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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

The Labor Force and Perestroika

The nature of the work force has a direct impact on industrial policy. In 1985 nearly 75 percent of the nonagricultural work force was making material goods, and that percentage was shrinking very slowly as nonmanufacturing service occupations expanded. The rate of the shift away from manufacturing actually was decreasing during the 1980s. Meanwhile, one-third of industrial workers remained in low-skilled, manual jobs through the 1980s, and slow population growth was limiting the growth of the work force. Nevertheless, significant groups of workers were better educated and more comfortable with mechanized and automated manufacturing than the previous generation. In the late 1980s, labor shortages were expected to stimulate faster automation of some industries. Official modernization plans called for eliminating 5 million manual jobs by the year 1990 and 20 million by the year 2000, and reductions were targeted for specific industries. Reductions in the labor force could not always be planned for areas where available labor was decreasing naturally. This situation meant that job elimination could bring unemployment in some places--especially since most of the jobs eliminated would be those requiring the least skill. Because unemployment theoretically cannot exist in a socialist (see Glossary) state, that prospect was a potentially traumatic repercussion of the effort at industrial streamlining.

Poor labor ethics have traditionally undermined Soviet industrial programs. Gorbachev's perestroika made individual productivity a major target in the drive to streamline industry in the late 1980s. But the goal met substantial resistance among ordinary workers because it called for pegging wages directly to productivity and eliminating guaranteed wage levels and bonuses.

Thus, the Soviet Union possessed a vast labor base that was very uneven in quality. In economic plans for the last decade of the twentieth century, planners placed top priority on redistributing all resources--human and material--to take advantage of their strengths. The drive for redistribution coincided with an attempt to streamline the organization of the industrial system.

Data as of May 1989