Last updated 991113
Latest minor change Y10108
Lower wage levels were not the only indicator of poverty. (After all, money has only limited value in a rationed "access" economy.) Equally important were wretched housing conditions, especially in industrial complexes outside established cities: overcrowded, sometimes unheated barracks, or even pits in the ground ("zemlyanki"). For ideological reasons, the Soviet government had destroyed any private housing market, that otherwise might have taken some of the slack. Government food supplies were often scant (requiring much waiting in lines) and sometimes rotten; private food suppliers had been wiped out by Collectivization. Local public transport was crowded and unreliable, if it existed at all.
(The wonderful Moscow Metro, first opened at a few stations in the 1930s, was only a showcase, in no way representative of conditions on buses and streetcars, especially outside the capital. In many areas, the only transport was by foot along muddy unpaved roads. One should not confuse the Stalin era with the more settled Khrushchov and Brezhnev periods, where a real effort was made to provide most urban working families with some sort of housing, public transport, and tolerable [even if not luxurious] living standards.)
Nevertheless, when workers got fed up with conditions at one site, they were free to quit and go look for something better. And this was no mere "freedom to starve"; Stalin's forced industrialization meant that plenty of jobs were available, even if low-paid. Or, if workers didn't want to move, they might simply take days off or show up late.
Nominally, by 1932, absentees were to be fired; quitters (and discharged absentees) were to barred from housing and rations, and were to be blacklisted from new employment. See, for example
In late 1938, however, after he had exterminated his former political opponents, Comrade Stalin was ready to settle accounts with the workers.
His first measure was a requirement for labor books. Unlike the 1930 law, this one was enforced; society by now was thoroughly cowed.
On 8 January 1939, the government made clear that an unauthorized lateness of 20 minutes (or taking a break 20 minutes too long, or leaving 20 minutes early) counted as absenteeism, grounds for mandatory dismissal (Pravda, 9 Jan 1939). Transportation breakdowns (a common event) were no excuse; a doctor's certificate was required, and doctors who gave certificates too easily themselves faced prosecution and prison.
Some workers still found it worthwhile to be absent and force a mandatory dismissal, so that they could seek work in a place where labor books were not closely read. Stalin put an end to this with a remarkable law,
Comment from the Ideology Dept:
Title of Russian original:
O Perexode na Vos'michasovoj Rabochij Den', na Semidnevnuyu Rabochuyu Nedelyu i o Zapreshchenii Samovol'nogo Uxoda Rabochix i Sluzhashchix s Predpriyatij i Uchrezhdenij
SNK -- Sovet Narodnyx Kommissarov ("Council of People's Commissars")
SSSR -- Soyuz Sovetskix Socialisticheskix Respublik (USSR)
CK -- Central'nyj Komitet ("Central Committee")
VKP(b) -- Vsesoyuznaya Kommunisticheskaya Partiya (bol'shevikov) ["All-Union Communist Party (of Bol'sheviks"), renamed "Communist Party of the Soviet Union" (CPSU) perhaps in 1952.
VCSPS -- Vsesoyuznjy Central'nyj Sovet Professional'nyx Soyuzov ("All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions"). Under Stalin and his Soviet successors, these trade unions were docile instruments of the government.
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