Two women workers at an industrial site near the Dnipro Hydroelectric dam
- Williams, Whiting, 1878-1975, Photographer
- Media Type
- Item Types
- Newspaper illustrations
- Williams shows us two women workers on his escorted tour of a construction site for the new aluminum production plant seen in the background. Both pause to look at Williams, one flashing him a smile. These women are wearing ordinary street clothes, but heavy work boots to protect their feet. The goggles they were issued to protect their eyes are pushed up on to their headscarves. In Soviet iconography, strong, happy women workers were a prominent theme to show progressiveness in gender equality. Women were also much more likely to be depicted with work goggles than men, perhaps to portray particular concern for the work safety of women.
As a US consultant on labor management issues in heavy industry, Williams was critical of some of the types and conditions of heavy labor that women in the USSR were allowed to participate in.
The cropping by the photo editor of Answers not only brings us closer to the subjects, but presents a much more orderly setting by removing the disarray of the construction site and an electrical tower near one of the buildings.
Context:The situation for Urban Residents and Industrial Workers, 1932-1933
While Stalin’s genocidal policies were decimating the countryside, most urban residents and industrial workers were suffering from severe housing shortages and varying degrees of relentless hunger and malnutrition leading to increased mortality.
Once Stalin consolidated power in the mid 1920s, he set in motion his massive industrialization program. All industry would be run by the state, and agriculture would be industrialized as well, via collectivization. To implement this unprecedented transformation, 400 new industrial plants were built in Ukraine alone during the first 5 year plan (1928-1932), some on a massive scale. The Dnipro hydroelectric plant – the largest in Europe at the time, huge steel and aluminum plants, and the Kharkiv tractor factory, were among the most impressive of their type in the USSR. However, by the end of 1932, all of agricultural production and most of the industrial production was removed from Soviet Ukraine’s control to that of Moscow.
Large numbers of people left the countryside to work in the new industrial centers of Ukraine. The number of urban residents nearly doubled between 1920 and 1933, resulted in severe housing shortages and crowding in the cities and nearby industrial sites. This problem was at best met with rapidly, shoddily assembled apartment buildings – but just as often with minimally functional shelters and huts that workers had to improvise themselves outside the cities. In the Donbas, for example, 40% of workers had less than 2 sq. meters of living space per person. At the construction site of the Dnipro Dam, the crowded and unsanitary conditions created significant health issues with inadequate medical care to address them. Outbreaks of smallpox, typhus, and other diseases further weakened workers and their families and increased mortality. In 1929, the State instituted food rationing, which became increasingly restrictive through the Holodomor years.
Stalin repeatedly warned of an imminent threat of attack on the USSR by outside capitalist powers, and workers were driven to perform to the utmost when convinced that their efforts were part of war mobilization. Whiting Williams quotes miners that he first met in 1928 asking him when the US would attack the Soviet Union. Ultra high achieving workers were celebrated as heroes. The calls to patriotism and pride were used to offset the State’s ever-increasing failures to meet the basic needs of the proletariat. The average worker was surviving on wages that were decreasing in buying power throughout the period, wages that could hardly buy a warm coat, let alone supplement hunger rations. Furthermore, anyone rightly or wrongly accused of some form of neglect could lose their all-important food ration cards or housing, or be blacklisted from other employment, or even exiled to remote labor camps in the Gulag.
Although numerous strikes and other disturbances occurred during this period, eventually many workers responded to the grinding poverty and unfulfilled promises by engaging in the more passive forms of resistance, such as widespread theft from their places of work, frequently changing jobs, and decreasing productivity.
Sources: Subtelny, Liber, Kuromiya, Osokina, p.93, Rassweiler
- Photo taken August, 1933.
This photo was later published with the second of 2 articles by Whiting Williams in a London weekly titled Answers: Williams, Whiting. “Why Russia is Hungry,” March 3, 1934, p.3.
The original photograph and the published version are both shown here.
See Related Features menu to link to the article.
- Caption on back of original photograph: “Workers helping to build the aluminium and other plants in Dnieprostroy to use ‘juice’ ready years in advance!”
Caption under photo in Answers: “Helping to build an aluminium plant in Dnieprostroy, where great works of various kinds are under construction. Electric power for them to use has been ready years in advance.”
- Date of Original
- Date Of Event
- Local identifier
- Whiting Williams
- Language of Item
- Geographic Coverage
Latitude: 47.82289 Longitude: 35.19031
- Copyright Statement
- Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
- Recommended Citation
- for original: [caption ]; [Container 1, Folder 9 ] PG 89 Whiting Williams Photographs, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH. Retrieved from: http://vitacollections.ca/HREC-holodomorphotodirectory/3634117/data
for published version: Williams, Whiting. “Why Russia is Hungry,” Answers (weekly). London, March 3, 1934, p.3. Retrieved from: http://vitacollections.ca/HREC-holodomorphotodirectory/3634117/image/4224351
- Location of Original
- [Container 1, Folder 9 ] PG 89 Whiting Williams Photographs, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH.
- Reproduction of images is restricted to fair use for personal study or research. Any other use requires a contractual agreement with the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH. Contact the Society directly at:
- Reproduction Notes
- Reproduced by contractual agreement with the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH.