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Monday, September 25, 2006

Cuba’s Unions Look Inward for Solutions

by Circles Robinson

Looking inwards for ways to make the Cuban economy reach its full potential was the tone of the second day of the Cuban Workers Federation’s (CTC) 19th Congress taking place through Wednesday in Havana.

The more than 1,400 delegates from throughout the island were paying heed to two burning issues posed by President Fidel Castro in the last year. One, the poor organization and low productivity in the implementation of some key social and economic programs of the revolution, and two, the most dangerous, widespread indiscipline and theft in the workplace.

The Cuban president had warned that while ten US administrations had been unable to destroy the revolution from without, the future of Cuba lies within.

Several commissions held hearings on Monday at the Havana Convention Center and other venues in the capital where candid exchanges showed a renewed resilience in a labor movement often ignored by the foreign corporate media, which writes it off as “pro-government.”

The most well attended session was the commission on employment, organization of the workplace and salaries chaired by Luis Manuel Castanedo, a CTC leader and worker’s representative in the Cuban parliament.

Improving accounting and other controls at work centers was cited by several delegates as essential to rectify errors produced by negligence. Several delegates said a combination of administrative laxness and worker passivity in recent years has led to many of the problems persisting in the fast growing Cuban economy.

Minister of Labor Alfredo Morales and Political Bureau member Jose Luis Sierra were two of several top level government and Communist Party leaders that joined the labor movement in the commission debates.

Morales pointed out that Cuban workers are the owners of the island’s economy and as such should defend it. He noted that Cuba’s worker-friendly labor laws and resolutions are tools that must be used, adding that with better organization and higher productivity, “we could advance much more with the resources we have.”

The minister said that in capitalist countries increased productivity leads to lay offs, noting that is not the case in Cuba, a country that maintains practically full employment (1.9 unemployment rate) of the working age population.

Jose Luis Sierra told the commission that thorough warehouse audits revealed deficiencies in control systems including bad practices in billing, orders and deliveries. He said this is one of the problems the labor movement must confront. He also called for an analysis of the workplace atmosphere to understand why it is common for workers to shift jobs and why there is a lack of workers in numerous sectors.

“What’s most important here is that the labor movement is becoming aware of the role it needs to play to correct its own inadequacies and participate in the solution to the country’s problems,” Sierra told Trabajadores after the days session.

The political leader sees the “inward focus” as positive for labor. “The problems being discussed [at the CTC Congress] are fundamental because we have to achieve efficiency if we want to develop. They are discussing efficiency, productivity, salaries, how to lower costs and expenditures and about worker participation in planning, and that’s important,” said Sierra.

Regarding salaries, chairman Castanedo said the raising of the low-end earners was just, even though some other workers complained that their wages didn’t keep pace. He insisted that greater controls are needed for there to be efficiency and productivity, opening the possibility to more salary raises.

The long day came to an end with the union representatives taking a break from discussions on the advances and problems in the island’s economy to attend an evening cultural gala at Havana’s Karl Marx Theatre.

The CTC Congress resumes on Tuesday morning in plenary session at 9:00 a.m. with the election of a new Secretariat followed by the official opening at 10:00 a.m. The next agenda item is the presentation and discussion of the main report expected to last the afternoon.


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