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Radical History Review 82 (2002) 9-36

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The State and Labor Conflict in Postrevolutionary Romania

Thomas J. Keil and Jacqueline M. Keil

This essay describes the history of labor unrest and the changes in the relations between unions and the Romanian government during and since the Ceausescu years (1965-89). Briefly, the relatively peaceful relations between one central labor confederation and the government during the communist era changed after the December 1989 revolution. In the early postrevolutionary era, some unions were organized into various confederations while others, such as the union representing Jiu Valley coal miners, remained independent, and labor unrest increased as workers protested over issues including workplace control, political policies, and economic conditions. While the government sought to create a more cooperative relationship with unions by enacting labor legislation in the early 1990s, labor militancy continued unabated. Recent developments having implications for Romania's labor movement include economic and political conditions and the rise of a radical right seeking to appeal to the working class, a segment of society that feels more left behind by the changes since the revolution than any other group.

Unions before and during the Communist Period in Romania

Before the communist era, Romania had a vital, though small, free-trade union movement. Modern trade unions formed as early as the second half of the nineteenth century. The political orientation of the trade unions was largely social democratic, with a minority being farther left. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) was [End Page 9] formed in 1893 in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. It effectively ceased as a party by the turn of the century, when a significant part of its leadership joined the Liberal Party. The SDP returned to the Romanian political scene in 1910. In 1914, party members divided over whether to support Romania's involvement in World War I. The SDP split into two parties in 1921 over the issue of how the party should respond to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Moderates wanted nothing to do with the Bolsheviks, while the party's left wing wanted the SDP to affiliate itself with the international communist movement. Its plans thwarted, the left formed the Romanian Communist Party, which was driven underground a few years later when it was declared illegal in 1924. 1 The communists quickly built strong ties with Romania's small trade union movement, helping organize Romania's first general strike in 1922 and another major strike in 1933.

It has been estimated that the Communist Party had approximately 1,700 members in 1933. 2 The party had a high degree of ethnic diversity; approximately 27 percent were Hungarians, 23 percent Romanians, 18 percent Jews, 10 percent Russians and Ukrainians, 8 percent Bulgarians, and the remaining 12 percent drawn from other nationalities. 3 As can be seen in these figures, national minorities made up 83 percent of the Communist Party. The Hungarians were primarily from Transylvania, the Russians and Ukrainians from Bessarabia and Bukovina, the Bulgarians from Northern Dobrodgea, and the Jews mainly from Moldova, Transylvania, Wallachia, and the Banat. Romania had acquired Transylvania, Bukovina, and the Banat from the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I; Bessarabia had been seized from Russia at the close of World War I; Dobrodgea had formerly been a part of Bulgaria. 4

In 1938, the Romanian king, Carol II, declared a royal dictatorship, bringing to an end the manipulative parliamentary democracy that had been in place since the Romanian Constitution of 1866. 5 Carol II banned all political opposition parties and took complete control of the state. The Communist Party was singled out for special repression, with a large number of its leaders either imprisoned or forced into exile by the Siguranta, the Romanian secret political police. Carol II appointed the highly anti-Semitic Romanian Orthodox Primate, Roman Cristea, as his prime minister. In September 1940, Carol II appointed General Ion Antonescu as Conducatorul and abdicated the throne to his nineteen-year-old son, Mihai, who became King Mihai I. 6

Antonescu formed an immediate alliance with the...


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