Trade Unions in Eastern Europe


According to Countryaah, Belarus is a country located in Eastern Europe. The state systematically intervenes in the trade union work and controls the country’s largest trade union organization RTD. The aim is to silence all movements critical of the regime, including the autonomous trade union movement BKDP. Several union representatives have been jailed. Others have been fired or threatened.

There are two central trade unions in Belarus. By far the largest is the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB) with about four million members. RTD is a reorganized continuation of the former communist trade union movement. In addition, there is the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP). The organization arose through a merger of two alternative unions in 1997 and states that today it has about 9,000 members. In reality, the BKDP functions not only as a trade union movement but also as a rallying point for the political opposition. In addition to the BKDP, there are also a number of independent unions. The most important of them is the Radio and Electricians’ Association REP (AM), which has broken away from the state-controlled union.

According to Belarusian law, all unions must be registered. But in reality, the authorities are sabotaging the attempts of independent trade unions to register. Newly formed unions in places such as Mogilev, Gomel and Vitbesk have repeatedly tried to register their organizations, but each time the authorities have come up with different excuses and declared that registration is not possible at the moment.

Compared with Russia, the reform of the trade union movement in Belarus has been slower. The old union leaders have retained their positions and the old decision-making structure largely remains. In Belarus, there was never any independence movement or opposition that wanted to break with the former Soviet Union. In Belarus, therefore, there was no preparation for recasting the former social institutions and organizations.

The degree of trade union organization in Belarus is unusually high. More than 50 percent of the workforce is unionized. One reason for the higher degree of organization is the lack of democratization – many members simply believe that it is still mandatory to join the union. At the same time, the many members mean that the trade union movement has become a decisive power factor in the country. This in turn is an explanation for the regime’s harsh repression against the trade union movement. In particular, President Lukashenko has done his utmost to thwart any attempt to build an independent and democratic trade union movement.

In recent years, the oppression of trade unionists has taken on such proportions that it has become almost impossible for free trade unions to function. People with union assignments are fired, arrested, threatened and harassed regularly.

The repression against free trade unions has also restricted the room for maneuver for those who want to reform the old trade union structure. There is currently a great deal of resignation within the trade union opposition. Three unions have left RTD after Leonid Kozik’s takeover – the union for public employees, the union union and the railway workers’ union.



Central trade unions: Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB), the state-run trade union movement, and the autonomous movement Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP). FTUB is a member of the communist trade union international WFTU. BKDP belongs to the world union ITUC.


Bulgaria is one of 10 countries in East Europe. In Bulgaria, there are two competing union structures. Derls a reformed continuation of the old communist trade union movement, today called the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (CITUB). Partly the newly formed movement Podkrepa. Overall, the trade union movement has weakened and lost many members. In particular, CITUB has declined.

Trade union rights in Bulgaria are limited. Collective bargaining is allowed in the private sector, but there is no protection of the right to bargain in the Civil Servants Act. Trade union violations also occur in other areas. On several occasions, the country’s state radio has fired uncomfortable journalists.

The trade union movement in Bulgaria has its roots back to the end of the 19th century, when local trade unions were formed in industry. The first trade union organization in the country was founded in 1904 and 40 years later the trade union movement was an active part of the socialist transformation that brought the Bulgarian Communist Party to power. Thereafter, the trade union movement became a close ally of the ruling Communist Party and was transformed into a service establishment. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CITUB (Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria) was formed as a reformed continuation of the former communist trade union movement. Pretty soon, CITUB left the Communist International WFTU to join the FFI, a forerunner of the current World Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Initially, the old ties remained between the CITUB and the Reformed Communist Party, Bulgaria’s Socialist Party. Gradually, the distance between the CITUB and the socialists has increased. (CITUB’s Bulgarian abbreviation is KNSB.)

In 1989, an alternative trade union movement, Podkrepa, was founded, modeled on Polish Solidarity. Podkrepa is politically related to the market liberal party Democratic Forces Union. Podkrepa sometimes defines itself as a Christian union and the union flag is blue.

However, CITUB is still the largest trade union central organization in the country, but the membership collapse has been drastic. In the mid-1990’s, the organization had 1.6 million members, in 2005 the number had decreased to half a million to be down to 220,000 in 2018. However, the union structure is unchanged with 46 unions for both workers and salaried employees, including a large teachers’ union. The main reason for the decrease in membership has been the inability to retain local organizations after state-owned enterprises have been privatized.

CITUB’s main demands are public initiatives to reduce unemployment. In a letter of protest to the government, CITUB has demanded an offensive investment policy to create more jobs.

Representatives of Podkrepa state that the organization has 150,000 members divided into 30 member unions. A large part of the members consist of white-collar groups and academics. In addition, there are five organizations associated with Prodkrepa, including an association for children’s rights, a student organization, a women’s organization and an organization for rock and pop musicians.

