Inglorious heroes of labor : transcarpathian seasonal workers during late socialism
Title: Inglorious heroes of labor : transcarpathian seasonal workers during late socialism
Author: BURKUSH, Kateryna
Citation: Florence : European University Institute, 2019
Series/Number: EUI PhD theses; Department of History and Civilization
This dissertation is an interdisciplinary study of seasonal labor migration during the late Soviet period and it is specifically focused on Transcarpathia, a region with a long tradition of seasonal labor migration. While tracing the Soviet authorities’ reactions to seasonal migration during the period of 1950–1980s, I observed that despite the state’s attempts to limit and control seasonal migration by administrative means, seasonal workers found ways to bypass all constraints and managed to establish durable work contacts with employers in other Ukrainian regions, as well as, for instance, in Latvia, Siberia and Kazakhstan. How this persistence, in view of the authorities’ explicit disapproval, can be explained? Bringing together scattered archival sources, Soviet publications and oral histories of veteran seasonal workers from Transcarpathia, I claim that the persistence of seasonal labor migration from this region was informed by complex relationships between the late Soviet economic condition and the cultural dispositions of seasonal workers. I trace these relationships on different levels of social interactions: state regulations, community culture, individual agency, and mediating agents – such as procurement agents and collective farms chairmen, who became important actors in the networks of the informal distribution during the late Soviet period. I contend that while providing the Soviet formal economy, prone to labor shortages, with flexible and relatively more productive labor, the workers engaged in informal practices that undermined the Soviet ideas of distributive justice. In the context of the late Soviet “informal liberalization”, individual economic initiatives (within the boundaries of the planned economy) were glossed over or even encouraged, though they were still politically and morally condemned, since they were said to go against the prescriptions of communist values. These moral conundrums were discussed in the Soviet media, where seasonal workers, known as shabashniki were often portrayed as “dishonest”. The workers themselves, however, resisted or ignored these marginalizing accounts, as their self-esteem was rooted in their result-oriented work ethic, coordinated productivity and the appreciation of their earning capacity in the local communities of Transcarpathia. With their earnings from seasonal labor, they obtained an opportunity to significantly upgrade their houses, which became the main symbol of relations of ownership and social distinction after collectivization in the Transcarpathian countryside.
Defence date: 15 March 2019; Examining Board: Pieter M. Judson, EUI (Supervisor) Laura Lee Downs, EUI Lewis Siegelbaum, Michigan State University Marsha Siefert, Central European University
Type of Access: embargoedAccess
Preceding version: http://hdl.handle.net/1814/60027
Version: Chapter 4 'Forestry: State and private initiatives around seasonal migration' of the PhD thesis draws upon an earlier version published as an article “On the forest front : labour relations and seasonal migration in 1960s-80s” (2018) in the journal 'Labor history'.