Soviet Union Table of Contents
In 1985 the Soviet work force totaled about 130.3 million persons. According to official statistics, almost 20 percent of these employees worked in agriculture and forestry, while slightly more than 38 percent worked in industry and construction. Just under 10 percent were employed in transportation and communications. As in other industrialized countries, the percentage of the total work force employed in distribution and other services had increased. The shift had been more gradual than in Western countries, however. In 1985 just under 32 percent of the work force was employed in distribution and other service jobs. Officially, the government did not acknowledge the existence of unemployment. However, Western analysts estimated that about 2 percent of the labor force might be unemployed at a given time, most of this being short-term unemployment.
The working-age population was officially defined as males from sixteen to fifty-nine years old and females from sixteen to fiftyfour years old. As in other industrialized countries, the work force was gradually aging. Precise information concerning the number of pension-age workers employed either full time or part time was not available. However, Western analysts expected such workers to account for fully 12 percent of the labor force by the year 2000. A striking feature of the work force was the prominent role played by women, who accounted for some 49 percent of the work force in the mid-1980s.
The growth rate of the labor force had declined during plan periods in the 1970s and 1980s, and this situation was expected to improve only slightly during the 1990s (see Age and Sex Structure , ch. 3). Western analysts predicted that the work force would number just over 171 million persons by the year 2000. Population growth in general had slowed markedly in the European part of the country but remained high in the more rural Central Asian areas. This fact was a source of concern to economic planners because job skills were less plentiful in the non-European areas of the country. In view of the lower birth rates of recent decades and the aging of the work force, leaders called for improvements in labor productivity through automation and mechanization of work processes and through elimination of surplus workers in enterprises. Leaders also expressed concern about the deficient education and training of many in the work force. Although the education system stressed vocational and technical training, and many industrial enterprises offered additional specialized training for workers after they joined the labor force, the economy suffered from a labor shortage, particularly for skilled personnel (see Pedagogy and Planning , ch. 6).
Labor was not directly allocated. Although compulsory labor, involving the transfer of entire groups of workers, had been a significant tool of industrial development during the dictatorship of Joseph V. Stalin (the precise extent of the practice has not been determined with certainty), its use had greatly diminished in subsequent years and by the 1970s was no longer a major factor in economic activity. The inhospitable terrain and remote location of many parts of the Soviet Union impeded the flow of skilled labor to areas targeted for development outside the western and southeastern areas of the country. Wage differentials, varying according to region, industry, and occupation, were used to attract employees to the tasks and locations for which there was a labor need. In large cities, where the presence of amenities and a variety of economic activities attracted workers in excess of actual employment opportunities, residence permits were used to limit the influx of additional population.
Within the labor force as a whole, trade union membership was above 90 percent nationwide in the 1980s. Labor unions had a variety of functions: administering state social funds for the sick, disabled, and elderly and for day care; sponsoring vocational training and other educational services, such as libraries and clubs; and participating in aspects of enterprise management. Unions also acted as interpreters of party policy for the workers. Union leaders were expected to work to improve discipline and morale, educate the work force, and help to raise productivity. They did not bargain with management over wages or working conditions.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents