Disrespecting Workers

Yenisel Rodriguez

The cooperative used to produce sugar cane. Photo: Bill Hackwell

Some workers have had to go more than three months without receiving their wages at the Herminio Hernandez Agricultural Producers Cooperative in the Baguanos municipality of Holguin province.

It would seem a paradox that wages exist in a farm cooperative, or that it is managed by those who don’t work in the field, or that the cooperative members function like salaried workers. What is happening is that cooperative labor in the agricultural sector in today’s Cuba is only an ideological shroud used by the government.

According to the workers at the Herminio Hernandez, the cooperative is in debt and therefore doesn’t have the wherewithal to pay them. People are upset in the community. When concluding the second month of indebtedness they were sold some basic foodstuffs on credit. However there isn’t much hope and the spirits are low in the community.

Although the cooperative has never been profitable since it was directed to get out of the production of sugar cane and devote itself to cattle breeding, things have gotten even worse. This was a forced change, decided upon from above and caused by “milk fever,” a plan to increase the production of this food product.

The central government has imposed the same “successful formula” on all of the country’s cooperatives, which is the principal reason why workers at Herminio Hernandez have been feeding their families with the help of bananas and yucca for several weeks.

“We don’t have any experience in this, nor do the fields provide the best pasture. We have many fields available for just a few sheep and some cows,” one of the campesinos at the cooperative told me.

“The people running things don’t know what to do. Should they put the sheep together with the cows in the same pastures? They don’t know the sheep pull up the grass by the roots and in a little time will leave no grass at all for the cows,” explained another worker who accompanied me on my visit.

Days later I found out that the cooperative had been instructed to drop sugar cane planting because its irregular terrain didn’t allow the introduction of latest-generation sugar cane combines manufactured in China. These are self-programed for flat terrain. This was why the somewhat uneven land at the Herminio Hernandez cooperative was deemed unsuitable, despite the fact it’s known for its excellent soil.

Now we are forced to wonder whether a real need existed for introducing these combines in the already precarious Cuban sugar industry. Some operators of the old Russian combines assured me that it was not.

“With the KTPs (the Russian combines) we could take advantage of land close to the sugar mill, which avoided the elevated cost of transporting harvested cane,” one operator commented to me.

I will soon be returning to visit the workers at this cooperative. As soon as I get there I will report to the readers how the events have unfolded at the Herrera Tres, another community victimized by authoritarianism and government improvisation.

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.


3 thoughts on “Disrespecting Workers

  • March 17, 2011 at 2:59 am
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    Agricultural cooperatives under a state monopoly form of socialism cannot function as the ought to. To function properly they need private property cooperative ownership of the land being farmed, plus a free trading market for which to produce.

    Cooperatives ordered around by a bureaucratic state–whether agricultural, industrial or commercial cooperatives–cannot function optimally and be productive. Such set-ups are fake. They apparently are attempts by bureaucrats to get production up without giving actual ownership to the workers.

    This bureaucratic silliness comes from the Marxian stipulation that the state must own everything in sight.

    The problem with the agricultural cooperative in this article is not a weakness of cooperatives. The problem is trying to make cooperatives work under a statist concept of socialism. Cooperative only function properly through private property and the free market, the real basis of workable socialism.

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