The history of labour in Yugoslav late socialism (Pula, 2 October 2015)

The Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz, organised a series of panels centred on the theme of labour and history from below in Yugoslav late socialism for the conference ‘Socialism: Construction and Deconstruction’, (the 2nd International Conference Socialism on the Bench, organised by the Centre for Cultural and Historical Research of Socialism, University of Pula on 1-3 October 2015.


Our project, through centred on Serbia and Montenegro in the 1980s, seeks to contribute to the broader research agenda of labour history in SEE and to foster cooperation between researchers. In the last few years an increasing number of young researchers based in institutions in the UK, SEE and Central Europe have been conducting doctoral and postdoctoral research in this field.

Here are the panels we organised which give a flavour of the state of the debate:


Panel 1: Industrial Grievances and Identity from the 1960s

  • Vladimir Korica (University of Glasgow), Working Class Identity and the Struggle for Regional Autonomy in Socialist Vojvodina 1961-1988
  • Vladan Vukliš (Arhiv Republike Srpske, Banja Luka), Testing the Program: Self management in Ljubija iron mines in the early 1960s
  • Ulrike Schult (University of Jena), The Informal Side of Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslav Automotive Factories 1965-1985
Ulrike Schult

Panel 2: Other forms of Labour: Voluntary work and Gastarbeiter Return

  • Ana Kladnik, Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam. Voluntary Work and History from below in Late Socialist Slovenia: The Case of Volunteer Fire Departments
  • Sara Bernard, University of Regensburg. Policies towards Migrant Workers’ Reintegration and Labour Market Transformations in Late Socialist Yugoslavia
Ana Kladnik, Sara Bernard, and Chiara Bonfiglioli
Ana Kladnik, Sara Bernard, and Chiara Bonfiglioli

Panel 3: Between class and nation: Labour in Yugoslavia during the 1980s

  • Sven Cvek (University of Zagreb), Jasna Račić (CMS Zagreb), and Snježana Ivčić (University of Zagreb), Yugoslav Labor in Transition: The Case of Borovo
  • Hajrudin Hromadžić (University of Rijeka), The story about proud industrial worker: the case study of textiles factory ‘Kombiteks’ Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Goran Musić (CSEES University of Graz), ‘They Came as Workers and Left as Serbs’: The Role of Rakovica’s Blue-Collar Workers in Serbian Social Mobilizations of the Late 1980s
Sven Cvek

Panel 4: Labour on the Brink of Capitalism

  • Rory Archer (CSEES University of Graz), ‘It was better when it was worse’. Ruptures, socialist and post-socialist temporalities
  • Anna Calori (University of Exeter), Globalisation or exploitation? Debating reforms in the late socialist workplace
  • Ivan Rajković (SSEES, University College London),  “Labour, now!”: tracing industrial slowdown, unproductive employment and calls for work ethic in postsocialist Serbia
  • Kathrin Jurkat (Humboldt University, Berlin), Privatization in Serbian post-socialist factories – perspectives from below
Ana Calori
Ana Calori

Emerging themes in the research of labour, (late) Yugoslav socialism and postsocialism

We have compiled a preliminary list of themes that arose in the presentations and discussions prompted by them in Pula. These methodological and thematic considerations emerge frequently and transcend the particular empirical focus of the papers.

This is by no means a definitive list and we welcome contributions from participants in order to expand it further (in comments below or via email)

Themes of interest

  • The meaning of work; affect; emotion
  • Work and non-work
  • Voluntary work (and its ambiguity i.e. de facto forced or community based labour)
  • Temporality; in the sense of teleological socialist discourses; (post-)Fordism
  • Ruptures and continuities
  • Morality and social capital attached to work
  • Commonalities and specificities of various sectors of labour (e.g. automotive, textile, mining…)
  • Divisions and antagonisms between workers (productive/non productive; skilled/unskilled; white collar/blue collar)
  • Sociability; The workplace as the centre of social life (‘the second home’)
  • Provision of welfare through the socialist workplace

Features of Yugoslav work and non-work

  • Self-management structures and institutions
  • Social ownership
  • Market socialism and competition
  • System change and ethnic polarisation (1988-1992)
  • Conflict and cooperation
  • Unemployment
  • The postsocialist state owned firm in the 1990s
  • Privatisation

Sources and methods

  • Oral history
  • Archives (state, city, local)
  • Factory archives
  • Media sources
  • Labour in popular culture (television, film)
  • The particular implications of the choice of sources; ways in which they can be combined
  • Global labour history approaches

Labour and its intersection with other phenomena

  • Gender
  • Social movements
  • Nationalism and ethnicity
  • Political and institutional history
  • Migration
  • Postsocialism

Levels of analysis and comparative framework

  • Focus on the level of the factory (single or multiple case study)
  • Focus on a broader unit (community, town, region, republic)
  • Comparison of units (factory, city, republic etc.)
  • Diachronic or synchronic comparison

Published by

Rory Archer

I am a social historian of 20th century Southeast Europe originally from Ireland and primarily based in Austria for the last decade. My research has focused on labour history and gender history in socialism, housing, everyday life and popular culture. Methodologically, I have experience in working through oral history, grounded theory and other qualitative, interpretive methods which link social science approaches to social history research. My current research project (2020-2023) explores the history of intra-Yugoslav Albanian migration during late-socialism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s