Cuban Construction Workers

Regina Cano

Micro-brigade housing projects in Alamar, Havana. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 21 — One of the most common disorders among Cubans who have been or are builders is sacrolumbalgia, followed on the list of importance (not in order) by lumbar deviations, vertebrae separations, shoulder dislocations and others.

Put like that, it seems that the number of maladies lacks importance, but the reality is that most Cubans in the capital between 20 and 50 years of age (easterners, native-Havanans and others) have had to struggle at some point in their lives in “microbrigade” housing construction. This program began in the 1970’s and lasted until the recent appearance of owner-built homes.

The need to ensure housing for young families forced many people to acquire skills that they had never previously required, mainly bricklaying and other jobs within a construction crew. Fast-track courses and lots of practice enabled them to acquire these skills.

One has to keep in mind that these construction jobs weren’t without professional supervision; rather, people were tutored in these skills by engineers, architects and other experts in this field who, for the most part, were also interested in having a home.

The work of finishers, crane operators, electricians, plumbers, etc. often turned into full-time jobs.

But within all of this there is one small detail I have to mention. For someone to get a house as a reward for their labor, usually years had to go by. For some that took as long as 15 years involved in a microbrigade as the workers accumulated sufficient merit points.

They would work on public projects or help to complete other projects until they would earn the right to receive an apartment or the authorization for a lot and an intermittent supply of materials for constructing on it.

The passage of time left its aftermath: accidental falls, excess weight, problems emerging from excessive working hours (which included the virtually mandatory volunteer hours), and the effects of poor, unsafe working conditions and worn out implements and tools that required more effort.

The result was an increase in bone problems and some people even becoming incapacitated.