cuba

James Miller jamiller at igc.apc.org
Fri Jun 7 11:47:08 MDT 1996


CUBA--TRADE UNION CONGRESS

Below is an article from the Militant (US) on the recent
Congress of the Central Organization of Cuban Workers.
I hope that members of the list will find it interesting.

Jim Miller
Seattle


Title: 960610-54--`We Will Defend Workers' Political Power At Any Cost'
Union congress in Cuba assesses key role of working class in
reversing collapse of production
************************************************************************
>from the Militant, vol.60/no.23                          June 10, 1996


BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS
AND BRIAN TAYLOR
   HAVANA, Cuba - "We will defend at any cost our national
independence, socialist ideals, and the political power of the
revolution, which is the power of the workers," said Pedro Ross,
general secretary of the Central Organization of Cuban Workers
(CTC). He was reading the political declaration adopted by the
delegates at the final session of the trade union federation's
17th congress on April 30.
   The four-day gathering concluded a year-long process that
began when the CTC issued the call for the congress on May Day
1995. Through successive rounds of CTC conferences in all of
Cuba's municipalities and assemblies at worksites involving more
than 3 million workers, Cuba's labor movement took stock of what
the working class has accomplished in increasing its management
role and making the decisive difference in the effort to reverse
the collapse of industrial and agricultural production.
   The congress adopted a series of resolutions building on the
political document that served as the basis for debate and
election of delegates - known as the Theses for the 17th
Congress. The decisions of the convention serve as a launching pad
for further collective efforts by workers themselves to push
Cuba's economic recovery forward and resist the escalating
economic war by Washington.
   Some 3,700 people attended the gathering. They included the
1,900 delegates elected by workplace assemblies, 400 guests from
Cuba, and nearly 1,400 observers from 197 unions and other labor
organizations in 50 countries.
   Francisco Dura'n, a member of the CTC's National Secretariat,
informed participants that among the voting delegates, 54 percent
were currently working in production or service jobs and the rest
were on full-time for their unions. The average age of delegates
was 41, with about one third being 35 years old and younger.
Nearly 600, or 31 percent, were women. (Women represent 42 percent
of the country's labor force of 4.6 million.)
   Dura'n also noted that 311 of the delegates had participated
in internationalist missions around the world - from volunteering
to fight the invading racist armies of South Africa in Angola in
the 1970s and 80s, to serving as teachers, doctors, or engineers
in numerous semicolonial countries.
   Most of the congress proceedings were broadcast on radio and
television so millions of Cubans could see or hear what went on.
   On the opening day, April 27, delegates were divided into six
working commissions that took up the issues of employment and
reorganization of the workforce, increasing efficiency in
production and labor productivity, raising agricultural
production, the structure of workers' wages, organization of the
unions, defense of the revolution, and international solidarity.
   The commissions considered many of the thousands of proposals
raised at precongress assemblies and prepared 16 resolutions that
were discussed, amended, and adopted by the delegates.
   During the last three days of the gathering, delegates worked
in plenary sessions chaired by Ross, who also gave the opening
report. In addition to the national secretariat of the CTC, Cuban
president Fidel Castro, most government ministers, and the entire
Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba took part in the
proceedings with voice.

