Most Soviets in poll voice discontent, A2.MOSCOW (UPI) - Sweeping price increases took effect throughout the Soviet Union Tuesday, doubling and tripling the state-set cost of bread, meat and other basic foodstuffs and consumer goods.
The price reform is part of the government's stated aim of slowly moving toward a market economy, but critics complained the move would have little positive effect and was designed to maintain the central control of the economy blamed for economic chaos and widespread shortages.As battered Soviet consumers faced the first day of higher prices, the government began negotiations Tuesday with striking coal miners who have demanded the resignation of President Mikhail Gorbachev in addition to better economic conditions.
Some of the miners, who have closed about a third of the country's mines for a month, refused to participate in the talks with Premier Valentin Pavlov at the Kremlin because the government has refused to consider the political demands.
Moscow residents got their first taste of the new higher prices when they boarded the city subway system or streetcars or buses, where fares tripled overnight from about 3 cents to about 9 cents a ride.
The price of bread and most types of meat tripled in the state stores, where shoppers stood in long lines during the weekend and Monday to stock up on what little was available at the previous heavily subsidized prices. Prices on consumer goods like clothing also increased.
The majority of prices will still be set by government decree rather than the market, however, and any government budget savings from reducing price subsidies were expected to be eaten up by the compensation the government began paying to workers two weeks ago to ease the impact of price reform.
The price reform plan came under sharp attack Tuesday from liberals in the Russian republic's Congress of People's Deputies.
"You feel the weight of this black day in your pockets," said Pyotr Filippov, a deputy from Leningrad who is a leader of the Democratic Russia opposition movement.
Even the official Tass news agency raised questions about the price reform, saying while the government hoped the increases would help balance supply and demand in the country, any long-term benefit would depend on future change.
"Many observers are convinced that the balance on the market will last not more than several months, because enterprises will not be motivated as before to increase production," Tass said. "It is obvious that the present reform will have meaning only if it is followed by the creation of a market mechanism and tough budgetary restrictions."
The government increased wages and other compensation to offset the price increases, but Soviets still fear their standard of living will fall.