"They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work” was a popular joke with workers in the Soviet Union. The salary was always small, so workers didn’t have an incentive to work hard. The saying has been cited in print since at least 1965:
“A popular joke in Hungary sums it up: The factory worker says: ‘They pretend to pay us an honest wage and we pretend to do an honest day’s work.’”
Although the Soviet Union dissolved, the popular joke is still told all around the world (even in the West), especially in low-paying jobs.
Wikipedia: Russian political jokes
According to Marxist–Leninist theory, communism in the strict sense is the final stage of evolution of a society after it has passed through the socialism stage. The Soviet Union thus cast itself as a socialist country trying to build communism, which was supposed to be a classless society.
. The principle of the socialist economy of the period of transition to communism: the authorities pretend they are paying wages, workers pretend they are working. Alternatively, “So long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.” This joke persisted essentially unchanged through the 1980s.
11 May 1965, San Diego (CA) Union, “Dumitru Danielopol Says: Romanian Hopes for Aid Shattered by U.S. Stand,” pg. B-2, col. 3:
A popular joke in Hungary sums it up: The factory worker says: “They pretend to pay us an honest wage and we pretend to do an honest day’s work.”
27 November 1965, The Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ), “On World Affairs: U.S. Pressure Ousts Anti-Red” by Edgar Ansel Mowrer, pg. 6, col. 2:
Partly because of increased contacts with the West, all the East European regimes “are faced with a sullen, dissatisfied population” whose motto is: You pretend to pay us a living wage and we pretend to perform an honest day’s work.
Google News Archive
21 April 1977, Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, FL), “Soviet Failure: The Workers Pretend To Work” by Philip Caputo (Chicago Tribune), pg. 8-A, col. 4:
MOSCOW—A popular saying among Soviet working people is: “The party bosses pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.”
20 July 1977, Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, “Kremlin Demands Better Services” (New York Times Service), pg. 4, col. 8:
(A popular saying is that “they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.")
The Hunt for Red October
By Tom Clancy
Annapolis, MD : Naval Institute Press
In the Soviet Union every worker is a government worker, and they have a saying: As long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.
U.S. News & World Report,
The joke is an old one and still valid: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”
The End Game
By George H. Selden
Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College
The idea of having to earn a living runs contrary to the old Soviet joke that says “they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.”
June 24, 2013
“They Pretend to Pay Us, and We Pretend to Work”
Posted by Anne Laurie at 4:34 pm
Older readers will remember the title as a punchline from the declining days of the Soviet Union. Looks like forty years of Reagan-blessed kleptocracy is reducing America to the same level. Timothy Egan, in the NYTimes, on why American workers are “Checking Out” ...
@James_Jeffrey @SquigglyRick @ABCnewsIntern “In Soviet Union, we have pretend economy. We pretend to work & they pretend to pay us.”
8:36 PM - 20 Aug 2014