   Success of sugar harvest
   "There is nothing more politically important than the
successful culmination of the sugar harvest," said Ross in his
opening report to the first plenary session April 28. "Within a
few weeks, we will be able to tell our people, the whole country
and the world that we exceeded the production plan set for the
harvest.... The workers in our main industry achieved this triumph
step by step, together with the cane cutters, who mobilized in
response to the call made by the leadership of the revolution."
   Sugarcane production collapsed to record lows in the years
1993-95 as shortages of fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, and spare
parts for cane-cutting machinery mounted. Heavy rains and flooding
also took a toll. The acute shortages were triggered by the post-
1989 abrupt end in aid and favorable trade relations with the
former Soviet bloc countries, opening what the Cubans refer to as
the "special period." The 1994 harvest fell to 4 million tons from
4.2 million the year before, less than half the 8.4 million
produced in 1990. Last year, another disastrous crop yielded a 50-
year low of 3.3 million tons.
   By the end of the congress sugar production had reached 4.15
million tons and projections indicated that the national goal of
4.5 million tons would be surpassed before the end of May.
   The reversal of the decline in sugar production had a big
impact in boosting the self-confidence and morale of union
members.
   "I've never experienced such contagious spirit to meet
production goals," said Ba'rbara Arencido, a delegate from the
sugar workers union in Villa Clara, at the opening of the
discussion. Some 205 sugar workers were among the delegates.
   Arencido reported that 15,000 sugar workers from Sancti
Spiritus, taking 51 combines and 60 trucks, went to Villa Clara,
the number one province in sugar cane production, to help with the
harvest there after meeting targets in their areas. Sancti
Spiritus and Santiago de Cuba were the first provinces to meet
their goals before the CTC congress opened. "We adopted the
slogan, `We can accomplish much together,' [Se puede mucho juntos
]" said Arencido. That became the official theme of the congress.
After Villa Clara met its quota on May Day, union members from
that province took off for Holgui'n to help out.
   Throughout the sessions, delegations made announcements with
chants and songs, reporting on the progress of the harvest in each
province.
   The CTC had also organized hundreds of thousands of workers
to volunteer to cut sugar cane by hand in fields where even the
best combines could not enter because the ground was damp. Many of
them had prior experience, minimizing waste in the harvest. "The
macheteros cut the cane real clean this year," said Ana del Carmen
Roya, a delegate from Palma de Soriano in Santiago.
   In addition, the government had been able to secure some $300
million in credits, although at high interest rates, for
investments in fertilizers, pesticides, and spare parts. For the
first time, metal workers in Havana and elsewhere manufactured 500
motors for rebuilding cane harvester engines this year. As much as
possible, cane refining was channeled to mills where maintenance
and the organization of labor had resulted in higher yields.

   Not taking premature goals
   After the initial reports of success, Manuel Cordero, general
secretary of the sugar workers union, proposed that delegates
adopt a goal to increase next year's harvest by 800,000 tons.
After many delegates responded enthusiastically, Ross suggested
that 1 million tons could be considered as a targeted increase for
next year.
   At that point, Fidel Castro intervened in the discussion. He
said a more precise assessment of the extraordinary effort by
workers in this year's harvest was necessary before any goals are
adopted. Castro noted that tilling land and planting for the next
season was somewhat behind, and that some provinces were not on
course to meet their quotas this year. The Cuban president urged a
serious discussion on these points.
   "What is important is the direction we are going," Castro
said, "not prematurely adopting goals, without all the facts in
front of us, that can end up being unrealistic and demoralize
workers if not met."
   That session was extended late into the evening to pursue the
discussion.
   Julio Marti'nez, a delegate from Las Tunas, explained the
steps taken in his province to overcome the slowdown in the
harvest there because of recent heavy rains. Construction
contingents were mobilized from around the country and built 205
km of roads and 150 km of drainage channels so that cane could be
transported to dryer areas, he said.
   By the end of the session, the delegates decided not to adopt
any goals for next season but instead organize the unions in every
province to help put together a serious balance sheet of this
year's results before proposing any local quotas.
   The 30 percent increase in this year's harvest over 1995,
however, has already made projections for a 5 percent increase of
the country's Gross Domestic Product in 1996 more solid. Last
year, GDP grew by 2.7 percent. These results improve Cuba's
capacity to import needed goods, since sugar remains the country's
main export crop and a primary source of hard currency.
   But above all, as Aruca Carbonel, secretary of the sugar
workers union in Santiago, put it, "Our unions were in the thick
of this decisive battle. Now thousands of workers know better how
to lead."

