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Creation of a class-conscious proletariat was a primary goal of the PCR. Explosive growth in the industrial sector, which continually garnered the lion's share of investment capital, ensured the transformation of the economy and, consequently, the social structure. In 1950 industrial workers represented only 19 percent of the employed population. By 1988 the proletariat accounted for some 60 percent of the working population.
The ranks of the working class swelled with peasants from the villages, some as commuting workers, but most as migrants who took up permanent residence in the cities. In 1948 only 23.4 percent of the population lived in cities, but by 1988 over half were urban dwellers, most of whom had been born and raised in the countryside. In the late 1970s, some 60 percent of residents in the seven largest cities had rural origins. These workers exhibited roughly the same traditional peasant characteristics as peasant workers who retained residences in the villages. They were members of the Orthodox Church, parochial, poorly educated, and relatively unskilled. Values inculcated by church, family, and village were not easily pushed aside, and rural-urban migrants had tremendous difficulty adapting to the discipline of the industrial work place. As a result, alcoholism and absenteeism were recurring problems. Moreover, neither commuters nor rural-urban migrants were interested in the political activity demanded of a class-conscious proletariat. In contrast, the small prewar industrial working class was a much more urbanized, skilled, and politically active group, which felt an affinity with the new regime not shared by those of peasant origin.
As industrialization and urbanization progressed, the working class became more differentiated by type of industry and work process and by age group and social origin. The working class as a whole continued to exhibit very little class consciousness or solidarity. Over the years, as the standard of living slowly rose, the working class was accorded special advantages, and the circumstances of workers improved compared to other social groups. Socialist income policies reduced wage differentials between blueand white-collar workers, so that by the 1970s many skilled workers earned as much or more than their better-educated compatriots. Likewise, urban workers gained the most from comprehensive welfare and social services introduced under socialist rule.
Although it was never a significant source of political leadership, the working class initially was generally satisfied with its special status and at least tacitly approved of the regime and its policies. Later years, however, witnessed a growing discontent among the rank and file of the proletariat, much of which was related to working conditions. The most common complaints concerned poor pay and slow advancement. Increasingly workers blamed the regime and the bureaucratic centrally planned economic system for problems in industrial enterprises. They believed that the system's waste and inefficiency not only affected wages and promotions, but also contributed to the precipitous decline in the standard of living. Although the late 1980s brought increases in wages, compared to other East European countries, wages remained quite paltry. Small as the increases were, they created inflation because of the scarcity of consumer goods. The regime sought to relieve workers of a portion of their "disposable income" by forcing them to buy shares in their factories, which was tantamount to confiscation and forced saving in that there was no popular control over these funds. The regime's inability to shorten the forty-eight-hour work week also provoked discontent, especially in light of the calls for citizens to devote an increasing number of hours to unpaid "patriotic work" on their day off.
In 1989 almost all Romanian workers belonged to trade unions, which were organs for worker representation in name only. In reality the unions, which were controlled by the party after 1947, functioned as transmission belts carrying directives from the central administration to the rank and file and as tools of political socialization to inculcate desired attitudes and values. Workers had to join trade unions to receive social welfare and many fringe benefits.
In 1971 workers' councils were established at enterprises, ostensibly to involve workers in economic decision making but in reality to shore up support for the regime. Few workers viewed the councils positively. Data collected in the mid-1970s indicated that only one-third of workers actually submitted suggestions to their council, and of those who did so, only 40 percent thought their recommendations could influence enterprise policy. Most workers did not even know who their representatives were and did not participate in the councils, which were dominated by the same persons who directed other party, state, and mass organizations.
Although workers shunned officially sanctioned channels, they covertly expressed their dissatisfaction through low productivity, absenteeism, and general apathy. The older and most skilled workers seemed least satisfied and frequently changed jobs in search of better positions and higher wages. By the late 1970s, some workers were airing their grievances in mass protests. In 1977 some 35,000 miners in the Jiu Valley went on strike to protest food shortages and new regulations that forced older workers to retire with reduced benefits. In 1979 roughly 2,000 intellectuals and workers attempted to form a free trade union and called for improved working conditions, abolition of involuntary labor on weekends, official recognition of a national unemployment problem, and an end to special privileges for the party elite.
Working-class discontent continued to grow in the 1980s. The majority of older workers expressed dissatisfaction with pay and wanted stronger links between individual productivity and wages, objecting to the pay system that penalized all workers if the enterprise did not fulfill its production plan. Forced "patriotic labor" continued, and each citizen was required to work six days per year at local public works or face stiff penalties. Complaints about inequitable distribution of resources among social groups became more frequent, and the perquisites for the party elite, such as chauffeured limousines and palatial residences, drew bitter criticism. In late 1987, mass demonstrations and riots occurred in Brasov, the second largest city. Angry workers protested pay cuts for unfilled production quotas, energy and food shortages, and the regime's repression. They burned portraits of Ceausescu, ransacked city hall and local party headquarters, seized personnel records, and looted party food shops. There were rumors of similar incidents in other major cities as well.
Although public protests were swiftly and brutally suppressed, worker dissatisfaction continued to smolder. But the majority of workers, perhaps because of chronological and psychological ties to a peasant past, were predisposed to react to even the most dire conditions with passive hostility rather than active opposition. At the close of the 1980s, the working class was sullen and dispirited to the point of apathy.
Data as of July 1989
Romania Table of Contents