Cuba’s Rallying Workers

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo 1-mayo2HAVANA TIMES — Following the massive workers’ rally in Cuba this past May 1, one could well ask how it is possible for people to continue supporting a regime that treats them like subordinates, violates and curtails their rights and continuously reduces their benefits.

In her article “El primero de mayo en Cuba: un “performance” que no convence a nadie” (“May Day in Cuba: An Unconvincing Performance”), sociologist Marlene Azor offers an explanation that does not convince me in the least. Azor says:

“A look at the situation from the vantage point of workers would reveal that their presence there is a mere performance of what the powers at be expects of them, enacted so as to avoid some kind of reprisal, or the price to pay for a private life with greater personal freedom.”

Then, she expounds on an additional control mechanism she claims was discovered by Vicente Bloch: workers are forced to become engaged in illegal activities and, in order to avoid reprisals, feign political allegiance to the regime (what a profound discovery!).

Some paragraphs later, she tells us this is a “process of intimidation that includes ‘punishment’ via ‘incentives’ given at the end of the quarter, the possibility of being deprived of one’s “ideal worker” status (…) or quite simply being penalized by the Party, if one is a member of the only one that exists in Cuba (…)”

If I were to summarize her thesis, I think it would be something along these lines: Cuban workers have absolutely no attachment to the regime. Their feigned sympathy with the regime is part of a rational survival strategy.

From my point of view, this does not suffice if we want to explain this “strange” behavior. Let me explain my point.

If workers were so rational and sympathized so little with their government, they would have thought of an efficacious way of casting off the yoke of the regime long ago. They would at least try to do so, forcing the regime to see their ugliest side.

Other peoples who don’t have the same history of struggle we do and other cultural advantages have known how to overcome more oppressive situations. Why would Cubans content themselves with such a cowardly posture?

The thesis is simply too absurd. I think it would be less contradictory to admit that the power that issues from above has taken root, that it descends gradually – not without running into gaps and obstacles, to be sure – through the capillaries and chains of command.

We should also add that the collective unconscious accepts the current situation as something normal, devoid of any major contradictions, and that it does not lead people to rebel or become indignant.

It’s not that there is no pressure or that there are no attendance lists during these official demonstrations; it’s not that Cubans aren’t aware of their being blackmailed or integrated into a patronage system. All of that is true, but it does not, in and of itself, explain what we’re seeing.

I’ll share an anecdote with you. I’ve been living next to a bus terminal for several years. It is a typical Cuban workplace, with a staff of extraverted and boisterous people.

One need only stop at the kiosk where the drivers quench their thirst for a few moments to hear about the daily conflicts and dilemmas they face at the terminal. The bus drivers, mechanics, and other employees don’t hold anything in: when something bothers them, they say it immediately, in a loud tone of voice and without stopping to consider the consequences.

At the May Day parade in 2010.
At the May Day parade in 2010.

In the early morning of April 30, all of the employees gathered outside the terminal, partying in anticipation of the extraordinary day that followed. The fact is that they seemed much happier than usual. I know this because their hooting didn’t let me sleep (as their brawls do on other occasions). Their joy didn’t obviously have to do with the arrival of May Day, workers’ day. They were simply enjoying the opportunity to be together without having to work.

I’ve seen something similar at the parades in Revolution Square. Before, I was among those who rallied there and demanded true socialism. I would rally next to other workers and the fact is that I never once felt a tinge of discontent around me.

The last time, a small group of us went along beating some drums and the people there, as ignorant of the significance of May Day as of the “coercion” they were the victims of, turned the whole thing into a conga.

Azor shoots off target again when she portrays the spectacle as a narcissistic gift the elite gives itself. The rally is a ritual and, as such, its aim is to have every one of its participant’s feel, in the deepest corners of their being, that nothing has changed, that everything remains the same, that the pact is intact. It’s not only the elite: the masses also narcissistically enjoy the feeling of immensity and power the ritual gives them.

Azor finishes off her dance with a provocative gesture that gives us a glimpse at her underwear. Her imaginary workers rally beneath the sun to a conga rhythm but that does not prevent them from reflecting on certain things, to think to themselves “let’s see when we can bring down our Berlin Wall.”

This means they’re not only rational, observant and cynical, they also have a clearly defined political objective: to bring down the wall and advance towards the reign of freedom. The only thing they need is a little push, right?

Well I’ll be damned!


5 thoughts on “Cuba’s Rallying Workers

  • Talk about foolish drivel! You should talk to a Cuban about how much ‘choice’ they have in supporting the revolution. While you are at it, ask them how “sane” they consider an economy that prices rum cheaper than milk and sells $40K cars for nearly $300K. Just for giggles, ask the same Cuban to explain “certain difficulties” to you. Clearly, you don’t live in Cuba.

  • That would be you first trip to Cuba and that is how you want to spend it?

  • ” Brave is throwing off the oppressor”
    Yes indeed and the Cuban people succeeded in doing just that back in 1960.
    They continue fighting the greatest oppressor nation to ever have existed on the planet in their daily struggles amidst the poverty created by the U.S. economic, terrorist and propaganda war since that time .
    They are as brave as you are cowardly for vamping on a poor island nation because they DID do the brave thing and threw out the United States.
    You should test out just how cowardly the Cuban people are by organizing your own little Bay of Pigs invasion and be right in the front line when the landing craft discharge their passengers .
    If you give me enough notice, I promise to be waiting for you on the beach.

  • There is much foolish drivel here. The Cubans are brave not because they have not turned their backs on the Cuban revolution but because they continue to support it, and to confront U.S. hostility. Cubans support their revolution because in the end they know it is based on a more sane economic system than the debacle of global capitalism that allocates billions of people to poverty and billions of dollars to hedge fund managers. Cubans support their revolution due to the measurable improvements in the fields of health care and education (among others) and the increased equity in these. They also support their revolution because they know that while certain difficulties arise because of internal problems, many arise because of unjustifiable external aggression.

  • I realize it is politically correct to label every oppressed group of people or oppressed country as brave. I suggest that surviving oppression alone is not enough to earn the label brave, especially when the goal of the oppressor is not the extinction of this group but rather to maintain control or change of mindset. To call Cubans brave solely because the Castros remain in control despite more than 50 years of US embargo is politically correct but not accurate. Brave is throwing off the oppressor. Depending on perspective, brave should be forcing the lifting of the embargo or from my perspective, giving the Castros the boot. Looked at another way, Cubans returning to ‘perform’ every year in the May Day parade despite significant objections is hardly the mark of a brave people. Voting time after time in meaningless elections for unknown and untested candidates is not heroic. Accepting less and paying more for it with ‘nary a complaint is anything but noble. The May Day march is simply the most public manifestation of how NOT brave the Cuban people really are.

Comments are closed.