   A taste of capitalism workers reject
   "Among all the sections of the Theses, the one most debated
and which received the most support is the section titled `Our
strategy does not lead to capitalism,' " said Ross in his opening
report. This point permeated the discussion during the second
plenary session.
   Since 1993, the government has decriminalized possession and
use of U.S. dollars; introduced or raised prices on electricity,
water, sewage, and other services; opened up markets for sale of
agricultural and some industrial goods at unregulated prices;
legalized self-employment in dozens of occupations; and signed a
multitude of joint ventures to attract capital investment in
tourism, mining, oil, and other areas. These measures, aimed at
combating inflation and increasing production, have led to growing
social inequalities, Ross noted.
   "Workers can understand the fact that there are greater
social inequalities than we have been accustomed to, if they are
necessary to revitalize the economy," Ross stated. "What we will
not tolerate and will decisively combat is the development of
cronyism, nepotism, privilege, corruption, and theft."
   "In tourism we see manifestations of capitalism most workers
reject," said La'zaro Bacallao, a delegate from the construction
workers union in Varadero, a beach resort in Matanzas province. He
pointed to some cases of theft from tourist hotels where
management, and in some cases union members, have looked the other
way.
   The tourism workers union "must struggle against" the
siphoning "off of funds, corruption, by those who turn management
positions into places for stealing," responded Pedro Ross. He said
workers who report such incidents "have the full support of the
revolution, the top leadership of the revolution."
   Delegates resolved that the unions will act to minimize theft
of state resources through organization of voluntary guards and
discussions at workers assemblies, as has been done successfully
in many factories.
   Bacallao and other delegates pointed to the voluntary
contributions the majority of tourism workers make to the state
for the import of medicines that are in short supply. These
donations come from tips these workers receive in hard currency.
Individuals who receive hard currency can purchase scarce
essential items in dollar stores like soap and oil that many
Cubans are unable to obtain. "We are workers who have decided to
live in a socialist society under the direction of the Communist
Party," Bacallao said. "Solidarity is our answer to the
individualism and corruption rampant in capitalist countries."
   During the April 29 session, Sara Tamayo, a delegate who
works at Palmares Restaurants in Guardalavaca, and Pedro Chaco'n,
who runs a tourist show taming crocodiles in Cie'naga de Zapata,
contributed $16,000 and $20,000 respectively that they had
received in tips in the last few years. Since 1993 workers in
tourism have donated $1.9 million from tips for the purchase of
medicines.
   During the special period phenomena like prostitution and
begging by children, which the revolution had virtually
eliminated, have reappeared, Bacallao said, mostly around tourist
installations where hotel employees are often bribed to permit
access to the facilities by pimps and prostitutes. He said the
unions must take steps to combat organized prostitution around the
hotels and that laws should be enacted severely punishing pimping
as a crime while avoiding repressive measures against prostitutes
themselves. Other delegates who spoke or were interviewed
supported these proposals. "That is a struggle we must wage,
because it is becoming a business that is actually
counterrevolutionary," Bacallao said.
   Vilma Espi'n, president of the Federation of Cuban Women
(FMC), took the floor at the end of that session. "When in the
early years of the revolution the people learned that scourges
such as gambling and prostitution had been eliminated in Cuba,"
she said, "the revolution's prestige increased enormously." Espi'n
said the country's penal code will be amended to include pimping
and organizing children to beg as a crime. Fidel Castro added that
"those who can play a decisive role in this, aside from the
administrative bodies that take measures, are the tourism workers
themselves."

