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The condition of workers in interwar Romania

The Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporations Oral History Center has interviews with witnesses of the interwar period

The condition of workers in interwar Romania
The condition of workers in interwar Romania

, 29.01.2024, 14:00

Anyone who reads pages of the history of Romanian workers learns, in general, that this social class was always persecuted and that it had a hard time. The press of the time, politicians, written documents, photos and videos describe difficult living conditions, with extreme cases of poverty. Quite often, observers tend to generalize about a particular case and neglect the details. But the oral history restores the details and contradicts the often-gross generalizations, especially the propaganda that the communist regime made between 1945 and 1989.



The Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporations Oral History Center has interviews with witnesses of the interwar period, the best period of economic development in Romania’s history, about the working conditions of the workers. Before 1945, the year when the communist regime was established, Manole Filitti was the director of the Phoenix oil factory. In 1996, he remembered the conditions the workers enjoyed in the enterprise he ran. Apart from salary rights, the employer offered facilities such as locker rooms, showers, protective equipment and eateries.



Manole Filitti: On Sunday mornings, I spent two or three hours going to visit three or four workers. I would take the names of the workers who were facing difficulties from the personnel department, for instance workers with more children and things like that, and I would fill the car with various food stuffs, with soaps, detergent and other things and I would go to these people’s homes. I would ring the bell or knock on the door, go in there and leave them these gifts. I exchanged a few words with them, they also told me about the needs they had, for clothing, children’s shoes and others, and we, the factory, covered their expenses and helped these people.



The lawyer Ionel Mociornița was the son of industrialist Dumitru Mociornița, one of the creators of the Romanian leather and footwear industry. In 1997, he was talking about the attention his father paid to the standard of living of his workers: The existence of the unions was somewhat more formal than effective, but that did not stop the employers, and I’m talking about myself, I don’t know about the others, having very good social and medical assistance inside the factory. There was social insurance, by the way, my father built the Social Insurance House with his own money in Piaţa Asan – Asan Market, as he built the Regina Maria- Queen Marie high school, part of the Gheorghe Şincai high school, the Bucur hospital. My father also set up the summer camps of many high schools. There was no collective bargaining agreement, the labor agreement consisted in the individual employment and the worker left when he wanted to or when he was proved at fault. There were two sections of the Court on Calomfirescu street where I can say that very few employers were able to win a case against the workers.



The attention paid to the condition of workers was due to the legislation as well as to a humanitarian rationale that was above legal obligations. Ionel Mociornița recollects his father’s lifestyle: His concept was: everything that is extra should be put into the development of the industry, into its improvement and into charity works. He led a very strict life, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink, he didn’t know how to hold playing cards in his hand, just like myself, he didn’t dance, I mean we led a life of real serious people and creators, and if the wrong times had not come, I am convinced that three or four generations later we would have had factories and industries in Romania of the same importance as those abroad that are centuries-old and that form the strength and foundation of developed countries.



Teofil Totezan was a shoemaker and in 2000 he told how he learned the trade from a craftsman. He went to a vocational school and in 1929 he got a job at the Dermata factory in Cluj, but he learned practical lessons from a craftsman at his home.



Teofil Totezan: You were in the owner’s house, you fed the pigs, you went to pick weeds. The craftsman I learned the craft from was a very handsome boy, he learned his trade and married the daughter of a rich shoemaker. That man had three daughters and gave each girl a house. And so, my master had a house from his father-in-law, he was a very good man. He used to say, curse me now, not when you grow up! And I was thinking to myself God, help me get rid of him! All his disciples were afraid of him. And he assumed the role of an educator. There were wonderful working conditions at the factory. Because a worker like me, in the city, at that time earned 600 lei a week. When you went to the factory, the first salary when you entered the factory was 600 lei. I was earning 1,500 lei a week, and my teacher friend had 1,800 lei.



Workers in interwar Romania benefited from the working conditions of a developing society. It was a society that had a lot to improve, but real societies, not utopian ones, always have something to improve. (LS)

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