Cuban “reforms” – a step backwards for workers

Author: 
James Bloodworth

On the back of last week’s Cuban Communist Party congress, the first since the mid-1990s, the government of Raul Castro is going ahead with plans to lay-off around 500,000 state employees and open-up the economy further to private enterprise. The Cuban government also plans to cut the social safety net, eventually eliminating the ration card and food subsidies all together.

Despite raising hopes that a new generation of leaders would step up to top posts, the 79-year-old president said 80-year-old Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura would be his No. 2 in the party. Half of the new Politburo personnel are drawn straight from the military, where much of Raul’s support base lies.

From some quarters Raul Castro is said to be an admirer of the Chinese model; to others these reforms are simply a ruse, done out of sheer economic necessity rather than due to any meaningful ideological shift.

Cuban labour rights are non-existent as things stand. There are no independent trade unions; and there was little talk at the congress about the rights of workers to organise independently of the state – less about an increased role for workers in the running of their enterprises. Nor are there any plans to open up the media, its printed organs being most accurately described by the late Argentinean editor and dissident Jacobo Timerman as "a degradation of the act of reading".

There is no getting away from the fact that Cuba’s economy is in a bad way. As with the economy in the former Soviet Union, the Cuban system is riddled with inefficiency and corruption - the Revolution struggling for much of its fifty-year existence to avoid economic catastrophe. Wikileaks cables sent by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana in February 2009, detailing discussions between some of Cuba's main trading partners, including China, Spain, Canada, Brazil and Italy, as well as France and Japan, said diplomats agreed that “the [Cuban] financial situation could become fatal within 2-3 years”, with the country becoming “insolvent as early as 2011”.

If there are active plans to turn towards the Chinese model it bodes ill for Cuban workers who, having put up with 50 years of Stalinist bureaucracy, now face the prospect of losing many of the modest social provision gained after the revolution to capitalist restoration. For them, the wait for genuine socialist democracy goes on.