   Lowering unregulated market prices
   Taking action to bring down prices on the agricultural
markets became another hot topic of discussion. These markets have
made food more readily available in cities and towns, easing the
most acute conditions Cubans faced at the bottom of the special
period in 1993-94. At the same time, food production has not
increased as rapidly as most people hoped and the prices remain so
high that most Cubans can not afford to buy enough to meet their
needs at these markets.
   Sarbelio Morales, a member of the First Eastern Front
Contingent in Ciego de Avila, gave a passionate presentation on
the subject. He explained how his agricultural contingent of 400,
which now produces for the Santiago markets, made leaps in
production of potatoes, cabbage, and cucumbers by utilization of
better seeds and rotating the crops.
   The farm sells 92 percent of its produce to the state
warehouse and distribution agency (called acopio) - used to
supply food at subsidized prices on the ration card - and the
rest on the agriculture market. "We take cabbages and sell them at
3.5 cents [per pound], sweet potatoes at 6.5 cents, potatoes at 10
cents," Morales said. "But then I see how these farmers markets
sell tubers at such high prices putting everyone in such dire
straits.... No cabbage can cost five pesos in Cuba. Not a single
one.
   "Comrades, we producers must try to lower prices in the
agricultural markets through our production," he declared.
   Even after selling most vegetables to the state and charging
low prices on the unregulated market the farm is profitable,
Morales said. "So why should we strive to make such an exaggerated
profit at the expense of the poor? What about the millions of
retired?"
   In the last two years, the Youth Army of Labor (EJT), has
been bringing produce into the cities and selling it directly off
trucks at cheaper prices than those offered on the agricultural
markets, thus helping to keep the prices down. The EJT consists of
special units of youth in the Revolutionary Armed Forces that work
on state farms alongside agricultural workers. Morales and other
delegates said spreading the EJT example to state farms and the
Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC) will help drive
prices down.
   UBPCs are new farm cooperatives that have replaced most state
farms since 1993 in an effort to revive food production. Members
of the UBPCs - mostly workers formerly employed on state farms -
 own and sell what they produce but the land itself remains
nationalized.
   "It is the producers, not the government with its laws, who
establish the conditions. The ministry has already adopted
measures and told us to take a higher percentage to the market at
cheap prices. But the initiative must come out of the producers
themselves, who must understand they will solve the problem of the
people," Morales said, bringing the audience to its feet for a
standing ovation.
   "In this colossal battle we are engaged in," responded Fidel
Castro, "it is the socialists, working men and women like you, who
should tell us what socialism promises and can do and what
capitalism can promise and offer."
   Castro said that because of the efforts by workers and
peasants the revolution has been able to guarantee during this
difficult period a liter of milk per day to all children under 7
years of age. "What other country in Latin America has been able
to achieve this?" he asked.
   "What you said today and the example you gave us has taught
us what capitalism is," Castro told Morales.

   Increasing food production
   Several delegates pointed to leadership initiatives by
workers in the countryside to increase food production.
   A revealing exchange took place on this point under
discussion on reversing the collapse of beef and milk production.
Nearly half the cattle in the country have died since 1989 because
of lack of animal feed, which used to be imported almost entirely
>from the USSR, or have been slaughtered for beef that is very
scarce. Fresh milk production dropped from 829 million liters in
1989 to 320 million in 1995. Because of lack of pesticides and
other resources some 2.8 million acres of pasture land have been
overrun by marabu' and other weeds.
   Jesu's Gonza'lez Sa'nchez, a delegate from Manicaragua said
workers lacked machetes to cut marabu' in his area. Domingo
Gutie'rez from a cattle-raising UBPC in Sancti Spiritus also
attributed declining production to the lack of material resources,
especially animal fodder.
   But Arnaldo Rami'rez from the UBPC Mal Tiempo [Bad Weather]
in Las Tunas told a story that pointed to a different approach. He
explained how he took the initiative to establish a dairy UBPC at
Amancio, a remote part of the province that lacked roads and other
infrastructure, where it was difficult even for the government to
provide milk for several hundred children in the area.
   Rami'rez said he and two mechanics began in 1994 by going to
the surrounding towns and recruiting several youth who were
unemployed. They made their first machetes from blades of
abandoned sugar cane combines, which they used to clear hundreds
of acres of land. "When a new group asked to join I told them to
bring their own machetes before they came," he said. Marabu', a
thick weed, is now used for firewood.
   Workers got files and other tools from donations of peasants
in the area. Lacking wire, they built fences out of mesh made of
sticks and plants in order to guard cattle that had been abandoned
and roamed wild. They found an older worker who taught them how to
milk cows. And a state enterprise donated a tractor. Within a year
they were producing 127,000 liters of milk annually from 120 cows.
"We didn't have a truck to transport the milk so we asked and got
some mules," he said.
   The provincial government also provided them with 13 bicycles
and with some construction materials. By the end of 1995 workers
there had built 20 low-cost housing units for UBPC members.
   The news of the success at Mal Tiempo began to spread.
Rami'rez said the UBPC now has 56 members who average 28 years of
age, have cleared 1,200 acres of pasture land, and made a small
profit last year. "Over there we are all workers. We are
convincing more people. Even the union secretary and the head of
the Communist Party in the region moved and now live and work on
the UBPC," he said, drawing a standing ovation. "And we are now
providing milk for 700 children in Amancio."
   A genuine recovery in cattle raising and dairy production
around the country is still several years away, several delegates
pointed out. But, as Julio Rodri'guez from Guanta'namo put it,
"Mal Tiempo tells us we can speed the day."
   At the same time, production of root and garden vegetables,
citrus, tobacco, timber, and honey have increased around the
country. Many delegates attributed this to the reorganization of
state farms into cooperatives where workers exercise more
democratic control over the organization of labor and the use of
land and other resources, have reduced administrative personnel to
a minimum, and provide workers incentives linked to productivity.
   On some UBPCs, those who do the hardest physical labor, like
ox drivers, earn the most. And the monthly income of most
production workers is higher than that of administrators.

