Cuba’s Union Calls for ‘Unity’ in Face of Layoffs

Patricia Grogg

A half million public sector jobs will be eliminated by the end of March 2011. Photo: Ihosvanny

HAVANA TIMES, Sep 13 (IPS) — The elimination of half a million public sector jobs, starting immediately and lasting through the first quarter of 2011, is one of the most complex and sensitive aspects of the reforms announced by Cuba’s President Raul Castro.

“For years they told me full employment was an achievement of the revolution, and now they’re talking to me about ‘inflated payrolls’. I don’t understand anything…,” a disgruntled store employee, who did not want to give his name, complained to IPS in response to a question about the thorny issue.

In a statement issued Monday, the CTC — Cuba’s only legal trade union — said it must maintain “systematic control” over the “restructuring” and stated that “the unity of workers” will continue to be “the most important strategic weapon.”

The issue is also a focus of discussion in meetings called by the governing Communist Party in workplaces, with the aim of ensuring the “political and social consensus” that must accompany the process, which is to result in the cutting of over one million public sector jobs in the next five years.

According to the CTC, the reduction of 500,000 jobs over the next few months forms part of “the process of updating the economic model and the projections for the economy for the 2011-2015 periods.” (The five-year plan has not yet been announced.”

“These measures are to identify which jobs are indispensable and to relocate (employees) to other jobs wherever necessary and possible or to retrain workers,” the union’s statement says.

It also says that to absorb the labor power that will be made “available,” legal options for “autonomous work” will be expanded and diversified, such as the leasing of rooms, cooperatives, or self-employment, “into which hundreds of thousands of workers will move in the next few years.”

As of 2009, some 5.7 million people in this country of 11.2 million people worked outside the home, including nearly two million women.

With the new measures, the government says it hopes to boost labor productivity, improve discipline and bring about more efficient use of available resources.

“We must erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where you can live without working,” Castro said in August.

The imminent loss of jobs has raised new concerns in Cuba, but also new prospects, expectations and questions with regard to the expansion of private enterprise, as the new tax regime and guarantees for how the new system will function have not yet been made public.

In an unpublished study on the modernization of Cuba’s economic model, which IPS saw, economist Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva says the expansion of self-employment must overcome problems that up to now have made it difficult for people to actually work and support themselves.

He mentioned, for example, problems in purchasing necessary inputs or parts; a contractionary fiscal policy; virtually nonexistent financial aid and government oversight or monitoring; as well as restrictions on hiring others.

In Perez Villanueva’s view, the proposals for expansion of private enterprise should include the creation of small and medium-sized businesses, which, among other advantages, could increase and diversify the offer of goods and services.

In 2004, there were 166,700 legally registered self-employed people or “cuentapropistas”, 39,600 of whom were women.

At the peak of the phenomenon, in the mid-1990s, there were 200,000 cuentapropistas.

But the number of people who were legally registered as self-employed gradually dropped after that, partly because the government did not renew permits for many activities that were initially allowed.

In the public sector, which is the biggest employer in Cuba, “it will only be possible to take on people for the jobs that are deemed indispensable, in areas that have historically been short of labor power, such as agriculture, construction, teachers, police, industrial workers and others,” the CTC statement adds.

Sources of employment will also be generated in areas where major investments are currently being made, like the oil industry, construction, biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry and tourism. The production of certain goods will also be stimulated, and the export of services will be expanded.

The union says “the changes in employment policy will be applied gradually, will immediately begin to be adopted, and will affect all sectors, due to their magnitude and impact.” In addition, “it will no longer be possible to apply a formula of protecting or indefinitely subsidizing, by means of continued salaries, workers” who have lost their jobs, it adds.

The CTC also says “the personal disposition” of the workers themselves will play “an important role” in their transfer or relocation to other jobs, and stresses that “demonstrated suitability” will be the criteria used to determine who will continue to occupy the available jobs.

