CfP: Workers in the post-1989 East Central Europe (session at the III ELHN Conference)

Call for Papers, deadline 30 September 2018

Call for papers
The transformation of working-class culture and the industrial landscape – workers in the post-1989 East Central Europe
Third European Labour History Network (ELHN) meeting, 19-21 September 2019, Amsterdam
Working Group “Workers, Labour and Labour History in Modern Central-East-Europe”

In the past few decades the social structure has changed radically everywhere in the world. The industrial working class, which used to be a determining social group, has undergone a radical transformation. As a result of post-industrializing and globalizing processes the service, commercial and communication sectors have become the major employers in the developed capitalist countries while industrial production and the classical large industry have been relocated to the countries of the Second or Third Worlds. The social consequence of these processes is that a smaller segment of the traditional working class has become integrated in the middle class, another part failed to keep its former social position and became part of the new stratum called precariat while the last part belongs to various marginal social groups, which face long-term unemployment.

This transformation process, which radically changed the industrial landscape can be particularly well studied in East-Central Europe, since the region followed the path of socialist modernization until 1990. The system, which was based on bureaucratic coordination implemented a heavy-industrial and quantity centered modernization program, which became more and more outdated from the 1970s. However, for political and social political reasons the regime maintained the traditional large industrial working class, while it was unable to give real answers to the de-and postindustrial challenges of the 1970s and 1980s. Even though in the second half of the 1980s the East-Central-European governments experimented with reorganizational programs in Hungary and other countries of the region, radical change happened only after the 1989-1990 changes of regimes. In the 1990s many believed in the possibility of “catching-up development”, which for the Eastern European people meant catching up with the Western levels of consumption and material welfare. Instead, industrial restructuring went hand in hand with the disintegration of the old socialist industry and the massive decline of domestic industrial production. The collapse of the state socialist industry demanded the learning of new adaptive and survival strategies while it led to a durable social and economic crisis in the former industrial centers. The disappointment in the “catching-up development” questioned the meaning of the change of regimes in many social groups, who belonged to the losers of the change of system. Their disappointment even today determined politics and the political behavior of these social group in some countries of the region.

Parallel to the decline of the old socialist industry, however, we can also observe a re-industrializing process, which received relatively less attention in the literature. During this process, Western European and global industrial enterprises founded branches in selected towns and regions, which successfully utilized cheap labor and the growing market. Albeit in a controversial way, through the export of modern technologies they contributed to the development of new industries in the region.

The session seeks to investigate the social, economic, political and cultural impacts of these processes from an interdisciplinary perspective. We particularly encourage comparative papers and the study of the local processes in a global context.

The main topics:

  • the history and social-economic effects of the collapse of state socialist industry 
  • transformation of industrial working class after 1989/90 in East Central Europe – restructuring, marginalization, segregation, migration
  • the changes of work and worker’s culture
  • the relationship between workers and political power – trade unions, political participation
  • transformation of everyday life of working class after transition (life circumstances, consumption, clothing, nutrition, housing)
  • cultural heritage of de- and post-industrialization

Please send a 500-word abstract and a short academic CV (max 500 word) to and/or before 30. September 2018.
The outcome of the selection will be communicated by November 2018.
Organizers: Eszter Bartha, András Tóth, Tibor Valuch