The Troubled Waters of Transformation: Shipyard Labor in East Central Europe from Late to Post Socialism

Lecture | November 14 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 270 Stephens Hall

 Ulf Brunnbauer, Director, Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, University of Regensburg

 Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ISEEES), Institute of European Studies

Practitioners of East European labor history are at risk of falling into deep depression. Under state-socialism, industrial workers were apparently let down by regimes that claimed to rule in their name. After the end of communist rule, many workers experienced large-scale dispossession because of deindustrialization and the emerging hegemony of neo-liberalism. In my talk, which is based on the collaborative research project “Transformations from Below," I want to question established ideas about the fate of labor in the Great Transformation from state socialism to post-socialism. While a rosy picture of the fate of workers is, indeed, out of place, a historical approach towards transformation leads to more nuanced interpretations. This includes questioning the salience of “1989” as a rupture. On the one hand, substantial shifts in shop-floor relations pre-dated the end of communist rule while on the other hand, important changes in ownership patterns (privatization) were caused not so much by the end of socialism but by European Union accession. It is also evident that the peculiar historical legacies, the contingencies of party politics, and international business cycles had a major impact on the outcomes of transformation. I will develop my argument on the example of the ship-building industry in Croatia and Poland, which had been integrated into a global market already during communist rule. This allows positioning the recent socio-economic history of East Central Europe firmly in a global framework with its intersecting scales of time and space.

Ulf Brunnbauer is Director of the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies in Regensburg and professor of Southeast and East European History at the University of Regensburg. He has a PhD in history from the University of Graz and a Habilitation from the Free University of Berlin. His research deals mainly with the social history of Southeastern Europe since the 19th, with a special interest in migration, labor and family relations. His most recent books are Globalizing Southeastern Europe. America, Emigrants and the State since the late 19th Century (Lanham: Lexington, 2016) and The Ambiguous Nation. Case Studies from Southeastern Europe in the 20th Century, co-edited with Hannes Grandits (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2013). In spring 2018, his “Kleine Geschichte Südosteuropas” (co-authored with Klaus Buchenau) will come out.