Trade unions were guided by the state in the Soviet Union and their main objective was to protect the interests of the employer. Arising from this, the involvement of the entire target group in what according to their statutes were formally voluntary trade associations, was set as the objective. In terms of their structure, trade unions were subdivisions of the Communist Party and operated according to the principles of ‘democratic centralism’.
The Soviet economic system brought with it characteristic problems: poor working conditions and organisation of work; low productivity and workers’ morale; a complicated system of wages and bonuses; large losses in working time, and many other such problems.
Thus trade unions developed into a particular kind of ‘carrot and stick’ system, where an irrational ‘harmony’ emerged between employee and employer, and belonging to the trade union was self-evident, even for someone who was quite openly disposed against the Soviet regime. Following from this, it has to be stressed that Soviet trade unions did not have all that much in common with the trade union in its classical sense. The protection of the work-related and everyday interests of its members was admittedly declared in the statutes and there is surely also no reason to doubt that trade unions were also of some use to a certain extent in such matters, but that was not the main point. The Soviet trade union was a control mechanism that relied on four main components:
First of all to involve the entire working population in the organisation under the aegis of standing for the ‘general public’, which could be influenced and controlled ‘on a social basis’ in accordance with ‘democratic centralism’.
Second, to be the organ of social supervision in adhering to labour legislation.
Third, to function as a mechanism of social distribution (the distribution of benefit.
Fourth, to be the ‘school of communism’ (club activity, holding propaganda meetings in accordance with instructions from the Party, or ‘raising the consciousness of working people pertaining to the field of production in the spirit of building communism’).