Cuba and Cooperatives in Times of Crisis

Vicente Morin Aguado

Photo: Konstantinos Tsakalidis
The VioMe factory in Thessaloniki. Photo: Konstantinos Tsakalidis

HAVANA TIMES — In Greece, a thunderous toll sounded announcing that workers at the industrial mining plant known as VioMe, in Thessaloniki, have occupied the factory, turning it into a cooperative under a self-management system. It was abandoned in 2011 after the owners walked away from the industry, failing to pay their workers their wages.

After 20 months without getting paid and having appealed for international assistance to finance start-up operations, VioMe once again began producing. This time, though, it is under union control – “without exploitation, without inequality, without hierarchy.”

In Cuba, the government extended the cooperative idea to the cities, trying to alleviate the economy’s persistent crisis, its marked underemployment, depressed wages with respect to prices, and production inefficiencies, whose symbol is widespread corruption.

All this makes it seem that the time for cooperatives comes when crises intensify and no other solutions are at hand. I’m skeptical because in the Greek case a single factory needed many months of support and outside assistance to raise the financing needed to put it back into operation. Obviously, one cannot resolve such Hellenistic problems through philanthropy.

What’s interesting is the step taken, an example that can be followed by any responsible government if it has the political will to properly use the voluminous financial resources of aid packages received from the outside, while preventing fraud and tax evasion, and above all ceasing to rescue former owners who have failed morally and managerially.

Cuba must make an assessment of these experiences, applying them in a particular way since our starting point is an economically inefficient socialist state with similar problems in terms of unemployment. There are notable differences from the European case, but if we give members of cooperative the rights they deserve, ensuring they can comply with their contractual obligations, we’ll find a reasonable manner to move towards a better future.

Simple data show that if the Cuban government plans to lay off more than a million workers, according to preliminary calculations, real unemployment will obviously exceed twenty percent of the active labor force, similar to the acute and much talked about cases of Greece and Spain.

Greek union leader Makis Anagnostu gave a valid response for his country and for ours: “Factories under workers’ control is the only reasonable response to the tragedy we’re going through every day. It’s the only answer to unemployment.”

What I’m talking about is authentic workers control and the legal basis for ownership by cooperative members. The wake-up call is sounding.

Vincent Morin Aguado: [email protected]


10 thoughts on “Cuba and Cooperatives in Times of Crisis

  • You go, Bro’! Well said.

  • So, you admit that you take more words than necessary to tell more than you know. Swell!

    Your attempts to ridicule me, and your silly attribution of all evils to the Castro boys’ lust for power are a small price to pay for the entertainment value of your constant, vapid prattling.

    BTW, I’ve ordered the book you recommended on the insurance industry, Invisible Bankers, but it’s by Andrew Tobias, not Tracy Kidder. Thanks, again.

  • “With the collapse of capitalism coming within a generation…”

    Get back to us on that, will you? Reports of capitalism’s impending demise have been greatly exaggerated for over a hundred years.

  • Moses,

    Your preference for capitalism and the U.S. oligarchic electoral system makes you a knee-jerk opponent to any form of democracy such as the cooperative forms being discussed and formulated on the left.
    Grady’s cooperative system as detailed in his book and Parecon as greatly detailed and discussed by Michael Albert at ZNet are valid and democratic alternatives to the top-down totalitarian forms you are a shill for.

    Like others of your ilk, you have no vision for a better future and only can reference the totalitarian past you prefer for what will be our future, which only reflects your sad and dismal view of the mutual aid- democratic nature intrinsic to humans.
    This mutual-aid democratic thinking was what enabled the human race to survive the 250,000 (est.) years we have existed on the planet and which has been suppressed globally by the totalitarian state and capitalist forms you so love.

    With the collapse of capitalism coming within a generation, humanity will most likely return to that cooperative, mutual-aid society which will be rooted in direct democracy enabled by universal connection to the internet and all information. .

    It’s a vision that has to be a nightmare for you totalitarians.

    The article on “Retribution” in today’s HT presents some interesting related thoughts on possibilities on Cuba’s more immediate future.

