Posted on Monday, 11.01.10
Castro urges Cuban union to accept layoffs
By PAUL HAVEN
HAVANA — Cuban President Raul Castro urged union leaders to explain the
need for massive layoffs to the country's labor force, and warned them
not to hide the deep economic problems facing the cash-strapped island.
"The benefit of errors is that at least they give us the experience not
to repeat them," Castro said in a blunt speech to leaders of the
3-million-strong Cuban Workers Confederation, which is affiliated with
the Communist Party and the only labor union allowed by the government.
He said it is essential that union leaders resist the "pernicious
tendency" to cover up problems, according to a report on the front page
of Monday's edition of the Communist Party daily Granma.
Cuba has announced that it will lay off half a million state workers –
10 percent of the total labor force – by March, while making it easier
for individuals to open up private businesses. Castro has said another
half million workers will need to leave government jobs within five years.
Since taking over from his brother Fidel – first temporarily, then
permanently – in 2006, Raul has worked to put fallow government land in
the hands of small farmers and has railed against the inefficiency of
the labor force. He has said Cuba must not be the only country in the
world where people expect to get paid for not working.
Even as he has opened the door to limited capitalism, the Cuban leader
has insisted that the changes are consistent with the socialist ideals
of the revolution he and his brother ushered in following their 1959
ouster of dictator Fulgencio Batista.
He said Sunday that workers' acceptance of the economic overhaul is
fundamental to its success.
"In order to defend and explain the (new economic) measures, the working
class must have knowledge of them and be convinced of their importance
to the continuation of the revolution," Granma quoted Castro as saying.
"Otherwise, we will fall into the abyss."
Economy Minister Marino Murillo told union leaders the country's
problems stem from the fact that workers are not productive enough to
merit the salaries they earn. The average worker earns just $20 a month,
but in return receives free education and health care, nearly free
housing and transportation, and some basic food.
"Society is handing out consumer goods more quickly then it is creating
them," Murillo said. He warned that the labor force is too heavily
tilted toward the service sector, with far too few workers actually
producing anything. "This labor structure would not allow any economy to
In most countries, such massive layoffs as the ones taking place in Cuba
would produce deep concern, and likely lead to labor unrest. But union
leaders here have quickly fallen in line with the changes.
In fact, it was the Cuban Workers Confederation that officially
announced the layoffs back in September.
On Sunday, union leader Salvador Valdes reiterated the organization's
support for the economic overhaul, though he did put in a good word for
Cuba's much-maligned workers.
"In 50 years, the working class has never failed the revolution," he
said. "Because that would be like failing ourselves."