnam. Problems arose as the number of
Vietnamese increased drastically and as a program of merely hard
work replaced what was to have been a program for training the
Vietnamese in work skills.
Other foreigners who worked in Czechoslovakia came from Cuba,
Laos, the Mongolian People's Republic, and Hungary. Poles and
Hungarians generally worked in their respective border areas.
Most women in Czechoslovakia work, a reflection in part of
the labor shortage and in part of the socialist belief that
employment for women is the answer to inequality between the
sexes. Although women in Czechoslovakia have had a long history
of employment (they were over one-third of the labor force in
1930), the postwar surge in female employment has been truly
dramatic. Four-fifths of the workers who entered the labor force
from 1948 through 1975 were women. By the end of 1976, about 87
percent of working-age women had jobs; in 1984 about 90 percent
of women in their reproductive years were in the labor force.
In 1983 women remained concentrated in the traditional fields
of female employment. In retail sales they represented 75 percent
of all employees; in mass communications, 65 percent; in health
care, 80 percent; and in social work, 87 percent. These
differences persisted despite concerted efforts to improve
women's educational status and in spite of the wide range of
protective legislation covering women workers
(see Health and Social Welfare
, this ch.).
Women's salaries have lagged behind those of men throughout
the socialist era. As late as 1986, women's earnings averaged
two-thirds of those of men. In December 1986, one-fifth of all
employed mothers earned less than Kcs1,500 per month, while the
average salary for all workers at that time was given as Kcs2,800
per month. Only 6 to 7 percent of middle and upper management
positions were held by women.
A number of factors account for this continuing inequality.
Traditional sexual stereotypes have persisted, socialist rhetoric
notwithstanding. Women faced handicaps in the workplace because
of their traditional role in child rearing (what regime
apologists have dubbed "woman's triple role" of
mother-worker-citizen). Czechoslovakia offered ample maternity
leave, and women did not lose job seniority by taking it.
Nonetheless, employers anticipated that women not only would be
absent from work to have children but also would bear the primary
responsibility for child care within their families. (In
contrast, officialdom has made no mention of man's triple role of
father-worker-citizen.) Women's anticipated but unpredictable
absence from the workplace influenced employers' allocation of
jobs. Women themselves frequently complained about the dual
demands of home and work forced upon them. Czechoslovakia's
underdeveloped service sector, the general lack of convenience
items, limited child-care facilities, and the traditional
division of labor within the family all complicated working
women's lives in the 1980s. (Men maintained the traditional view
that housework and child rearing is "women's work" and often
refused to help.) Employed women spent four to eight hours each
day on household duties, above and beyond their time at work.
Data as of August 1987