   Reallocation of workforce
   Salvador Valde's Mesa, Minister of Labor and Social Security,
told delegates that for the first time in some years there was a
significant net growth in the agricultural workforce. Since mid-
1995, some 50,000 have joined cooperatives and state farms. Among
those are 32,000 new members of the UBPCs, the majority in sugar
cane cooperatives.
   Valde's said these figures show some modest progress in the
joint effort by the government and the unions to reallocate the
workforce toward productive activities where workers are mostly
needed, like agriculture.
   Since the beginning of the special period, some 120,000
workers have had to be reallocated from industries where the drop
in production necessitated a cut in the workforce, Valde's said.
But no one has been left on the street. Most of these workers have
gotten new jobs and only 11,000 still receive unemployment
benefits until they find new occupations.
   During the commission on organization of the unions, Armando
Plaza, a delegate from Holgui'n, proposed that the CTC begin the
process of unionizing self-employed workers. This was included in
the resolution from that commission and approved by the delegates.
   At the beginning of this year, 204,000 people were registered
as self-employed in Cuba in more than 150 occupations. The real
figure is much higher, since there are tens of thousands who
provide repair services for appliances, sell food on the street,
or give taxi rides with their cars without license to avoid paying
taxes. Today self-employed workers, especially those with skills,
often earn many times the salary of most factory workers.
   Delegates supported strict enforcement of heavily progressive
taxation on the income of self-employed or others with high
incomes. "The psychology of self-employed workers tends toward
individualism and is not a source of socialist consciousness,"
said Plaza. "But our work with them should stress their status as
workers." Other delegates said unionizing the self-employed can
strengthen the unity of the labor movement.

   Value of manual labor
   During discussion on the reorganization of the labor force,
Fidel Castro pointed to some of the challenges the revolution
faces.
   He said there is reason to feel pride because of the high
numbers of professionals and technical personnel in the country,
but at the same time those figures should be reason for concern.
"Manual labor has to be valued highly," he said. "Otherwise who
will plant potatoes, who will clean the streets?"
   "Everyone wants to be a professional in this country," Castro
stated, "a vice created by the revolution itself, by
universities." Academics often give inflated figures on how many
engineers or other professionals are needed that have nothing to
do with reality, he noted.
   In the capitalist countries immigrants who are paid starvation
wages do the most difficult jobs in construction or agriculture,
Castro said. In Cuba the revolution has tried to solve this
problem during the special period by giving incentives to workers
in the least desired and most physically demanding jobs. "That's
why," he said, "I am not sad at all that agricultural workers who
used to get paid 80 pesos per month now can earn up to 11,000
pesos a year with a lot of hard work."
   Delegates affirmed the CTC policy that there can be no
general increase in the basic wage rates under current economic
conditions, but workers' income can increase in many sectors
through incentives linked to raises in production and efficiency.
Valde's reported that up to 1 million workers in tobacco, coffee,
rice, and sugar cane production, as well as energy, fishing, and
ports now get part of their wages in hard currency or can purchase
scarce goods at subsidized rates.

