Another Inconsequential Congress / Fernando Damaso

One of the main problems confronting Cuban workers is low salaries, an issue that affects manual, service, technical and professional workers alike.

The current annual monthly salary of 440 pesos (some 20 dollars) means that many people are able to survive only by resorting to collateral activities, both legal and illegal. It matters little if there is more than one wage earner per family since, as the number of family members increases, so do the costs. As the saying goes, “If there is only enough for one, there won’t be enough for two, much less three.”

Until now the government’s response has been one-sided, claiming that “before raising salaries, production must first be increased.”

Among the issues to be addressed at the 20th Congress of the Cuban Central Workers’ Union (CTC), however, this does not appear to be one of them. It seems priority will instead be given to ratifying of the so-called Labor Code — drafted by government officials and put up for discussion by workers — though it is no secret that such discussions have always been and continue to be mere formalities. As in similar instances, once approved, it will be a dead issue. (Such was the case with the so-called Family Code, Civil Code and Governmental Ethics Code, among others now forgotten.)

The new CTC statutes to be discussed will address such things as how to increase production, conserve resources, replace imports, be more efficient, encourage strict compliance with existing legislation and collective agreements, fight corruption, restore discipline and preserve moral values — topics that address the interests of the State more than those of workers.

Cuban workers need labor unions that will truly represent them, with leaders that emerge from their own ranks and are democratically elected, not hand-picked by the Communist Party. Rather than be a governmental organization, the CTC should instead serve as a counterweight restraining the excesses of the state and its leaders who, even when drafting and implementing measures which disadvantage workers, claim they are acting in those same workers’ behalf.

Currently, the Cuban workers’ movement lacks a key battle weapon: the right to strike. Last used on January 1, 1959 to consolidate the gains of the insurrection, it was completely banned by the new authorities.

This is a one of numerous taboo subjects that will not be discussed at the workers’ congress.

It is striking that this has never been a cause of concern to the many union activists from overseas who have been invited to previous congresses, though it is a tool used routinely in their respective countries to defend their rights. It is safe to assume that it will be of no concern at this conclave as well. Do they really believe that here it is the workers who are in charge? Well, anything is possible in such a complex world.

Officially, the congress “will be a great success” and the workers’ delegates — carefully chosen by the party — will unanimously approve the accords being submitted to a vote, including the obligatory clauses calling for the release of “the Cuban Five” and a “lifting of the blockade,” in yet another “demonstration of the unbreakable bond between the “workers and their government.”

It will all be done for benefit of the authorities and their foreign guests who — after much celebration, special treatment, fine dining and sightseeing, with all expenses paid by Liborio — will return to their respective countries, touting the marvels of Cuba, of its unique system, of its “original workers’ movement” devoid of demands, demonstrations or anything of a similar nature.

This will ensure they are invited back to the next congress… assuming there is one.

Diario De Cuba, February 19 2014, Fernando Damaso