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Bulgaria Table of Contents


Trade Unions

The Bulgarian trade union movement was rejuvenated in the pluralist post-Zhivkov political atmosphere after being forced to adhere totally to BCP policy throughout the postwar period. By 1990 unions were a powerful policy-making force, using well-organized strikes and walkouts to emphasize their positions.

Unions under Communist Regimes

In the decade before World War II, the benign dictatorship of Tsar Boris III abolished independent trade unions in favor of a single government-sponsored Bulgarian Workers' Union. As Bulgaria emerged from the war under Soviet occupation, communists abolished that union and replaced it with a General Workers' Professional Union that included both white- and blue-collar workers. Gradually, independent union organizations were forced to disband or join the communist organization. By 1947 union leaders were an important instrument in consolidation of the party's power. When capitalism was declared illegal in 1948, the Dimitrov government united thirteen unions under the Central Council of Trade Unions, which endured until 1989 as the single umbrella organization representing Bulgarian workers.

During that entire period, all workers' and professional organizations followed faithfully the economic policies of the BCP. The official goals of the Bulgarian trade unions were first to help management to fulfill state economic plans, then to defend workers' interests when they did not conflict with such fulfillment. As institutions the unions had no policy input. In individual enterprises, union leaders and managers developed informal advisory relationships. The only official role of the unions was as transmitters of party policies to the working masses. Although union and BCP membership were theoretically separate, officials at the national and local levels often overlapped to give the party direct control of workers. For example, members of the districtlevel people's councils often were also union executives (see Local Government , this ch.).

General congresses of trade unions were held explicitly to carry out BCP policy; congress delegate structure (2,997 attended the ninth congress in 1982) and the holding of preliminary district congresses mimicked BCP procedures. The many industrial reorganization plans of the Zhivkov regime meant periodic restructuring, if not new roles, for the unions. In the early 1980s, for example, the decentralizing reforms of the New Economic Model (NEM) changed the labor union structure from one divided by region to one divided by brigade, collective, and enterprise, matching the NEM industrial structure of the time. Although this change was controversial, it did little to improve the influence of the Bulgarian working class on enterprise policy.

In the 1980s, union membership approached 4 million, encompassing an estimated 98 percent of Bulgarian workers. Almost a year before the fall of Zhivkov, the Independent Labor Federation, Podkrepa, organized as a white-collar opposition group inspired by the Polish Solidarity (see Glossary) movement. In 1989 Podkrepa consistently was persecuted for its outspoken criticism of Zhivkov's policies.

Data as of June 1992