This article explores the relationship between the development of labor law and the cost of labor in Romania between the end of World War I and the 1960s. Drawing on a variety of archival and printed sources, the author argues that the historical trajectory of this peripheral East European country shows in exemplary fashion how the increasing juridification of labor relations was first enabled by policy makers’ concern to neutralize class conflict during the 1920s and then propelled by the collapse of industrial wages and the turn to import substitution in the aftermath of the Great Depression. The state socialist regime after 1945, the author further contends, inherited not merely the cheap labor of the interwar epoch but also the institutional mechanisms for controlling prices and wages set up to manage the economy during World War II, all of which facilitated the expansion of socialist labor law during the first two postwar decades. By the second half of the twentieth century, rapidly industrializing socialist Romania could thus integrate an expanding workforce into a type of employment relationship normally deemed standard: full-time, stable, dependent, and socially protected work. The author concludes by pointing out some of the implications of this Eastern European case study for how we might rethink the twin issues of the cost of labor and the transformation of labor law in our age of precarity.

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