   Economic efficiency
   "If we are not capable of leading the struggle for economic
efficiency, then we cannot represent well our workers," said
Mari'a del Carmen Coba, a union delegate from Villa Clara. "We
must prove that efficiency is not something associated with
capitalist enterprise." This point was discussed throughout the
congress.
   Many delegates gave numerous examples of how workers are
playing a more direct role in improving production, productivity,
and working conditions, as well as reducing waste and cutting
losses by state enterprises. Rounds of discussions at CTC-
sponsored workplace assemblies have played a big role in this
process, many delegates said.
   Luis Romero Diago from the Antonio Guiteras Thermoelectric
plant in Matanzas, the biggest in the country, explained how
workers there have managed to run the operation for 131 days in
the row without interruption through meticulous maintenance.
   Delegates from a factory in Holgui'n that manufactures
engines for sugar cane combines pointed with pride to new machines
they began producing last year that ran well in this year's
harvest.
   Castro responded that at one time combines operated only with
Russian engines, which made possible the mechanization of the
entire harvest but were very inefficient. "Those were engines that
would stop operating at least four times a day," he stated. "This
year, however, the engines we used did not stop as much during the
entire harvest... Our factories are beginning to turn out better
engines." Financing from Spain has permitted purchasing patents
for such domestic production and the import of Mercedes Benz
motors.
   Castro pointed out several times during the congress that
Washington's recent escalation of its economic war against Cuba
may cut off access to such technology and capital.

   International solidarity
   "That's why what happens in the class struggle around the
world over the next decade is so important for the revolution,"
said Felipe Vega of the Chemical, Mining, and Energy Workers Union
in Matanzas, during one of the breaks, referring to the comments
by Castro.
   Vega and hundreds of other delegates were keenly interested
to exchange experiences with many among the 1,300 international
guests who attended the congress, most of whom were trade
unionists. Vega gave a tour of petroleum storage facilities and
loading docks in Matanzas to two dozen trade unionists from the
United States prior to the CTC convention.
   Dozens of similar visits to factories, farms, hospitals,
schools, and other worksites were organized by the CTC before,
during, and after the convention. On May 2 many of the guests from
abroad held a meeting with leaders of the CTC and decided to call
an international trade union conference in Cuba in the summer of
1997.

   `Armed forces of working class'
   "Free education and health care for all are gains of the
revolution but the most important gain is that we the workers are
in power," said Ana Mari'a Di'az Canel of the health care workers
union. "We will defend this power to the end." She was speaking at
the final session of the congress, where delegates discussed
defense of the revolution.
   The honored guest at that session was carpenter Osvaldo Di'az
who made a suggestion 15 years ago at the second congress of the
Communist Party that all Cubans make a voluntary contribution of a
day's pay per year to help finance the Territorial Troop Militias.
   The militias, made up of 1.5 million workers, farmers,
students, and housewives, has become a symbol of Cuba's
determination to defend its revolution by arming its people. They
were established in 1980 as millions of Cubans mobilized in the
Marches of the Fighting People in response to escalating U.S.
military pressure against Cuba and the revolutions in Nicaragua
and Grenada, which had triumphed a year earlier.
   Since 1981 the CTC and other mass organizations turned
Di'az's suggestion into a campaign that has become popular among
the working class. General of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR)
Rau'l Castro, who walked into the hall minutes before the session
ended, explained that in these 15 years Cubans have donated nearly
330 million pesos for the militias.
   "These are the armed forces of the working class," Rau'l
Castro said. The imperialists to the north are wasting time if
they ponder the loyalty of the Cuban armed forces, he stated,
"because the FAR are but a small armed and professional vanguard
of this great army made up of millions of men and women in the
militias."
   The next morning the 1,900 delegates led the million-strong May
Day march in Havana, a true festival of the proletariat capping
off a year of struggle.


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