The Guardian September 15, 1999


Czech Republic:
We're all employees, aren't we?

by Vaclav Vertelar*

Much has changed in the Czech Republic during the ten years of building 
capitalism with a right-wing policy of "transformation" which has plunged 
the country into its present deep economic, social, political and also 
moral crisis.

Recently, the now German-owned Czech daily Lidove noviny ran a 
series of articles under the title Ten years of capitalism: some have 
gained and others are suffering.

There was certainly an attempt to be objective, but the use of statistical 
averages led to the conclusion that in the last ten years living standards 
have risen, since the population's purchasing power has grown by 3.3 
percent.

In 1989 average monthly pay was 3,170 Czech crowns (Czk).

According to the Czech Statistical Office, in the first quarter of this 
year it was 10,971 Czk (about $315 at today's exchange rate), 3.46 times 
higher. In the last ten years retail prices have risen by 3.5 times.

This means that average real pay is at the same level as in 1989, but this 
is very misleading. The average conceals vast differences in income.

Most of the population lives on wages and salaries. About 85 percent of 
working Czechs are full-time employees. The remaining 15 percent include 
business people, practitioners of various trades and members of co-
operatives who do not receive a wage or salary.

Included in this category of "employees" are general managers of banks on 
monthly salaries of several hundred thousand crowns, managing directors 
(whose average monthly salary in 1997, according to a recent survey, was 
58,000 Czk), other managers, judges and senior civil servants.

Many of the latter, like MPs, have high second incomes as directors or 
members of the supervisory boards of joint-stock companies. New members of 
these boards at Czech Telecom, for example, will each receive a million 
crowns per year.

At the other end of the spectrum of "employees" are workers in the textile 
and clothing industries, cleaners and others, who earn around 5-6,000 Czk 
per month ($140-170), with newly-qualified doctors, teachers, scientists, 
nurses and others not much better off.

The class approach to employment statistics was "abolished" several years 
ago. Instead of employees being classified as manual workers, technicians 
and administrative staff (in Czech, "THPs") and operating and service 
staff, they are all now lumped together into the one category of 
"employees".

This of course makes further analysis impossible. However, it is clear 
that, under capitalism in the Czech Republic today, it is the manual 
workers who are suffering most.

For example, in some cases the nominal wages of formerly "privileged" 
workers in heavy industry and miners have not even doubled, let alone 
trebled, in the past ten years.

Their real wages, taking inflation into account, have therefore fallen 
significantly. And so the new statistical classification also has a 
practical political and propagandist purpose: workers have "disappeared" 
into the category of "employees" and become statistically well-off.

Given all this, as well as the growing army of unemployed, I am not at all 
surprised that many Czechs do not and cannot see honest work as their 
salvation. It rarely leads to "affluence". So they bet and gamble instead.

Recently, for example, the National Lottery offered prizes running into 
tens of millions of crowns. As I write, in the first three days of this 
week Czechs have staked bets totalling more than 100 million crowns, four 
times as much as usual.

This is another aspect of the climate in the Czech Republic today.

* * *
From the Czech Communist daily Halo noviny, published in Postmark Prague No 281

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