CERC Seminar – Labour and Social Transformation in Central and Eastern Europe

CERC Seminar, 2pm, Wednesday 29th March, 2017.

Room HU 1.49, Hugh Aston Building, De Montfort University.


Violaine Delteil and Vassil Kirov: Labour and Social Transformation in Central and Eastern Europe


Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and 10 years after their accession to the European Union (EU), the Central and Eastern Europe Countries (CEECs) still show marked differences with the rest of Europe in the fields of labour, work and industrial relations. This book proposes a renewed analysis of the labour market and social transformations in the CEECs, applying the theoretical concepts of “dependent capitalism(s)” in the sphere of labour, employment and industrial relations. A wide range of countries in Central and Eastern Europe are examined, enlarging the field beyond the most well-documented ones (Central Europe), in a aim of offering a more comprehensive and contrasting view of labour developments in the region.

The book addresses and examines three related issues. The first one deals with the understanding of the complex process of Europeanization applied here in the sphere of labour, employment and industrial relations. For this issue, the contributions discuss channels promoting Europeanization, but also obstacles that have contributed to mitigating EU convergence significantly. These obstacles are revealed to be largely rooted in the strategies of actors. The second issue refers to the attempt to link the Europeanization approach with an analysis mobilizing the theoretical concept of “dependent capitalism(s)”. It aims to question the emergence or consolidation of external dependencies in the CEECs during the EU integration process, the various modalities and channels of integration, as well as its consequences for actors’ games, public policies and the CEECs’ socio-economic performance. The third point refers to the ambivalent changes that have affected labour, in this specific context which is marked by a growing asymmetry among actors, at the expense of social ones. It discusses the cumulative trends of labour weakening and labour awakening that have emerged, in particular in the aftermath of the crisis beginning in 2007-2008. While labour weakening refers mostly to the numerical decline in union membership, the parallel movement of labour awakening that accompanied and follow up the crisis period offers some evidence of a union partial emancipation from its inherited pro-cooperative stance and repositioning in a more adversarial and/or autonomous relationship to the business and governmental actors.

The first part of the book, dedicated to the economic phenomenon and dimensions of the “dependent capitalism” starts with Bafoil’s contribution. His chapter analyses the different components of the “big transformation” process, offering empirical basis for apprehending the construct of “hybridization” describing a process of recombination of each country’s specific historical experience with the West’s differentiated influence across different domains. The chapter of Drahokoupil and Myant illuminates the key dimension of the economic dependency in which CEEC are embedded, namely the one channelled by foreign-direct investment (FDI) knowhow and technology, but nuances the dependency thesis for the Visegrad countries, stressing that domestic business has had more direct influence on politics and institutional development. Multinational companies could not determine employment relations without regard to established practices, they are often forced to compromise and adapt, as a study of automobile assembly plants in three countries shows. Given evidence to this assertion, the chapter of Hunek and Geary reduces the focal to an in-depth case study of the development of HR and employment practices in a Polish subsidiary of a German bank. This particular case shows that despite the bank’s headquarters efforts to transfer corporate practices, the HR and employment practices were mostly ‘shaped’ by the interests of the local managers, who derived their power from their intimate knowledge of the local business environment and their competence in delivering to the bottom-line. The chapter of Mako and Illessy uses the “segmented capitalism” theory for analysing the heterogeneity of the Hungarian economy in relation to their degree of dependence to external forces and markets. They identify four segments of the Hungarian economy, and conclude that the let apart of some domestic segments from the process of integration in global value chains is one of the key elements threatening the development perspectives of this country. The chapter of Markova analyses the role of remittances linked to labour migration. Migrant transfers are interpreted as practices which are performed in the transnational spaces between the origin and the home countries, located within the geographical boundaries of Central and East Europe.

The second part of the book, aimed to the apprehension of the Europeanization process and its strong limits, starts with the chapter of Meardi that reviews the implementation of EU regulations and EU policies in the field of employment relations by the new member states. The author shows that EU regulations fail to provide sufficient safeguards against the deterioration of labour standards that increased economic competition may induce. The chapter of Bonnet analyses the process of Europeanization channelled by the European Social Fund (ESF) in Poland within employment policy. The State domination increases the difficulty for labour offices to implement EU principles, and reinforces the perception that these principles are disconnected from local realities. Illuminating the key role of socialist period heritage but also the role of political parties in the industrial relation’s sphere, the chapter of Myant analyses how trade unions in the Czech Republic were weakened by the heritage of the state-socialist period, but also able to adapt and to developing new methods to exert significant influence in specific policy areas, especially when socio-democrats were in power. They were able to achieve their goals in negotiating changes in employment law and broadly defended what had been agreed. The chapter of Delteil and Kirov provides a comparative study of Bulgaria and Romania, examining the Europeanization process and its limitations in the field of industrial relations. The analysis follows the recomposition of the IR systems since the early days of the transition through to the crisis beginning in 2007-2008 and stresses in particular on the renewal of the union strategies in face of increasing adversity and EU macro-economic pressure. The chapter of Boyadjieva and Ilieva-Trichkova explores different types of “dependent capitalism” in nine post-socialist countries through the lens of higher education (HE) expansion. It discusses the way HE mediate (more or less significantly according to different national regimes) graduate employability in the context of their Europeanization process, drawing on data from the European Social Survey (2010). Finally the chapter of Mrozovicki et al. offers an analysis of the expansion of precarious employment in Poland and an exploration of the responses to the Polish government, trade unions and young workers affected. Echoing previous analysis in the book, the authors also points out the ability of social forces to use EU directives to support the legitimacy of the domestic mobilization claiming for the reintroduction of protective rules into a highly deregulated labour market.

Violaine Delteil is Associate Professor, and member of the Research Centre “Integration and Cooperation in the European Area” (ICEE), Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris.

Vassil Kirov is Associate Professor at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and Associate Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI).

Phil Almond (DMU), Director of CERC, will act as discussant.


Please contact Nisha Solanki  to register your attendance.