By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – May 1st is the day that trade unions worldwide use to march for their main demands, as they have greater visibility. Both demands to state institutions and the government in legislative and executive matters, or about one-off issues in their sector or working community.
However, things work differently in Cuba. Parades are mass acts by workers, students, and all kinds of people, who never demand or ask for anything, but thank the Government and system instead, cheering on their political leaders. A kind of huge Thanksgiving.
All of them marching together side by side: employers and employees, and managers of workplaces are held responsible for their workers who don’t show. This siblinghood would be truly moving if it were real. But it’s the company’s HR manager who takes note of workers’ assistance as if it were just another working day. It’s a holiday, but they are told they are free to march, not to rest.
The Communist Party Government, at every level, allocates resources and chooses a committee along with a national trade union center, which belongs to the State and there is no room for any others, to organize the mass rally. The propaganda is immense. At schools and workplaces, mobilization is the priority. For managers, the parade is an important target just like production is.
What’s more, it doesn’t mean much to workers, other than a break from the monotony of their daily work routine. The only ones it really means something to is the great boss of all Cubans, the State/Government/Party, which still controls over 70% of the country’s active workforce. It’s a kind of shop window, a performance, political propaganda for the system.
This May 1st, Cuban workers’ silenced demands are undoubtedly: inflation and shortages that reduce the purchasing power of their measly wages; increased hardship as a result of the Currency Reform process; USD priced dollar stores monopolizing retail sales and in a currency that over 90% of Cuban workers don’t earn their wages in; the lack of protection and hygiene measures at work; the lack of public transport to get to work and prices going up in comparison to wages.
These are demands from the public sector, but the private sector has complained about the many days they have had to shut down operations because of unstable supplies of raw materials, depending on the State as a supplier and it doesn’t meet their demands; exorbitant fines they are harassed with; their vulnerability which they were victims to during the pandemic, when they weren’t able to access benefits for the two years they had to stop working because the country was in lockdown, which public employees had access to.
General demands include: the impossibility of creating independent unions without State mediation, that respond to their real interests and the Government’s lack of a coherent plan to overcome the crisis, which drives their children, friends, and relatives to migrate in a stampede. There probably wasn’t a single Cuban in those parades that didn’t have a relative currently on this journey or in exile already, fleeing the crisis produced by the system they are being “forced” to shout long live! to.
But none of these complaints and demands could be written on posters and banners at the Workers’ Day Parade. Nor can they voice them without repressive forces watching over them, ready to immediately arrest them and then when you go to court you aren’t seen as a non-compliant employee but as a counter-revolutionary mercenary at the service of a foreign power, a rebel, who is likely to be sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In short, far from being a workers’ march for their rights or being thankful for their happiness, (whether this is possible in any kingdom on this earth), May 1st in Cuba is a management parade, where the Communist State/Government/Party shows that it still has its workers firmly in its grasp, like the great employer it is; showing off its social control, without support or confidence though.