Anti-Unionism: Another Revolutionary Feat / Miriam Celaya

Salvador Valdés Mesa, Secretario General of the CTC

On Monday, September 13th, in an unusual statement issued by the Cuban Workers Organization (the CTC), it was announced that half a million Cubans will lose their jobs in the coming months. The amazing thing is not the wave of layoffs in itself, (for a while, it has been rumored that about one million in total will lose their state jobs), but that the announcement, instead of being made by the employer, was assumed specifically by the organization which, by virtue of its name, calls to defend workers’ rights; such an organization which stands, in addition, for moderating to “maintain the systematic monitoring of the development of this process” (of layoffs). This is the paradigm of anti-unionism.

That is how it was made explicit that we will have 500,000 more unemployed by the end of March, some of whom are expected to swell the ranks of the so-called self-employed who will feed, by way of their taxes and leonine locks, the insatiable state coffers.

Without a doubt, this blogger would be guilt of false naiveté if she had ever believed that “the union”, as it is commonly called in every workplace, represented the interests of Cuban workers. Anyone who has ever been occupationally linked to a state job knows that the union is a pulley over the administrative machinery of the State. It is subordinate to it and to the nucleus of the single party at each center. As for me, I cannot remember once in my 23 years of official employment that the union, its members or its leaders ever supported me in any of the conflicts that I had to settle with different administrative levels, or in numerous complaints I had to file during my turbulent working life. I don’t remember “the union” ever forgetting to put out its hand… each payday. The financial collector of the CTC was present alongside the paymaster, to ensure the collection of union dues before the anemic wages would slip through the fingers of the “unionized”.

Another feature of Cuban trade union membership is automatic enrollment when entering the workforce, as with the CDR – an organization in which every Cuban is included as soon as he turns 16 – or with the FMC*, to which each girl “enters” at that same age. You start to work somewhere, and the mere fact of being part of the work force turns you into a member, per se, of the organization. No one asks if you want to unionize, no one explains your rights or the labor successes of the organization in favor of its members. You are limited to compling with its work plan, paying your fees, performing your “labor guard” and attending meetings and performing “voluntary” or “productive” jobs (they are not the same, but both are equally unproductive). That, and an enormous feeling of helplessness, are common attributes that the union imparts to Cuban workers today.

From the very beginning of its commandeering of power, the Castro regime has been responsible for destroying each autonomous organization in Cuba. More than half a century of union struggles that became popular in the nineteenth century and brought significant benefits during the era of the Republic were cleverly monopolized by the revolutionary government, beginning in 1959. The legendary Sierra Maestra commander knew all too well what great power autonomous civic organizations safeguarded. The Cuban labor movement, dazzled with the populism of the revolution’s first steps and with the charisma of its leader, gave up its strength and its independence in the presence of the olive-green caste, and soon it evolved into the servile mass it is today. There are no more traces of union leaders of the stature of Jesús Menéndez or Aracelio Iglesias, just to mention two of the best known, or a union like that of the port workers or the employees of the electric companies of the 50’s.

But, in spite of all that, not even in my moments of extreme fantasizing would I have thought that it would be the Cuban Workers’ Union – the country’s only union – that would consent to make the appalling announcement of a record unemployment rate. I never heard of any country – not even those where “wild capitalism” prevails – in which the organization that protects the workers is the one announcing and controlling layoffs. If any of my readers knows of a case, please enlighten me.

Finally, the facade covering the arrangement is cracking. It is exposing, naked and publicly, the perfect plot between the CTC and the sole employer, the State Party Government, counter to the detriment to workers. Interestingly, we had true unionism while capitalism lasted. Tropical socialism did nothing but crush organized labor. At the present time, when the past structures of “socialism” are blurring, in Cuba we are going back to capitalism, though such confessions have not yet been made public. With its return, workers, without rights or awareness of their own strength, are confined to the most difficult place while the government safeguards us, in another of its usual gestures of infinite sacrifice: it is appropriating the “maleficent capitalist tools” for its own use.

*Federation of Cuban Women

Translated by: Norma Whiting

September 17, 2010