Cuban Unions and the New Labor Law
August 1, 2013 | Print |
HAVANA TIMES — The First Secretary of the Communist Party for Artemisa
was dismissed from his post after the foreign press visited the
province. The joke among journalists was that he had lost favor with the
government when we all wrote positive things about the experiment he was
That wasn’t the case. Soon afterwards, Ulises Guilarte would reemerge as
the organizer of the Congress of the Cuban Workers Federation (CTC), the
organization to which most Cuban workers belong (and the only one
permitted by the authorities).
That the CTC should be headed by a communist cadre is not anything new.
In fact, this has always been the case, even before the triumph of the
revolution, when this union maintained close ties to the pro-soviet
Popular Socialist Party.
What is novel and interesting is that a leader with experience in the
implementation of “pilot projects”, that is, a Cuban Communist Party
(PCC) official capable of putting reforms into practice on the go,
evaluating their consequences and formulating possible courses of
actions, should be promoted to the top of the union leadership.
In Artemisa, Guilarte had undertaken the extremely complex task of
decentralizing the province’s political and administrative structures
and of delegating authority to different provincial and municipal
bodies. Now, the challenge posed to him could well be that of putting an
end to the imposed and counterproductive alliance between Cuban unions
and company managements.
The new labor law stresses that the job of the union is to “represent
the workers in defense of their interests and rights, as well as
advocate the improvement of their working and living conditions.” Such
aims call for radical changes.
Truth is, Cuban unions have been functioning as appendages of company
presidents, managers and administrators for years. They have focused
more on “handing down directives” than in presenting higher-ups with the
complaints, opinions, criticisms and aspirations of their members.
I don’t recall a single speech by a Cuban union leader calling for a
raise in salaries, wage payments in hard currency, a shorter working day
or lower retirement age. Quite the contrary, the CTC has supported each
and every one of the initiatives impelled by the government.
Cuban union leaders tell me that the defense of socialism entails
protecting the “strategic interests of the workers.” That may well be,
but the truth is that, over the last few decades, they have done very
little in defense of the “immediate interests” of their affiliates.
Today, debates are on a new labor law which stipulates that all Cubans
have the right to a job that allows them to satisfy their needs and
those of their families, something which isn’t remotely the case at the
moment, owing to the country’s low salaries.
Other interesting paragraphs in the bill promote the equality of women
in the workplace and the protection of mothers and maintain that
“workers have the right to participate in the management of the State
entities where they work” (without specifying, however, what
decision-making prerogatives they will have).
The bill finally introduces the needed distinction between employees and
employers, in view of the fact that, with the authorization of small,
private companies, everyone, workers and managers, could end up in the
same union, under the category of the “self-employed.”
A number of things, however, still remain unclear. The conditions for
laying off an employee, which seem to favor the employer considerably,
is one case in point. The bill establishes that workers are entitled to
one week of vacation a year and, though it specifies that this is the
“minimum”, its possible interpretations are cause for concern.
The document does not specify whether foreign firms will be authorized
to hire Cuban workers directly. Currently, such workers are paid in
Cuban pesos, at a very unfavorable rate, despite the fact that these
foreign companies pay the Cuban State in hard currency.
We find another gray area in the case of Cuban doctors employed abroad,
whose incomes and working conditions, we are told, are to be determined
by the Ministries of Public Health and Labor. The CTC will not have any
say in these cases; the bill only stipulates that “the opinion of the
union will be taken into consideration.”
Such vagueness is quite a serious matter when one is dealing with the
sector which secures the greatest part of the country’s incomes, well
above tourism or family remittances. A just labor law could be the key
to keeping “the hen of the golden eggs” happy.
The debate surrounding the labor law will be productive if Cuban workers
review it in depth and begin to defend their interests, if the CTC
actually becomes their voice before the authorities and if the
government includes these opinions in the final version of the document,
demonstrating that this “popular consultation” is not a mere formality.
Source: “Cuban Labor and a New Labor Law” –