Staunton, January 11 – Russians employed in factories have become “an invisible group” in society since 1991; and as a result, the identity even now is based largely on memories of the Soviet past as exacerbated by their sense of growing social inequality, according to a new study by the Higher School of Economics of workers at the Uralmash plant.
The study, prepared by Elizaveta Polukhina and Anna Strelnikova of the HSE and Alexandrina Vanke of the University of Manchester, notes that since the end of the Soviet Union, workers have received very little attention, including from sociologists and other scholars (iq.hse.ru/news/213569213.html).
This has left members of this group “lost” because they had been respected in Soviet times; but “in the 1990s everything changed completely.” They lost their former status in society and watched as their relative position in the income pyramid fell precipitously, the three researchers say.
Uralmash, set up in the northern section of Yekaterinburg in 1927 was a workers’ settlement based on a number of factories. It was one of dozens of such settlements in Soviet times. At present, more than 190,000 people live there, a number far lower than in the past. The HSE researchers conducted deep interviews with a number of the remaining workers.
These settlements, the sociologists say, were intended to provide everything the workers needed and to root them to one place. As such, they served as an important component of the Soviet system of control. But despite what many might think, many there now recall that arrangement as a positive thing.
Most of the workers now say they felt like “part of a large family,” one in which their days and even their lives were predictable and in which they could expect to be taken care of cradle to grave. They say they were proud to be “simple Soviet people,” a category that they defined more in ethical terms than in class ones.
For these workers, the collapse of the Soviet system as completely negative and remains so. And if they were quite happy to talk about the Soviet period, they were much more restrained in discussing the 1990s, the three sociologists say. For them, that period meant wage arrears, the loss of many fellow workers, and search for a new place in life.
The sociologists say that even now, workers at Uralmash view themselves as “innocent ‘victims of circumstances.’” As a result, “the contemporary identity of workers is a kind of mix which includes Soviet and post-Soviet practices, meanings and values,” but it still focuses on values rather than income alone.
“This doesn’t mean that class distinctions have disappeared entirely. To a large extent,” the three write, “identity is defined as a result of a sense of social stratification.” Workers don’t feel comfortable dealing with managers or owners and don’t have the same social cohesion they once had particularly as younger workers gain education and move away.