Cuba's Self-Employed Join State Union to Avoid Trouble / 14ymedio, Mario
Penton and Caridad Cruz
14ymedio, Mario J. Penton/Caridad Cruz, Miami/Cienfuegos, 24 June 2016 –
Like every morning, Maria Elena and Enrique go out to sell vegetables,
tubers and fruits in the streets of Cienfuegos. At temperatures of more
than 86 degrees and with a sun that "cracks stones," they travel the
city carrying their products house to house and earning their bread,
literally by the sweat of their brows. They are part of the more than
12,600 self-employed legally registered in the offices of the National
Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) in the province, a not
inconsiderable number for the officials of the Cuba Workers Central
Union (CTC) which has seen in these "workers" an opportunity to increase
Cuba has a unionization rate of almost 96%. According to official
statistics, more than three million workers belong to18 unions that are
grouped under the umbrella of the Cuban Workers Central Union, which
functions as a conveyor belt for the Communist Party's "instructions."
"Our work day begins at five in the morning. At that hour we have to go
wait for the truck that brings the merchandise from the towns. Those who
transport the products are the ones who negotiate the price with the
farmer, and we negotiate with them. Sometimes people don't understand
the high prices, but it's because everyone needs to eat," says Maria Elena.
The self-employed woman is 53-years-old and her son is 19. They have
chosen this way of earning a living because, as they say, "working for
the State does not provide."
"Sometimes the inspectors come and fine us because we are stopped in a
place. Of course, you can always resolve it with some little gift: some
cucumbers, a pound of tomatoes…everyone has needs," she says.
CTC leaders have found in these problems the breeding ground for
"The street vendors have basic problems with the inspectors. The
advantage of belonging to the union is that if they unfairly fine you,
the workers can come to our offices and have the situation analyzed. If
they show that the sanction has been unjust, we can intervene for its
dismissal. Belonging to the CTC, you are protected," says a union member
who prefers to not give his name.
According to the vendors, the union have been inviting them for months
to become part of the Agricultural Workers Union. "We don't understand
why, but it seems that they want everyone to be unionized," says
Enrique, who also says that, "it does not solve anything for the people."
Several leaders of the CTC consulted by this daily said that more than
80% of the self-employed people in this area are enrolled in some union.
Union dues vary between two and eight pesos according to the worker's
earnings, although the majority of self-employed pay the minimum. The
members also have to pay "My contribution to the homeland," an update of
the concept of "día de haber" – the "voluntary donation of a day's wages
to the Territorial Military Troops, to be spent to acquire weapons for
the "defense of the homeland."*
"People are not much interested in unionization, they do it simply so
that they don't get screwed by them," explains Roberto, a man
self-employed as a scissors and nail clippers sharpener.
"Sometimes they fine us just for the fact of remaining a long time in
the same place selling. What happens is that these days there is so much
sun that we have to take refuge under a shrub for a while in order to
sell, and there the inspectors fall on you. Since our license is issued
for mobile vendors, we cannot spend too much time in the same place,"
says Enrique, who believes that the self-employed workers are the most
"You can be fined about 700 pesos for selling too much on one corner.
But what's a reasonable time that you can be in that place is not noted
on any official document, it is at the complete discretion of the
inspectors who take advantage of any reason to impose a sanction," he says.
Although the Government promotes its organizations by all means, barely
48% of membership attends union meetings in Cienfuegos, as recognized by
the official press. Independent union organizations exist in the
country, like the Cuban Independent Union Coalition, heavily harassed by
State Security. However, none of the self-employed consulted for this
report say they are familiar with them.
The southern city's statistics reveal what is a fact at the national
level. After some first months in which the self-employed were left
alone, the CTC encouraged carrying out "political work" in order to make
them enter the ranks of the organization. According to their numbers,
more than 400,000 "self-employed workers," of the 500,000 registered in
the country, belong to the official organization. For the moment, the
creation of a union just for the self-employed continues to be a project
"There is no other option, in the end we will have to join like everyone
else, so that they don't classify us as disaffected and rain more blows
on us. We have to keep fighting, because we have to resolve it," say the
self-employed who prepare to end their day at eight at night, counting
their meager earnings.
*Translator's note: The so-called "día de haber" was initiated by Fidel
Castro in 1981, requiring workers to "donate" a days wages to the
military. The program was later renamed "día de la Patria," meaning 'One
Day's Work' for the Homeland. The custom (and name) goes back to the
Cuban independence struggle of the 1800s.
Translated by Mary Lou Keel
Source: Cuba's Self-Employed Join State Union to Avoid Trouble /
14ymedio, Mario Penton and Caridad Cruz – Translating Cuba -