The transition from state socialism to capitalism has created deep feelings of injustice among those in manual jobs

I was standing next to Marta. We were both picking up heavy bedsheets and feeding them into the mangle. I saw the pain each movement brought her – the laundry was heavy, and I knew she was ill: one of her intervertebral discs was inflamed. The previous week, after she had visited her doctor, our boss had told her she couldn’t take any sick leave as there weren’t enough workers.

“Does it hurt a lot?” I asked, concerned. “I’m thinking about what I’ll cook tonight,” she said. Despite the pain, her greatest worry was feeding her child. Marta works in the laundry room of a large Czech hospital, earning the minimum wage (11,000 Czech koruna, or about £385 a month). As she is paying back accumulated debt from the past, her net monthly income is about 9,000 CZK. She pays 20,000 CZK in rent. The state provides her with a widow’s pension, an orphan’s annuity for her child and a housing subsidy. All this just about covers the rent. Despite Marta’s hard work – sometimes up to 11 hours a day – she keeps falling further into debt.

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