  • President Eisenhower once said “An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows.” Your pseudo-intellectual claptrap regarding a socialist cooperative paradise has no empirical, historical, nor practical support and exists only in your mind. Your personal attacks on me are a small price to pay for the entertainment value that your constant comments regarding the failure of the Cuban socialist model.On this point we ironically agree. You obviously fail to see the contradiction in your comments in that you persist in defending the architects of that very model, the Castros and their gutless followers. Once again, I encourage you to visit Cuba for the first time to broaden and hopefully enlighten your perspective.

  • You sometimes prove the adage, Moses, that “even a blind hog will find an acorn occasionally.” Although Vicente’s import went miles above your head and heart, it is nevertheless true what you expressed, that the socialist movement, in general, demonstrates an abiding disconnect from reality.

    No matter how many decades the Marxian stipulation of state monopoly is disproved in practice, destroying one revolution after another, most socialists still wander in the fog as to from where that erroneous stipulation came, and the obvious cooperative alternative to it.

    Vicente Morin shows however that he is no longer just wandering in the fog. In his last sentence, he indicates a profound truth; a truth that can save the Cuban revolution, if the PCC should ever embrace it: that authentic, functional worker cooperatives, under socialist state power, need to be legally owned and self-managed by those who do the work.

  • Here I am, John, inside my skin in Santa Monica, California. Hope you are well.

    What you say in your first two paragraphs is “spot on,” as the Brits might say. Still, let’s remember that a worker-owned cooperative anywhere in the capitalist world is still a capitalistic concern, is “capitalist property.”

    Cooperative republican theory says that, in order for a worker-owned cooperative enterprise–or any enterprise–to be “socialist,” it must exist under socialist state power, work in concert with the transformationary National Plan, and cater to a socially-conditioned trading market.

    Even so, there is a significant difference between a worker-owned coop enterprise existing under capitalist state power, on the one hand, and a capitalist-owned enterprise, on the other–at least with regard to the quality of life of the coop workers, and the efficiency and product quality of production.

    In searching for an understanding of what authentic, workable socialism might be, I saw the 1980 BBC film “The Mondragon Experiment,” and declared to myself: “It’s what we should have been doing all along!”

    What is needed now is for the entire Left to reach such an epiphany, and embrace the concept and plan for a socialist cooperative republic. Cheers.

  • To extrapolate from the experiences of single cooperative mining plant in Greece as justification for a solution to the economic disaster in Cuba is once again proof of the i disconnect from reality that is emblematic of the socialist movement. The organization of an abandoned mining plant has little correlation to how to run a national economy. Even if that economy is tiny Cuba. The differences between the two situations are night and day.

  • Excellent article, Vicente.

    A major reason that the massive labor resources of countries like China and India have been utilized of late, for commodities production for export, is that labor costs in those types of countries are lower than those in North America, Europe and many other regions.

    It follows therefore that the way for labor in the latter regions to compete, and regain many of the jobs lost in the past several decades, is for labor costs to go down.

    At the same time, lower paid workers will not have the purchasing power, will not provide the needed market, for commodities.

    The answer–or, so it seems to me–is for workers in North America, Europe and other regions, including Latin America, to come into ownership of their work enterprises, using cooperative business structures.

    These structures would reduce the end price of commodities due to the enormous reduction of needed factory expenses, on the one hand, and the significantly enhanced production incentive of working associates at every level. Labor costs would go down, but working associates’ incomes would rise.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Vicente that, what is needed is “authentic workers’ control and the legal basis for ownership by cooperative members.”

    The only thing I might add, for Cuba, is silent, partial co-ownership by the socialist state, in lieu of taxes.

    authentic workers control and the legal basis for ownership by
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    authentic workers control and the legal basis for ownership by
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  • Spain’s hugely successful Mondragon cooperative is a model that should have been followed in all the troubled economies of Europe but long before the current crises of capitalism and on a national scale.

    The direct democracy that is used to operate these cooperative workplaces also prepares the society, through hands-on experience, for direct democracy in government as well.

    Of course that sort of thing is not appreciated by the totalitarian-minded who prefer the capitalist top-down-do as-I-say way of doing things or those like the PCC who prefer state top-down-do-as-I-say totalitarian economies.

    Democracy is a hard sell to these people. Democracy is just not their thing

    Grady, where are you ?

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