By Osmel Almaguer
Celia is only a short time away from retirement, but she has fairly bad health. A year ago she needed an operation on her eyes. She also suffers from a bad back, poor blood circulation and other health problems.
Although she is physically weak, her spirit is strong. She’s had a very prominent career, and even became a professor of philology at the University of Moron, in her native province of Ciego de Avila.
At the moment she’s my co-worker. She is responsible for working on promotional spots for activities that our institution (The Cuban Book Institute) organizes.
When most Cuban workers near retirement age, they endure poor conditions and low wages to receive a pension for their senior years.
Likewise, most young people tolerate the low pay and bad working conditions so as not be looked down upon socially. Not having a formal job implies repeated visits by social workers, who propose most any type of employment, almost always at low wages and in difficult conditions.
In addition, unemployed young people can be pressured by the police, who do not cease to hound them until they begin working.
In the case of Celia, what interests her is her profession, which she enjoys and is almost thoroughly knowledgeable of. Her family is quite well off economically, so I don’t believe that the monthly 200 or so pesos that she will earn in retirement is the motivation for the sacrifices she makes.
When I refer to the hard conditions, the lack of materials and tools, improper work methods, and the shortage of incentives and other necessities, these challenges drop down to occupy a second rung. The most unpleasant aspect of this whole situation is the mistreatment and abuse that almost all bosses subject their subordinates to.
The moral code in our country sets forth the conduct expected of superiors (in relation to subordinates). It outlines that respect should prevail, that managers should be humanitarian and understanding of the peculiar situation of each worker, and that supervisors should be flexible. All this is in agreement with the lofty principles of the Cuban Revolution.
In practice, however, the last 15 or 20 years have demonstrated to me that this is not being fulfilled. Sometimes it’s because we complain only at the corridor level, and other times because we don’t complain at all, due to the fear that some reprisal will be taken. In addition, many of our grievances don’t make it to the appropriate level because, at some magical place in the chain of command, the complaint mysteriously disappears.
This relates to what my father, an eminent and sincerely revolutionary man, referred to as the “clique.” Managers collectively watch their backs, they help each other, and are -I dare say it this way- an independent intermediary class within Cuban socialism who keep the highest levels of our country’s leadership separated from the masses of workers.
What comes to mind are the phrases that Celia has had to hear coming from the mouths of some of our bosses when making a mistake. They would say, “You fucked up,” or “Don’t get it wrong, your screw-up won’t be mine,” or “You worm” (which means you’re against the Revolution, an extremely serious accusation). They have even said, “Ask for a transfer, because anyone who doesn’t want to work here can leave.” Numerous other insults have been erased from my memory.
Celia relayed this to me, and in her eyes I see the same anguish and confusion felt by my mother (who experienced something similar), and that of my co-workers, friends, and even that of my own suffering.