This article was written by Luis Felipe Rojas and published in “Diario de Cuba” on September 6th, 2011.
They receive orders and countermands. They are sent home as if they were packages, they do not have a labor union to turn to and they cannot say that the system does not work for them: they don’t have someone to turn to, they don’t have where to turn to. The government’s new economic measures of rationalizing the work force do not even provide enough food to bring home.
More than half a century of moderately qualified workers from the nickel extraction plant in Nicaro, in the province of Holguin, were left jobless during the beginning of 2011. The suggestions given by the administration of the “Rene Ramos Latour” corporation were that these workers re-orientate their lives, that they direct their work to other sectors, while knowing chances of that are void, considering that the area has been devastated by exploitation of minerals.
According to Ramon, one of the affected workers, the union did not do anything else but to repeat what was said by the Party and the head of the corporation. After considering him “available”, another suggestion was that he turn to self-employment or that he wait for the confirmation of an agricultural contingent which has not yet seen the light.
Up to now, the measures implemented to encourage the growth of small businesses or “self-employment” have met more obstacles than anything else, despite the fact that Raul Castro himself has lashed out against the 50 year long immobility which he and his brother have created.
The most frequent complaints, which have appeared in the very few spaces of massive dissemination, range from poor management within the organs of labor justice, the indigence of the unions as a basis for the solution of worker’s problems, all the way to the most vulgar form of authoritarianism on behalf of the direction of the companies, which completely annul any gestures by the union.
The weekly “Trabajadores” newspaper, the state-owned union’s organ of dissemination, published an interview with Canary Island union leader Daniel Casal this past 1st of August. In the conversation, Casal, who describes himself as a defender of workers, complains about the Iberian system of associationism, affirming: “Once cannot be in the union they wish to be in, and they will not truly be defended. Instead, they impose the risk of losing one’s job, and even go to the extreme of enforcing not belonging to a union as a condition for employment”.
Such an assertion seems like a taunt before the imposition of the single-union system in Cuba, at the service of the ideological apparatus of the Communist Party.
Protesting, walking on unstable grounds
Workers from the health, sugar production, and construction sectors are the ones who mostly make up the “available” category, a term which the hierarchy has invented to define the unemployed which, at no moment, can demand anything from the totalitarian union: their only insinuation would be categorized as being a dissident.
The government has put into legal function 74 of the 89 conventions ratified by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Very few, however, are upheld towards workers. Even then, the right to strike and the right to assemble outside of the official sector are prohibited.
The strike carried out by horse-driven carriage conductors in Bayamo during the beginning of the year, where a group of them rose as leaders, forced the local government to sit at the negotiation table. However, the posterior counter-measures such as the cancellation of work licenses, coercion, and other threats left those who first protested abandoned.
Even then, an action such as this strike and its latter conversations emerge as anomalies amid the skein of governmental repression. In 2010, a strike carried out by self-employed workers shook the municipality of Palma Soriano in Santiago de Cuba. It did not leave positive settlements for the strikers, as independent unions throughout the country were harassed, detained, beaten, and accused of working under orders from Washington, and even of something worse: of receiving indications from Cuban groups in exile, mainly those situated in South Florida.
Meanwhile, in an issue of “Trabajadores” Newspaper, Raymundo Navarro, a functionary who attended this past June’s annual ILO conference, narrated how he debated about freedom of association and labor unions, about worker’s rights, and collective negotiation among other subjects that have been considered insults within the history of Cuban Unions during the past 50 years.
That is how the government attempts to paint an image of a flawless society, while the media get’s stuck in a reality it cannot narrate. While, with the fear of losing what has already been stolen from them, the workers whisper complaints that are nothing more than prayers.