CITUB has consistently been opposed to the extensive privatization programs, while Podkrepa has advocated market solutions. For about a decade now, however, the two central trade unions have begun to approach each other. One issue that has united the two trade union movements is the protests against the increased electricity and heating prices. This, combined with high unemployment, rising poverty and large backlogs in the payment of wages, has created a widening gap between the trade union movements on the one hand and representatives of the state and employers on the other. The internal social dialogue is seriously damaged.

The relationship between CITUB and Podkrepa is relatively good. On several occasions, the two trade unions have arranged joint actions, including in protest against raising the retirement age.

There are also several unions that do not belong to CITUB or Podkrepa, including journalists and firefighters.



Central trade unions: Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (CITUB) and Podkrepa. Both belong to the World Trade Union ITUC and the European Trade Union Confederation (EFS).


The trade union movement has found it difficult to cope with the transition after independence. At first, the number of members fell sharply, but in recent years the number of members has stabilized. The completely dominant trade union organization, the National Trade Union Confederation of Moldova (NTUCM) consists of a merger of the reformed former Soviet trade union and the newly formed trade union Solidariate. NTUCM has 27 affiliates and about 400,000 individual members. The capital city of Moldova is Chișinău.



Central trade union organization: The National Trade Union Confederation of Moldova (NTUCM) is the country’s dominant trade union organization. NTUCM belongs to the world union ITUC.


The constitution guarantees the right to form and join a trade union. However, for a trade union to be recognized at the district or national level, it must gather more than half of the employees in the same profession or employment or organize a majority of the employees in each district.

Similar to the situation in Russia, the trade union scene in Ukraine is dominated by reformed trade unions. The largest trade union movement is the FPU (Federations of Trade Unions of Ukraine). In addition, there are two other important trade union movements – KVPU (Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine) and VOST (All-Ukrainian Union of Workers’ Solidarity).

FPU reports that the organization has 8.4 million members, but the information is uncertain. KVPU states that the organization has just over 250,000 members and VOST 150,000 members.

The trade unions are under severe pressure from the country’s economic crisis and from the political contradictions in the country. In reality, the trade unions have lost contact with the local branches in Donetsk and Luhansk.



Central trade unions: FPU (Federations of Trade Unions of Ukraine), KVPU (Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine) and VOST (All-Ukrainian Union of Workers’ Solidarity). All belong to the World Trade Union ITUC.


Unlike other countries in Eastern Europe, independent trade unions were allowed during the Soviet era, but with the proviso that the independent trade unions were not allowed to challenge power. The dominant trade union movement during the Soviet era, however, was the Communist-led movement UGSR, General Trade Union Confederation of Romania.

After Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in 1989, the union scene suddenly changed. UGSR survived for only five days. From the remnants of UGSR, the national organization CNSLR was founded. Almost at the same time, the alternative trade union movement Fratia was formed. The name comes from the Romanian “fraternity”, which means brotherhood. Fratia grew rapidly in the early 1990’s and organized many employees in offices and in the health sector. After just a few years, Fratia had over one million members. This was a great success, however, the reformed CNSLR remained by far the largest country organization.

In 1993, the two organizations merged and the new organization was named CNSLR-Fratia. The merger of CNSLR and Fratia has been followed by mergers between different unions. This has in some cases strengthened the local unions. Overall, however, the union has lost strength. At a rapid pace, the old state-owned companies have been privatized and the trade unions have been bad at adjusting to a market economy and new relations with the employer. In many companies, the trade unions have disappeared completely.

When CNSLR and Fratia merged, the organization had 2.5 million members. Today, the number of members is about 800,000 divided into 44 affiliates.

In 1990, Alfa Cartel was formed, a Christian but non-partisan trade union movement that had been a driving force in the reform of Romanian society. Alfa Cartel has gradually continued to grow and in step with CNSLR-Fratia’s membership decline, Alfa Cartel has taken over the role as the country’s largest trade union organization. Alfa Cartel currently has just over one million members.

BNS (National Trade Union Bloc) is another central trade union organization based in the service industries and the transport sector. The number of individual members is currently around 300,000. BNS works closely with MSzOz in Hungary. BNS blames Romania’s deep economic problems on the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) program in the country. BNS has even sued the IMF on the grounds that the IMF’s policy runs counter to the institution’s set goals of economic stability and high employment. In Romania, the results have been the other way around – weak economy and rising unemployment. In addition, there is the Confédération des Syndicats Démocratiques de Roumanie (CSDR) with just over 100,000 members plus about twenty small independent trade unions.



Central trade unions: Four central trade unions are participating in the social dialogue with the Romanian government: CNSLR-Fratia, CSDR, BNS and Alfa-Cartel. All of these are members of the World Trade Union ITUC.

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