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Soviets Take Lowly Jobs to Qualify for Capital Residence : Outside Workers Flock to Moscow

June 01, 1986|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Lena, 24, considers herself lucky because she is allowed to live in Moscow instead of her birthplace in Kaluga, a city of 280,000 people about 70 miles southwest of Moscow.

But to qualify as a Muscovite, Lena has put in seven years of hard work in a textile factory and lived in a dormitory, four to a room. Getting an apartment of her own is still a distant dream, years in the future.

For Lena, however, acquiring a coveted Moscow propiska, or residence permit, has made the hardship worthwhile. Without such a permit, it is a criminal offense to live here.

Lena--she prefers that her surname not be published--is like tens of thousands of other young men and women who have chosen to work at less-than-desirable jobs to win the right to remain in Moscow.

For more than 20 years, the Moscow city government has relied on people like Lena from provincial cities to supply an essential part of its labor force. The authorities have allowed in a limited number of temporary workers--called limichiki , or "limited ones"--because their numbers are strictly regulated. They assigned them mostly to the dirty and menial jobs that Muscovites try to avoid.

Even at Auto Plants

These out-of-town workers are found at construction sites, on auto assembly lines, in textile factories, driving buses and streetcars. If for some reason they lose their jobs, they also lose their residence permits.

According to city officials, there are now 100,000 limichiki in Moscow, but they will be the last of the breed.

Boris N. Yeltsin, Moscow's new Communist Party leader, has ordered an end to the importation of provincial labor, starting next year. Yeltsin said recently that plant managers have too often tended to ask for more workers rather than automate their factories or reorganize production in a more efficient way.

His order means that young people will no longer be able to work their way into Moscow. Only a relatively few Soviet citizens from the hinterlands--those who marry Muscovites, parents who want to join their children, specialists assigned to work here--will be able to acquire a Moscow permit.

Such incoming workers generally have been motivated by the old, familiar lure of the big city.

In Kaluga, Lena said, life was boring. In Moscow, over the years a magnet for millions of Soviet citizens, she knew she would find better food, theaters and concert halls, even improved marriage prospects.

No New Recruits

Under Yeltsin's order, those workers who are already in Moscow with a temporary status will be allowed to complete their assignments and obtain residence permits. Thus, when the new restriction takes effect in 1987, all of the 100,000 workers enrolled in the program will be allowed to remain in the capital, but no one else will be recruited.

Vasily A. Shulga, deputy chairman of the Moscow Planning Commission, explained in an interview why the program is being abandoned.

"We believe that Moscow is approaching its maximum size," he said. "It now has 8.7 million people, and to avoid turning Moscow into a supercity we decided to hold down population growth."

A halt to the migration, he said, will help relieve the chronic housing shortage, since workers from the Soviet republics eventually join already substantial waiting lists for apartments.

As things now stand, he said, once workers receive their residence permits, it may take five years more for them to land an apartment. While they wait, they live in dormitories--in the expectation of a better life.

Natasha, 27, is still waiting. She came to Moscow 10 years ago from a small town on the Caspian Sea after graduating from secondary school.

After working for eight years at a textile factory on the edge of Moscow, some of that time on the night shift, she got her permit. She still lives in a dormitory, though, because she married a man who had worked at the plant for only three years and is not yet entitled to live here permanently.

The migrant workers are often employed as bus drivers because of the heavy turnover in that field. Pay is almost double that of the average worker; an official said that bus drivers receive 300 to 400 rubles a month ($420 to $560 at the official rate of exchange). But working conditions are difficult. The driver may start at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., the official said, making it difficult to lead a normal family life.

"The father is always working or resting from his previous shift," Shulga said, adding that special vacation benefits have been provided in an effort to make Muscovite bus drivers more content and to reduce the need for the out-of-towners.

Similarly, he said, measures are being taken to enhance the status of assembly-line workers and construction workers so that outsiders won't be needed. The turnover is high in these areas, too.

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