HAVANA TIMES — Thatcher or Reagan’s anti-union maneuvers were well covered here in our government media; I personally remember the TV coverage that the Telefonica workers strike got here in Cuba when in Spain Aznar privatized the company. You only have to switch on the National News to witness union or student protests that take place against management or governments every day, in countries that aren’t Cuba’s “friends”, of course.
The case of the Hotel Manazana Kempinski construction workers is already a classic of the Castros’ economic history, in which Cubans had to work with Indian builders who were earning 20 times their wages, not to mention transport and accommodation costs, and these workers from India had been brought in to prevent Cuban workers’ wages from going up. When I heard this news, I imagined Reagan rolling over in his grave, the man who thought he was a tough guy and the scourge of unions.
Today, in this super luxury hotel’s ground floor stores, you can find a Montblanc pen that costs the equivalent of what a Cuban surgeon would earn for two years hard work. This is an insult to me, especially after the hundreds and hundreds of speeches [by Fidel Castro] about equality that were simultaneously broadcast on every TV channel, which stopped us from watching a soap opera or baseball game.
In recent days we found out that Havana’s transport problem is no longer due to a shortage of buses, but due to bus drivers leaving the company, according to what the Managing Director has said. The reason? More tempting offers elsewhere in terms of wages and working hours and (this is the important part), an increase in state transport inspectors’ requirements.
According to this manager, 86 driver positions are unfilled and this means that 700,000 passengers are no longer being transported, which bring in 600,000 pesos (24,000 CUC) and are no longer making 500 round trips each day.
Let me break that down for you, in CUC, our US dollar equivalent, so you have an international idea.
Every driver brings in an average of 290 CUC to the company, every day.
If every driver is bringing the company 290 CUC per day x 24 working days, that would make 6,960 CUC per month. Is there really no margin to make this job more attractive to these workers?
I haven’t taken on the task of finding out how much a bus driver earns, but let’s suppose it reaches 100 CUC per month, which is four times the average Cuban salary. We’d also have to add to this (and this is where the Inspectors’ work becomes important) what they “earn on the side”, taking coins as a way to improve their remuneration.
Instead of creating a dialogue with the Transport Union, the Company, the State’s monopoly on collective public transport in Havana, has decided to bring in drivers from other provinces to replace the drivers who have left their jobs.
It’s important to state that there aren’t any strikes in Cuba, they don’t exist, they aren’t possible, they are illegal, foreign, cancerous, a fantasy effect of LSD, a mass stampede. What is happening with bus drivers is the closest thing we have to a strike.
There’s no way that bringing in drivers from other provinces, taking into account transport, accommodation, food expenses and extras for living further away from home, plus their driver’s wage, is more profitable than finding a wage that local drivers accept so they don’t keep on leaving the Company.
Only the neoliberal and anti-union mindset of a monopoly capitalist government can allow such things to happen, and only a journalism ruled by Fidel’s own words: “the press’ main mission is to defend the Revolution”, can admit that these things happen without a proper scandal breaking out.
I am usually against making this kind of biased analysis of Cuban reality as I always find that it focuses on a symptom of the problem, rather than going to the root cause. However, in this case, increasing bus drivers’ wages would be what we need to improve the capital’s hellish transport.
But no, transport won’t improve while we live under an authoritarian, restrictive, monopoly, ideologically hollow dictatorship that has a leadership which are only worried about how to die without being tried in court or having the fortunes they’ve amassed for their families taken away, but that’s my own personal opinion, the unions think differently, or maybe they just don’t think.