Is it Really Worth It?

Veronica Fernandez

Cuban family at May Day 2010 march.

Since I began working —a quarter century ago— I’ve gotten used to eating in workplace cafeterias just like almost everybody else in Cuba.  I’ve had the opportunity to move in and out of different jobs, and I’ve found that the lunches have been better in some places and not as good in others, but they’ve always been there within reach of my budget.

More than a year ago a resolution was issued by the government that will deprive many people in different State jobs of their ability to have lunches in cafeterias at their workplaces.  This measure was to begin in four ministries, where they were going to pay each worker an extra 15 Cuban pesos daily (about 75 cents USD) to make up for that lost benefit.

This measure was to be tested to determine if it’s cost effective and can be put into general operation.  During this period, many workplace dining rooms have already ceased to exist, though the workers at those places are not among those selected to receive their 15 pesos, nor do they receive anything else in exchange.

I know many people in this situation; in fact, I myself am one of those people who are being excluded, since we no longer have a cafeteria and we don’t get the 15 Cuban pesos to sustain us over the eight hour workday.  This means that it’s necessary to bring some food from home or otherwise attempt to buy something sold in the street in regular pesos (as opposed to the CUC hard currency).

Just a beginning

However it’s exactly here where the obstacle has already begun, though it could easily be said that others are just around the corner.  The first of the obstacles begins as soon as we get up to go work and we take to the street ready to see if we can —or can’t— catch a bus and arrive early.

Once we get to work the challenges begin adding up without interruption since periodically we’ll run into the situation where there’s no electricity or they announce that it will be shut off at noon.  To make things worse, we find there’s no paper to print any form or document and the photocopiers don’t have ink or toner; in short, the obstacles are endless.

The result of this whole situation is low output during the course of the work day.  But, to add insult to injury, nor do we get lunch, which even if bad is necessary and indispensable for humans.  The outcome of this is that work performed is done with discontent and devoid of motivation.

People lose interest in whether things turn out well.  You work simply to work and to receive a monthly wage in domestic currency that doesn’t cover a single week, given the high price of goods and keeping in mind that the average worker in Cuba earns the equivalent of 15 CUCs (Cuban hard currency, which in this case equal to about $19 USD).  I should add that CUCs are the sole option for purchasing certain basic products that cannot be found for sale in domestic currency.

It’s very difficult when you discover yourself in this position at lunchtime, because you can’t always find something to eat in the street that’s sold in regular pesos at a moderate price and is of a reasonable quality.  Plus, speaking in good Cuban, there’s not a pocket that can take that day after day; nor is there a ration of food in the house that one can bring to work daily.

So, I wonder what will be the solution to this problem.  I’m sure it’s necessary to find one, and let’s hope it’s in the shortest amount of time possible, because for a person to be productive during their work day should be provided with the basic conditions for that work.

That’s what they told me in my classes on Marxist philosophy at the University of Havana.  The truth is, as we also say in good Cuban, “If it takes work to work, you have to ask yourself…is it really worth the effort?”