New resolutions issued by the Ministry of Economy and Planning, introducing changes in economic relations, give more attention to the re-insertion of non-state forms of management. The measures, published in the Official Extraordinary Gazette, No. 4, of February 21, 2013, authorize the “payment in convertible pesos (CUC), to legal entities to natural persons in certain activities.”
Among the new provisions are food services offered by self-employed workers, the contracting of minor repairs services for government entities and the tourism system. They also apply in the experiments that are approved as new forms of management. Contract payments are to be made by “checks, cards, notes, bills of exchange, local credit cards and others.” The amounts payable are not limited by administrative decisions, as the amounts to be executed must be approved in the budgets and plans for the fiscal year of legal persons.
The information, that with the exception of North Korea which has no news range anywhere in the world, in Cuba, due to the pushback suffered in economic relations, is a peculiar, necessary and important fact.
It is a peculiar fact, because it is a step backwards. In 1959 the government unleashed a crackdown on private property and economic rights that began with the nationalization of foreign-owned companies, continued with national companies and did not stop until the elimination of the last 56,000 small private enterprises with the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968.
The result of the nationalization was inefficiency. The disappearance of the products and services provided by the closed establishments could never be made up for by the State. Instead, interest in productive results began to decline, which together with the insufficiency of wages, forced Cubans to survive on the margins of legality with consequent ethical deterioration.
It is, therefore, a partial return to what existed in Cuba before 1959, when the products and services offered by small private companies were paid for with the Cuban peso which was pegged to the U.S. dollar. The difference with the past is that there is now a dual currency: charge devalued pesos salary paid in CUC and the vast majority of products and services, which means Cubans return to the past in worst conditions.
At the same time, it is a necessary event because limitations and contradictions of the measures introduced to overcome the crisis in which the country is sunk, are not yielding positive results and must be amended and supplemented. Self-employment, a step in that direction, is only a tenuous resurrection of what existed before 1959 and require the removal of the barriers that were born to play an effective role in economic relations. Hence the need for the recent measures and other measures that will have to be enacted.
And finally, it is an important event because the delay has been so great that the return to the past is a step forward. The intention of the changes, that were manifested in 2006 and began to take shape from 2008, has not yielded the expected results. While the causes are many, among them two contradictions are highlighted: one, the attempt to achieve an efficient economy while preserving the model that led the country into the crisis; two, changing some aspects of the economy while ignoring the systemic character of social phenomena. These two contradictions, in an unfavorable national, regional and international context, with a huge debt and the possibility of losing at least part of the large subsidies from Venezuela, prevents the possibility of further retreat.
In this sense, according to an article by Yaima Puig Meneses, that appeared in the newspaper Granma on Thursday February 21, Marta García Pino, the specialist of the Macroeconomic Policy Group of the Standing Commission for Implementation and Development, said, “It is not a casual or isolated measure, rather a strengthening of self-employment in conjunction with the creation of other forms of non-state management as part of the reorganization of the economy in the country, making it necessary to modify the limits for the payments to natural persons from legal persons.”
The few results obtained with the measures that have been implemented are forcing them to reform the reforms in real time, complementing them with new provisions, such as the recent decisions about the payment in CUC from legal persons to natural persons as well as other provisions sure to be enacted.
Consequently, to advance is imposing the need to reintroduce economic relations and forms of property that were removed and remained banned for decades.
The result of this process is that it is producing changes. Whether or not the results of political will, what is important is that each step generates new contradictions, new scenarios and new possibilities. For that reason opinion journalism has a duty to point out the slowness, limitations and inconsistencies of the changes with critical remarks and suggestions, and at the same time to stimulate everything that goes in the direction of the transformation, until vital aspects that remain outside the government agenda are introduced.
I mean citizen rights and freedoms, without which the current measures also will not yield the results that Cuba urgently needs.
Published in Diario de Cuba
1 March 2013
“Without a strong union there will be no economy,” said Salvador Valdes Mesa, vice president of the Council of State and member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) in the recently concluded plenary session of the National Union of Sugar Workers. An approach which clearly expresses the vision of unions as instruments of the State and not as an association to defend the interests of workers.
Valdes Mesa, replaced the previous week as general secretary of the Workers Central Union (CTC), in the last two decades was first secretary of the PCC of the municipality and of the province of Camagüey, secretary-general of the Agriculture and Forestry Labor Union, Minister of Labor and Social Security.
