By Rosa Martinez
HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 19 — Workers in Cuba are preparing for a process that will result in the elimination of more than 500,000 jobs in the dominant public sector of the economy.
Although many Cubans trust in the benevolence of the Revolution and its main leaders, more than a few are worried about what may happen to Cuban families affected by the coming changes.
The mere mention of “employment reorganization” and the “relocation of jobs” to wherever these might be necessary has created a wave of uncertainty among people, especially given the lack of information in the national and local media.
A book would be needed to reflect the varying opinions among workers, students, housewives, and the young and old alike. In any case, I wanted to share with Havana Times readers some of the perspectives of people who I ran across on the streets of my city, Guantanamo.
I talked with one 21 year-old who has complete confidence in the Revolution. She said she was sure that no one would be abandoned to their fate, and believes that not a single Cuban family will be left without sustenance or any child without food. However, she doesn’t fail to recognize that this will be a difficult situation faced by people. “But this isn’t the first time,” she noted, “The Special Period economic crisis was fierce. There wasn’t anything to eat, and yet we survived. And we’ll survive this too,” she asserted.
However an activist of the Communist Party of Cuba was terrified over the impending process. She commented: “Even without salary restructuring there were already many instances of young people without jobs and having terrible social records. So what’s going to happen in society when the number of unemployed people increases even more? It will not longer be possible for folks to demand that the unemployed get a job to contribute to society. And what’s going to happen to those laid off who can’t go into agriculture or construction for whatever reason?”
A Cuban history teacher at the university says that what worries her most is the threat posed by increased violence across the country. “Every day more people want to live without working, though this occurs at the expense of those of us who sacrifice daily. Violence and theft are two curses that will become more widespread with the layoffs. The restructuring process hasn’t even been applied and neighborhoods have already begun experiencing more incidents of burglary. Now vagrants will have more of a justification for their being in the street, and we’ll have to be more protective of our properties against crooks – who are going to multiply; you can be sure of that!”
Many university students are worried, for example, by what this process portends for their futures as professionals. A student of sociocultural studies wondered what will happen with the thousands of youth who have recently graduated in that field in the last few years. “If it was already difficult to find work,” she said, “imagine how it’s going to be now, because we’ll be subject to this process of reducing inflated payrolls.”
A varying perspective was offered by a longtime worker at the provincial library. She said: “Before, at least when people talked about inflated staffing in Cuba, the higher ups would offer retirement to people who were close to retirement age. But now it’s not going to be like that; on the contrary, in recent years many retired people have return to work since they have more experience and have demonstrated their suitability. This could displace young people in their current positions.
A young bicycle-taxi driver who I talked to in downtown Jose Marti Park made sure to first insist on anonymity, only after that did he make the following comment: “Those of us who are considered redundant are way at the bottom, beneath those on top. I’m sure that no one higher up will be considered dead weight. They can apply all the alternatives they want, but it won’t affect them at all. Up until yesterday the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and in Party circles where analyzing the situation where there are numbers of unemployed people. There are people who have done time for peligrosidad (“dangerousness” or vagrancy) for not working, but now they’re saying the payrolls are inflated? I don’t get it. The truth is that no one really understands what’s going on.”
I have a neighbor who recently quit her job after 15 years of service. She doesn’t understand why people are so worried if most regular jobs don’t pay the bills anyway. Many people have started engaging in illegal black market businesses that bring them in four or five times more income than their previous positions. “What they should do is get rid of all the obstacles and let people to move forward,” she insists.
I met a carpenter who was visibly worried because he’s sure that at least two carpenter positions in the workshop where he’s worked for 20 years will be considered redundant. He’s wondering what will happen to him and his family if it turns out that he’s not deemed suitable given his health problems. Although he’s several years short of retirement, he has no idea what else he could do to support his three kids and a wife, who is a homemaker.
“They say that licenses will be issued for non-State trades such as those as photographers, hairdressers, barbers, manicurists and other occupations. But in my neighborhood there are already more manicurists than women. What are we going to do with so many people in the same occupations?” voiced one cuentapropista (self-employed worker). She added: “I believe that the people who will be most affected by all this will be professionals. Imagine telling an engineer, a doctor or a researcher that they have to go into agriculture permanently, despite their not being physically suited. Nobody in Cuba even wants to hear about that type of work; everybody wants to be a graduate in something or another.”
Although many people see the measures aimed at expanding small businesses as something positive, more than a few think this is no more than an opportunity for the government to saddle people with higher taxes, and many people believe that the obstacles to setting these businesses up will always be an impediment.
It’s been said time and time again that “the changes in employment policy will be applied gradually and progressively,” but the State also adds that “it will no longer be possible to apply a formula to indefinitely protect or subsidize the wages of workers who lose their jobs.”
For the time being, the only thing for sure is that no one knows with scientific certainty what’s going to happen or to what extent this process will be carried out.