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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

The Working Class

In 1985 workers constituted 89 percent of the labor force, or about 7.9 million people. Consistent with communist ideology, however, official figures make no distinction between mental and manual labor. Instead all "workers"--laborers, clerks, technical and scientific personnel, and professionals--are considered part of a nonantagonistic social class.

East German workers have not always supported the reforms carried out in their name. In the postwar period, the widespread and rapid nationalization of industry and collectivization of agriculture caused some severe dislocations and hardships and were not popular among the people. The workers' revolt of 1953 began as a protest against the high cost of living and the imposition of higher work norms and blossomed into a political protest that was crushed only with the aid of Soviet troops. Until the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, industrial workers and farmers constituted, in absolute numbers, the majority of refugees fleeing to the West. While their motives for leaving may have been related more to economic conditions than to ideology, their departure in such large numbers was a testament to the repressive policies of the regime.

Over the years, and particularly since the 1960s, the East German leadership has concentrated on gaining the support and loyalty of the working population and on restructuring society through the implementation of comprehensive social programs in the areas of housing, health, welfare, and education (see The Educational System , this ch.). In addition, officials have focused on raising the standard of living and satisfying the demands of workers for more and better consumer goods. The Constitution guarantees the citizen health protection, improved living conditions, care in old age, and dwelling space for his or her family. The record of the government in these areas has been mixed.

Data as of July 1987