Upon his departure from office of the head of the labor organization, Machado Ventura, second secretary of the PCC, explained that Salvador Valdes’s responsibility as vice president of the country did not allow him to also head the CTC, “but given the importance and significance of having a strong and consolidated labor movement,” he would continue performing this work from his new role. In his place, Carmen Rosa López Rodríguez, second secretary, will head the CTC until the XX Congress to be held in November.
The departure of Valdes Mesa from the CTC seems to be a part of the change in leadership of political and mass organizations. A few months ago, Carlos Rafael Miranda Martínez, Félix González Vigo, Yuniasky Crespo Vaquero and Teresa María Amarelle Boué, all replaced those who held those responsibilities in the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), the Young Communist Union (UJC) and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). The four joined the Council of State on the 24th of February, when Valdes Mesa was appointed vice president of that body. This shows the lack of autonomy of the labor movement in Cuba, without which it might not economy is strong, but it is certain that there will be no strong unions.
Rise and Fall of Cuban Unions
A brief look at the history of this movement reveals the process leading to its demise. Emerging in the second half of the nineteenth century during the process of replacing the slave labor with wage labor, the Cuban labor union movement first showed itself with strikes in the tobacco industry and the founding of the first workers’ newspapers; it was extended in during the colonial period with the Law of Associations in 1888; and it was supported in the rights and freedoms recognized in the Constitution of 1901, receiving its first fruits in the first decade of the twentieth century with the approval of holidays and time off for bereavement, the eight-hour day for government workers, the prohibition of payment in tokens and vouchers, and the closure of shops and workshops at six in the afternoon, among other steps.
Its growing strength was manifested in the formation of the National Confederation of Workers of Cuba in 1925, in the strike that toppled the regime of Gerardo Machado in 1933, in the labor legislation of 1938, which guaranteed workers’ rights such as minimum wage and death pensions which were guaranteed in the constitution; and in the birth of the CTC in 1939. All these prior events made the labor union movement an important factor of Cuban civil society.
However, the subordination of trade unions to political parties that began in 1925, worsened in the 40’s with the struggle between Authentic Party and the Communists for control of the labor movement; and again in 1952, when Eusebio Mujal, then general secretary of labor movement after ordering a general strike against the coup that year, ended up accepting an offer from Fulgencio Batista in exchange for preserving the rights acquired by the CTC.
Finally, in 1959 it received the biggest blow: the CTC was dissolved and replaced by the CTC-R, the Revolutionary Cuban Workers Union. In November of that year, at the Tenth Congress general secretary David Salvador Manso said that the workers had not gone to Congress to raise economic demands but to support the revolution. The XI Congress in November 1961 confirmed the loss of autonomy when delegates gave up almost all historical achievements of the labor movement: the nine days of sick leave, the additional Christmas bonus, the work week of 44 x 48 hours, the right to strike and the 9.09% wage increase, among others. From that moment, the CTC became an auxiliary to the government.
The State Interests
The independence of labor unions with respect to any non-union institution is a prerequisite vital to the defense of their own interests. With their functions under state control, they ceased to emanate from the needs and interests of workers, leading to their demise. This dependence was endorsed in the 1976 Constitution, which did not recognize the results achieved by the union movement since its inception.
A vivid expression of the loss of autonomy was the pronouncement of the CTC with regards to the measures taken by the Government to reduce the State workforce and substitute self-employment. In the document entitled “Pronouncement of the Cuban Workers Union” issued in September 2010, it is stated that “Our state could not and should not continue maintaining companies, productive entities, and services with inflated payrolls, and losses that weigh on the economy, are counterproductive, generate bad habits and distort workers’ conduct. It is necessary to increase the production and quality of services, reduce social spending and eliminate undeserved bonuses, excessive subsidies, study as a source of employment and early retirement. The success of the process that starts now will depend on the political assurance from the union movement and under the leadership of the Party we union leaders give our support for the actions to be undertaken … ”
The above text confirms the loss of independence of the CTC, without which the existence of real unionism is impossible. State interests are embedded in the document quoted, while nothing is said of the enormous problems of workers, firstly, of the inadequacy of current wages to provide a living.
23 April 2013