Marching on their own? / Miriam Celaya

President on his own during May 1, 2011. Photo taken from the website of the National Information Agency

The official press has been announcing the parade this May 1st with a newly added component to the “army” of workers that will march in support of the revolution and socialism: the self-employed.

I’ve been reflecting on the theme (I’m showing an alarming tendency to reflections) and I cannot quite understand the issue. Aren’t the self-employed a sector that represents private enterprise? Haven’t we been taught in school that private property is one of the “evils of capitalism,” a source of exploitation for the proletariat? Has the Cuban system created a new species, the owner-laborer? Something else is really bothering me: What union does a restaurant or cafeteria owner, or a street vendor with a vegetable and fruit cart belong to? Will they parade in favor of high tax rates and in support of the lack of wholesale markets for the procurement of the materials they need? Are they the new cuckolded and abused?

I can’t begin to imagine, for example, the wealthy owners of certain important “eateries” in Havana — and I beg readers to allow me to omit names, I am not trying to point at the more successful Cuban entrepreneurs — walking in the sun towards the Plaza Cívica, chanting slogans for the proletariat, or singing that song that says “let’s change the world’s stage by sinking the bourgeois empire.” It’s too unreal, too perverse.

Nevertheless, this is Castro’s Cuba, so, mocking the poet, don’t thee be surprised of anything. I know that many self-employed individuals, those engaged in the crafts trade from the stands that occupy space leased from the State, such as the once elegant department store Fin de Siglo, have been ordered to “become members of a syndicate” — as has been stated in the official press — including the payment of union dues and have recently been asked to attend a meeting to sign their commitment to attend the march. I haven’t been able to confirm this fact, but we know that it is also common practice for any state employee.

Paradoxically, employees of a restaurant or any other privately owned business do not have the possibility to organize their own union capable of facing an employer in order to defend their interests, though many work longer hours than stipulated by the country’s labor laws, can be dismissed by their employers without the right to compensation, and lack almost all labor rights, demonstrating that “self-employed unionism” is another false formula of the system to maintain the oppression of individuals beyond their relative economic independence from the state.

It is obvious that, when convening “independents” to this parade, the government has the intention to continue to monitor the supply of slaves, even the sector of freedmen, i.e., those who are in the first phase of buying their freedom through their economic activity, independent of the Master. Official control mechanisms deem important that those individuals who turn autonomous do not become independent or associate freely, and, at the same time, the government needs to offer the world the impression that private businessmen and manufacturers are aligned with the revolution, thus legitimizing the “renewal.”

Worst of all is that there is a representative sample of the self-employed who will lend themselves to the new farce. So then, the self-employed will march this May 1st under the banners of socialism, and maybe soon a “union of revolutionary self-employed” will be established. This won’t, even remotely, be a march on anyone’s own account.

Translated by Norma Whiting

April 30 2012