Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Communist Labor

As long as I can remember, my dad was an inveterate anti-communist. Because he spoke so openly about his beliefs and his anti-oligarchy stance, he was never in the graces of his bosses who had to kiss up to the local communist party organizer. There was a communist organizer assigned in every workplace, they earned double the salary of an ordinary engineer and his sole job was to spy on workers to make sure they were good communists. He filed reports at the end of each day which was read and catalogued by his higher-ups. The amount of paperwork and storage must have been overwhelming in the absence of computers. Staggering amounts of data were put on microfiche. Some were released to the public after communism fell in 1990. This community organizer was hated but nobody dared to challenge him or speak ill of the regime in front of him, except for my dad. He did not hide his feelings of hatred for the communist dictator president, Ceausescu, and wished openly for his demise. His policies were destroying the nation. Because my dad was on the security police's radar, every time the president was travelling within a certain mile radius of our home town, he would be detained under lock and key wherever he happened to be at the moment, at work or at home. If he was walking in the street, they would take him to headquarters until Ceausescu was out of range. I did not understand why they would do that, my dad never threatened to kill him and did not own a gun. Daddy was a peaceful man and would never take a small creature's life much less a human being's. He regarded life as sacred, only God could give it and only God could take it away. To make his life miserable, dad would get the most disgusting jobs to do and would be frequently moved from refinery to refinery - he was a petrochemical mechanic and a foreman. On any given day he could be swimming in mud and oil goo up to his hips, climbing on poles without safety gear, or crawling in narrow spaces with possible gas leaks. It was as if they wished him dead and put him in harm's way on purpose. Dad never complained about that, and even if he had, they would have ignored him. His labor union (sindicat) to which all workers were forced to belong and pay dues, did absolutely nothing to protect his rights as an employee. There was no such thing as bargaining contract with rights and responsibilities. Management improvised as they wished, with no accountability. The law was only on the side of the employer, the communist regime.

Many employees stole from the refinery, everybody knew it, but they kept quiet. They bribed the gate guard to let them through with their loot once a week. Workers used the stolen goods to barter with other people for food, wine, bread, medicine, gasoline, whatever their needs were at the moment. My dad hated the thieves and the collusive robbery. He said, poverty was no excuse for stealing. If he reported a theft to his boss, dad would get in trouble and the workers would beat him up for reporting them. Even the director of the refinery was caught stealing wrought iron fencing. He was going to use it around his parents' cemetery plot. The irony was that his parents were still alive! If you think, he did not get in trouble and got to keep the fence, you are right. Daddy was beaten up once again and thrown into a pit of metal shavings from a two story height. He cracked his skull which eventually led to his painful death.

Workers' lives were expendable, no OSHA there to protect them. My cousin Emil, a welder, was sent into a low tunnel, crawl space only, without protective gear, and never came out. He died of suffocation. How in the world was he going to weld around a gas leak? The all mighty government employer paid lip service to safety and protection but sent many young men to their deaths without any accountability. You were more likely to do hard time if you were missing money in the inventory - and some accountants did, by no fault of their own. Many factory directors and managers had sticky fingers and pointed the blame on hapless accountants.

Everyone worked from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a 15 minute break for lunch. However, many crew members would hide to sleep because there was no incentive to really try, you could not get fired, nor would you get extra money if you worked harder. Once the freedom and the reward to be exceptional was removed, there was no reason to try at all. But everyone expected the thirteenth check at Christmas time, a welfare check cloaked as performance bonus. The communist work ethic was, "they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work." Women skipped work worse than men and it was not difficult to bribe a doctor to give a bogus excuse. Aunt Angela missed work half the time and still received full pay. Her illness was laziness and alcohol, not necessarily in that order.

Agricultural laborers worked really hard, long days to put in the crops, weed them, and harvest them. It was backbreaking work with very little pay. Most of the work was done manually. Each village had one tractor and it stayed broken most of the time, either missing parts, or the operator did not know how to fix it. The dirt was tilled manually with a hoe, the weeds were dug up with a hoe, and the harvesting was done with shovels by hand. A large percentage of the crop had to be given to the regime to be sold on the open market, while the villagers shared a small percentage according to the amount of labor and the number of days worked. The collective farm of the regime had an agreement with each villager. When crops were burned by draught, the villagers were paid with money. The regime provided the irrigation systems via ditches diverting water from various rivers and creeks. Collective farms also raised cattle and hogs, remuneration was mostly in money since the animals went for slaughter, nothing was shared with the workers.

Each village had a shephard who rounded up the villagers' cows every morning and took them to pasture to graze. He returned them in the evening. Amazingly the cows knew exactly which house to go to as if they knew their own address. In mountain villages, there were more sheep herded than cows. You could hear the cow bells and bleats in late afternoon and you knew the herd was coming home. The shephard was the poorest man in town but always seemed the happiest. He lived, ate, and slept with the cows or the sheep.

Each home raised at least a cow, a hog, chicken, ducks, and rabbits. These animals provided them with milk, cheese, butter, eggs, meat, and fur. Self-sufficiency was important since transportation to the city was difficult, expensive, and uncommon. Sugar was a rare commodity and so were sweets. It was a real treat to be able to make your own fruit preserves and serve them to company as an exquisite desert with well-cold water. During wine making season in the fall, sugar was hard to find and very expensive. Milk was used to feed babies, make cheese, and butter. Teenagers and adults did not drink milk as it was better used to make other products. Most village kids had never seen ice cream, tasted it, or heard of it.

Many factory workers and shephards alike drank a lot to drown the sorrows of their pitiful existence. Communism was not supposed to exploit the proletariat, only evil capitalism did. Surely, anybody who saw how poorly these people lived, could not possibly believe this lie. They had no place to go and no way to improve their lot in life.

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