The union repeated the government’s position that the state “cannot and should not continue to maintain companies or productive and service enterprises with inflated payrolls and losses that damage the economy, are counterproductive, generate bad habits and distort the conduct of workers.

“Production and the quality of services must be improved, bulky social expenditure must be reduced, and undue gratuities, excessive subsidies, study as a source of employment, and early retirement must be eliminated,” the union adds.

10 thoughts on “Cuba’s Union Calls for ‘Unity’ in Face of Layoffs

  • There are only two general core hypotheses or principles upon which a post-capitalist economy can be based–without going back into capitalism.

    One is the core principle that the socialist state should concentrate all the instruments of production in its hands–i.e. monopolize everything productive. This automatically ends the historically evolved institution of private productive property rights, and with them the free trading market.

    This principle is the one that has been tested time and time again in various countries. In every case it has destroyed socialist state power, or–in Cuba–threatens shortly to destroy it.

    The other is as yet a theoretical construct. It is based on the successful workers’ development of the Mondragon, Spain cooperative corporate structure. In this construct the core hypothesis is that the socialist state should hold “participatory” but non-controlling ownership of most industry and commerce. The employee associates (workers) would own the rest and self manage according to the needs and discipline of the socialist-conditioned market.

    In this form of socialism the need for taxes would be absent because the socialist state gets its revenues quarterly when the cooperative employee associates distribute profits to themselves and to the state. The workers would own the means of production directly.

    One form is “state monopoly” socialism. The other is “state participatory” socialism.

    In the first the leading political party wields state power for a few decades, destroys the economy, warps society, disgraces socialism before the world and ultimately loses state power.

    In the second . . . Well, we don’t know for certain because no party has groped its way out of the state monopoly fog and given it a try. Perhaps Cuba will stop the nonsense and be the first?

  • Ron, I got news for you what they had on all this 50 years was already capitalism.
    State monopolistic capitalism. The change they are proposing now is to eliminate some of the monopolization in some areas of the economy. There is a list circulating of the areas that Cuban will be able to create private businesses.
    As for Fidel be a humorist?
    That’s a really funny statement!
    He did admit to said what he said to Goldberg for once I was surprise. First time I see him admitting about the colossal mistake the Cuban revolution has been fro Cuba.
    It is not really news that the revolution is a huge mistake that will eventually be rectified maybe when he is not around anymore but what was real news was for him to actually admitted it. I thought that was valiant but after retracting I realize he was just a coward.

    If their system was working as he later said when retracting
    then explain why they have to do all the changes towards market economy? and away from plan economy?
    The economical crisis they face have nothing to do with the global economical crisis.
    Is that they simply ran out of people they can beg for money. Just that plain and simple.
    No more rich to loot, no more loans from capitalist countries or socialist.
    They have got to the end of their tether.

  • Julio is right. Workers must control. No government in the world has ever allowed this. Cuba’s Revolution is the best we have had and many of the leaders are good people, intelligent, kind but they do not trust the workers to make the “right” decisions. So “humorist” Fidel admits the economic system (“the Cuban model”) is not working and President Raul then orders these above-mentioned reforms. But they sound very much like what China and Viet Nam have been doing, leaning more and more into private enterprise, that is, CAPITALISM!
    I would love to debate with Fidel and find his true meaning about why he thinks that is “necessary”, and if he is afraid that workers will make wrong choices. If so, what is the real meaning of “proletarian dictatorship” or worker democracy?
    I just have written a piece about this but it was done before these reforms were announced. I don’t think now that Fidel was as humorous as I stated.

  • One of the supposed benefits of socialism was that they will never get affected by economical issues due to their “better” planned economy! So why are they affected by the global economical situation?
    Is it bad planning or just that they are unable to make predictions?
    Still, unions should be independent of the party and truly represent the workers interest.

  • Can someone enlighten me on the achievements of Cuban unions?

