Vicente Morín Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — The recent bici-taxi protest in Plaza de la Revolución managed to get annulled dozens of fines, which had been sensationalized to appear as economic crimes. In October 2015, mail delivery workers in Banes, Holguin refused to work, finally getting their demands met against administrative arbitrariness.
Other complaints haven’t been so successful, but one thing’s for sure, a crack has been opened in the Communist party’s trade union wall.
In May, tobacco rollers from the Adonis Cabrera Factory, precisely in Holguín, carried out a sit-in strike in protest of the lack of stimulus payments. They were finally penalized further and made to work a Saturday in order to make up for the setback in production. Something important to bear in mind in this case is that they didn’t go to the union first, which is always allied to the management of the state companies.
Holguín citizens are leaders in national protests, not to forget that in January 2014, the city of parks held a famous attempt made up of dozens of small business-owners, when the State definitively prohibited the sale of imported clothes and shoes.
Even though they were met by the authorities and didn’t receive any direct sanctions as a result of the protest, the measure is still in place today, and is made fun of over there and all over the country, as people employ different underground techniques to sell merchandise which is supposedly “protected” by the State monopoly in control of national commerce.
In the face of trade-union ineffectiveness dominated by the Party-State binary, workers have gradually opted for responses which have now become more widespread: simulation, fraud, bribery and last but not least, escape, leading to mass emigration.
Some responses have been palpable, you just have to look at the increase in doctors’ salaries (to 60 USD a month), pavements adorned with the latest adverts [without a given date] to sell them laptops and cars. The undisclosed reason behind these benefits lies in the almost 8,000 health professionals who have signed on to the United States’ special immigration program for the sector, created during George W. Bush’s presidency.
Some recent testimonies show that the breeding ground for future protests, far from disappearing, is growing in the pressure pot that is national day-to-day life.
Bici-taxis transport people in semi-handcrafted vehicles which they themselves own, they sweat for every peso they earn, but the police know well by now that they always have money in their pockets.
“They don’t leave us alone, now they’ve shut off whole roads or sections of other streets to us making it almost impossible to work. Fines vary between 750 and 1500 pesos, we don’t earn that much, at the same time the most the transit police can supposedly fine us is 60 pesos.” (Comment made by Omar Lastre, one of the protesters.)
“A protest can start at any time here. Between all the police and inspectors on the street, they’ve got us with our backs to the wall. Fines come and go, normally we’re lucky enough to receive a warning in advance and we can hide forbidden goods, but it’s getting too much living with this anxiety all the time.” (Mayelín, a market seller.)
The latest news involves the imminent removal of hundreds of micro business-owners on the ground floor of what was once the great department store Fin de Siglo, on the corner of Galiano and San Rafael.
“I pay 900 pesos every 15 days to rent this space. I also have to pay for my shelves plus the ink and CD sleeves. Now they want to spread us out over a few different venues, which is a great disadvantage for us.” -And the trade union?- “The trade union tries its best but there isn’t a lot it can do. I don’t hand in my license because I’ve gotten used to this business, I’m one of the few people that still offers classic films here in Cuba. At least I earn enough a day to live on.” (Rey, seller at Fin de Siglo)
Living in fear of these occurrences means an unbearable amount of anxiety. We aren’t all doctors, times have changed, and the result shows that there will be many mass movements in the future demanding an end to this repeated arbitrariness, especially in the new self-employed sector, which is less influenced by the State’s governmental policy.
There are more than enough reasons to protest, it’s a spontaneous act, it’s becoming more common and by the way, they’re not asking for direct political demands, nobody’s shouting Down with Raul, down with the government!
Vicente Morín Aguado: [email protected]