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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


Social organizations were strictly controlled by the party and government except for a small number of unofficial groups that continued to be tolerated by the authorities in the late 1980s. The largest social organizations in the country were the trade unions and DOSAAF (see Glossary); next in line were the youth and sports organizations.

Trade Unions

The trade union system 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 collective farmers. Enterprises employing twenty-five or more people had locals, and membership was compulsory. Dues were about 1 percent of a person's salary. The All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions served as an umbrella organization for the thirty branch unions and was by far the largest public organization in the Soviet Union.

Like the CPSU, the trade unions operated on the principle of democratic centralism (see Glossary), and they consisted of hierarchies of elected bodies from the central governing level down to the factory and local committees. Union membership influenced union operations only at the local level, where an average of 60 percent of a union's central committee members were rank-and-file workers.

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

Data as of May 1989