The Cooperatives We Cubans Want

Daisy Valera

Havana bus. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Could it be that the Ministry of Transportation has come to the conclusion that the bureaucracy eating away at that agency is preventing it from providing people with decent services? Could it be that timbirichismo (the proliferation of small, privately owned food stands) has only resulted in the theft of supplies [at state workplaces] and the aggravation of the public health situation?

These questions cannot be answered with 100 percent certainty, but life in Havana today is subjecting us to bus stops with overflowing crowds and waits for transportation that last for over an hour.

Added to these are the sea of squalid little stands whose monotonous food selections are surpassed in poor quality only by the customary “rum and cigars” of state-run establishments.

As the situation of transportation and food services is beginning to get worrisome and is approaching what might call an attack of impotence, the government is allowing the use of a certain word that it managed to slip into the reform guidelines: “cooperatives.”

According to the weekly newspaper Trabajadores, cooperatives could start appearing here in the capital city [1]. But we know that the verb tense used to deliver us this news is not too encouraging.

What it does remind us is that the majority of Cuban workers, in order for us to begin forming work associations, will have to wait for a law concerning cooperatives, which seems like a game of hide and seek.

The fact that this form of free association between workers is precisely one of the best for a country that describes itself as socialist makes our current situation almost unbelievable.

Another contradiction is the alarming and unfortunate way in which the officialdom claims to be beginning to address the issue. In the words of economics professor Claudio Alberto Rivera Rodriguez (the president of the Cooperative Society of Cuba) it seems that the shot has been fired to signal the beginning:

“In our nation, there exists an agricultural model that, beyond the subjective and objective problems it presents, has given us good results.” [2]

The issue is this: If we start to create the new legal standard based on the model used in the countryside, cooperatives in the cities will be doomed to failure. Agricultural cooperatives have an inescapable difficulty – they aren’t true cooperatives.

Since the 60’s (with the Credit and Service Cooperatives, or CCS), up until the ‘90s (with the Basic Units of Production, or UBPC), this rural experiment has been suffering from top-down management by higher authorities, difficulties in accessing supplies, fixed wages, sales to the government at prices that don’t make effort worthwhile for cooperative members and the impossibility for receiving donations.

All of this has resulted in a very objectively felt food shortage, increased food imports and fields overrun by the thorny marabou brush weed.

Those of us who defend the cooperative initiative do so taking into account benefits; such as representatives/leaders being appointed by the workers themselves; their position not implying wage privileges; all cooperative members having a voice and a vote, with the decisions being made as a group; wages being related to production; and, finally, the community benefiting from part of the capital being allocated to it.

What position does one take with respect to this threat posed by those who want to repeat the same mistakes? How does one to react to the possibility of any new cooperatives being hogtied by obligations to the government?

There remains no choice but to reject all mechanisms that discourage production and impede the free association of workers without bosses and demand the implementation of a tax law for cooperatives – taking into account their economic role as directly confronting capitalist dynamics.

[1] “Cooperatives Looking to Reach the City” (Las cooperativas buscan llegar a la ciudad) Trabajadores 7/9/2012
[2] “Cooperatives in Cuba Could Be Extended to Transportation, Food Services and Other Services” (Cooperativas en Cuba podrían extenderse a transporte, gastronomía y servicios) Cubadebate 7/9/2012



Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

9 thoughts on “The Cooperatives We Cubans Want

  • July 17, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Daisy, I support your post 200 percent. The state should only create a tax law according to production and personal income; these will grow depending on the growth in performance of these cooperatives in the areas of production and services. All workers are the owners of the means of production or they rent these from the state, all of them have a share in the profits and the tax payments. Such a system where people do not exploit people is also socialist.

    But of course Daisy, there must be laws or regulations that must not be organizational, managerial, or elective; as these remain for the workers. But there should be legal responsibility, this should rest with those elected of the workers. There must be a contribution to social security since these workers will have retirement, disability, pregnancy leave, etc. There should be a regulation to comply with such as for paid holidays and sick leave, abuse of authority, material responsibility, discipline and disciplinary measures, etc.

    The formation of a union of these workers can be a solution for their protection. The problem is to not leave workers without protection.

    Remember that in a cooperative there has to be more transparency in its accounts, profits, losses, debts or outstanding bills. A group of corrupt and immoral people cannot be allowed to steal or destroy a worker.

    If we want to create a society that is increasingly just, we cannot rush it like you would like, young Daisy.

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