“Change and continuity” – the experience of trade unions in the cultural sector of the former Soviet Union

Vladimir Kamen (Deputy General Secretary, Consultative Council of Cultural Workers' Unions, Moscow, Russia)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Publication date: 1 December 2005



This paper aims to map the critical changes in the history of trade unionism in the countires which until the late 80s early 90s formed the USSR, and spans a period from 1905 to 2005.


The author has chosen to assess the role of trade unions in the former Soviet states by placing them into their historical context. The diversity of their development in the various states is discussed and the painful transition journey they made in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union is described as a means of explaining the structure and role they play in the newly created democracies within the region.


The paper emphasizes the powerful and influential role that trade unions enjoyed under the old regime when they were very much – de facto – an arm of the state machine. Their role as overseers of social and welfare benefits and enforcers of health and safety regulations and guardians of the Labour Code is compared with that in the post‐communist period when the new governments throughout the region quickly transferred those functions back to the state and in most cases consciously set out to marginalize the unions. The paper summarizes the state of play of the trade unions in the region as they seek to adapt to the new conditions and establish a new raison detra.

Research limitations/implications

The existing literature contains few accounts of trade union activity and how it changed as a result of the collapse of communism in the former Soviet territories. This study of the Cultural Workers Union provides a sound base from which to launch further research into the development of free trade unions in other sectors of the region in the post‐communist period.


This paper's primary value is that it starts to fill a gap in our understanding of employee relations in the new democracies of what was the USSR and in particular the form that trade unions have taken, the role they play and the challenges that they face.



Kamen, V. (2005), "“Change and continuity” – the experience of trade unions in the cultural sector of the former Soviet Union", Employee Relations, Vol. 27 No. 6, pp. 613-623. https://doi.org/10.1108/01425450510626144

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