By Alina B. López Hernández
When President Miguel Díaz-Canel announced a rise in salaries for the state-budgeted sector, he was not only announcing a popular measure; he was also distancing himself from a constant in the political discourse on reform in Cuba, which had weighed it down by theorizing that a transformation in the economy could be possible without improving at the same time the living conditions of the people involved in the changes.
For years, in every official statement on economic updating, it was stressed that a rise in work productivity was necessary first in order to think about a hypothetical rise in salaries. It’s possible that economists may be right and that this decision will lead to bigger inflation and a rise in the budget deficit. However, I believe it’s a risk worth taking. It is preferable to make mistakes while trying to do something positive ─and fair─ than to err with one’s arms folded, as it is usually the case.
It doesn’t matter whether the President says at the end of every speech: ‘We are continuity’, if with his attitude he has begun to prove that ─thank God! ─ we also can, must, are obligated to being discontinuity. ‘Breaking inertia’ he calls the transformations in the last few days. In proper English one might also say ‘to stem the tide of stagnation’. Or at least we may begin to try, for there is much left yet to do, and not only in terms of the economy.
What’s extraordinary here is that the President has shown himself more active about satisfying a crucial request of the workers than the very Secretary General of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC). In the article ‘Ventriloquists’, which I wrote about the 21st Congress of the CTC, held less than three months ago, I said:
On the question of salaries, there was no serious discussion about the urgent need to raise them or about the acknowledged general reform, and if there was, they decided not to televise the debate about such a usual claim. However, in the Round Table before May Day, Ulises Guilarte admitted that there was dissatisfaction for not having tackled the issue at the Congress, but he insisted that in order to distribute ‘the wealth which belongs to everyone, we first have to create it, and that is done with the hands and the sweat of the workers’.
Essentially, those who supposedly should have represented the interests of the workers, behaved until the end as loyal standard-bearers of the unpopular bureaucratic stance. This attitude by the Congress and its leaders now prevents them from claiming the above-mentioned raise in salaries as a union victory.
The Secretary General of the CTC spoke yesterday at the Economic Affairs Commission of the National Assembly of People’s Power, and he called the measure ‘brave’. He also stated that it ‘reflects the will of the Cuban State and Government’. We had already noticed that our union leaders hadn’t had much to do with the change.
The incompetence and ineffectiveness of the unions is so obvious, that my proposal is the same as Che Guevara’s on December 5th, 1964, during the last of his bi-monthly meetings at the Ministry of Industry:
Because of that, at the present time I would even say that unions could already cease to exist; in the time necessary to demonstrate the work of the Councils. They could cease to exist and transfer their functions to the Councils of Labor Justice, which would take on additional concrete tasks, and people would be elected. Actually, if we had a poll, everyone would agree with that. The only ones who wouldn’t agree –and that’s a logic and human thing, though a bad thing– would be the union bureaucracy which has been created (…).
In the decision to raise the salaries, political will has carried more weight than the unfavorable current setting, in which there’s a visible continental turn to the political right, a rise in economic and financial pressures by the American government, and a breaking of important contracts for the exportation of services, among others. But it is unquestionable that, in the measure, there’s been an influence of the growing ability of the citizens to defend their common interests, as well as the visibility of opinions on digital sites –both official and alternative– and on social networks.
In this day and age, when pressure from below can help our Government to respond to the needs of citizens, it confirms that we can do without a wide and costly network of officials and bureaucrats related to the unions.
They signify a burden to the State and to all of us workers, who pay our contributions to the union every month with a percentage of our salaries, which will surely increase along with them. This, provided how little the union leaders did in order to attain it, would truly be an injustice.
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El Che en la Revolución cubana (Che Guevara in the Cuban Revolution), t. VI., Editorial José Martí, 2015.
(Translated from the original)