The Fraud of Workplace Protection

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez

Ready to spray.
Ready to spray.

HAVANA TIMES – Occupational safety has very little to do with workers and plenty to do with companies, marketing, bureaucracy and profits.

Beyond what is actually protected, the greater or lesser degree of efficiency achieved here or there, the protection of workers ends up being another tall-tale that the capitalist system recycles from the isolated and temporary victories of the working class, for its own benefit.

If I were to write “workplace protection in Cuba,” we would rightly see a catastrophe in this. What people here don’t know or interpret in a distorted fashion owing to the sugar-coated image that sensationalist documentaries offer us, is that truly efficient and efficacious occupational safety exists nowhere in the world.

It doesn’t exist for the simple reason that its conception does not respond to the true needs of the working class. From the start, the job itself being protected already constitutes a danger for the working class, for it safeguards the logic of exploiting workers as much as possible at the lowest possible cost.

It cannot work.

In South Florida, which many Cuban-Americans with some justification regard as “Cuba with a budget,” workplace risk can reach levels as high as those reported on the island.

There, experts on the subject practice a kind of technocratic demagogy not too dissimilar from that of our compatriots at the Cuban Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

Workers are denied all authentic educational measures and are rather subjected to workplace intimidation. Employees are threatened with lawsuits and drawn-out legal processes that can entail the loss of one’s job and even prison.

A very unrealistic perception of the dangers involved in working at loading bays – the sites of many workplace accidents – prevails. At warehouses, male-chauvinistic stereotypes and lack of institutional assistance reign.

Wearing a brace is considered a cliché or an effeminate act. Using gloves to handle the wooden pallets that drive splinters into the hands of operators is tantamount to social suicide. Even seat belts are left unused in forklift trucks while workers conduct extremely dangerous tasks, as hundreds of YouTube videos reveal.

A bit further north, in the land of full-blooded Americans, things aren’t that different. And this isn’t limited to the small companies: safety violations by great transnational companies, particularly mining and oil companies, are well documented.

Many Cubans, particularly workers, believe that the rebirth of market capitalism in Cuba will bring noticeable changes to their life-world, such as workplace protection.

This is a huge danger for which we lack a “protocol” of popular resistance. High levels of depoliticization and social demobilization, intensified by Third World complexes and the idealization of the First World, are obstacles that announce the battles to come.

One thought on “The Fraud of Workplace Protection

  • While I applaud efforts to ensure that especially manual workers are protected from equipment and technology that can do serious harm, usually health and safety regulations in the workplace in Europe and America are all to often ridiculous measures that infantalise adult workers. Less about protection than avoiding risks of litigation.

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