    In North America (by the way, that includes Canada and others, not just the Empire) the relationship between unions and management is very adversarial.

    Unions have achieved enormous gains for workers over the years, but lately they have been hamstrung by jobs being outsourced to other countries where labour is much cheaper, employees have little or no benefits and work unreasonable hours. Our governments have worked cooperatively with management to bring this about. This is clearly an anti-union move that will have to be either reversed or it will lead to social unrest.

    Public sector unions still have the power to strike because their jobs cannot be moved abroad…and they use it. Unless union demands are substantially met, there is usually a strike that most often ends with management moving closer to the unions’ position.

    Clearly this can be disruptive but these unions still have the power to protect their members and enhance their lives.

    What do Cuban unions do when their members demand more than management is willing to offer? What is possible in the way of gains in wages or working conditions?

  • This is not a Trade Union Problem this is a result of the economic desaster we are in Worldwide. Only a few countries are able to handle their own affairs and for Cuba we need a Redevelopment Plan sponsored by, for example, the EU/Switzerland/Japan/China/Russia/Brazil/ and so fort. If an Investor or foreign citizen has to change currency to CUC it is not helpful, travel restrictions are not helpful, therefore the Cuban Government has to come up with a plan to secure these currencies in the National Bank and looking into the Property Rights issues which are important to any Nationals to invest in Cuba. Without Capital you can not have success. I have faith into the Cuban people and think, slowly and steady they will be better of in the future, see you next week in Havana.

  • Here is an interesting idea
    since the regime will layoff 20 percent of the work force why then can they not give the others a 20 percent salary increase?

  • Alberto
    Unions of workers reason for existence is to defend workers from abuse by management and owners. In this case the Comunist Party and the Elite that fuse into one monolithic organization that controls every aspect of Cuban society.
    Cubans need to shed this fake union and form a real union.
    The right worker union would have seat with the government to negotiate benefits for the layoff workers and not asked for unity. I am sorry but what do they mean by unity?
    It means to not protest the layoff os almost 20 percent of Cuba’s work force. To fence on their own.

    I wonder if you are one of those instant experts that travel trhu Cuba and meet a few people and they think they understand Cuba. I am sorry but I think you are mistaken. Cubans do want freedom. Not just economical freedom but also political one. They are peaceful and loving people and good people and they deserve to be in control of their lives and their future and not some government bureaucrat.

    Economic independence from the state will give them a little chance to see and savor freedom, I suspect economical freedom will also lead to political freedom.
    What is wrong with letting people having political freedom?
    Having the freedom to think and dream of a better future not dominated by an elite minority?
    It will happen and soon.

  • I regret, that I must disagree completely with Mr. Yncera views. Is it not precisely this decision what people have been demanding for years? Is this not what many said the Cuban government feared to do, because they preferred to have the Cuban people dependent on them and not as free individuals? Is that not the prevailing argument, that Cubans could not revolt, because their pay check was coming from the government?

    I spent the last month in Cuba and traveled 2700 Kms. over mountains, valley, cities, beach and countryside, where I spoke with hundreds of people of all walks of life, age, race, religion and political views. All demanded economical changes and a few, political changes as well.

    This will be a new and bumpy road for all, but much easier to adjust, fix, improve, delete than building a refinery, nuclear plant, scientific research center etc. Why are we so skeptical of the abilities of the Cuban people?

    But, to blame the union for what is happening and not the over centralized system in place, is to scapegoat an innocent by standard. If unions were the solution to unemployment, why have our powerful AFL-CIO been missing in action with our 16-17 million unemployed?

    If unions were so harmful, why is it, the US government as opposed to the French government, oppose, fight, destroy, bribe every attempt to set up any union in all workplaces?

    I think we need to clear-up our views, thoughts and possible solutions of the Cuban serious economic crisis, devoid of personal feelings.

  • Wow with a union like that who needs management?
    I think is time for Cubans to have an independent labor movement. A real one and not guided by the party cadres.

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