Since early December the Cuban press has been reporting on selected grassroots debates on the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, a final draft of which will be put to some 1,000 delegates to the Communist Party's 6th Congress in April. The debates have been taking place in workplaces and neighbourhoods and, informally, on the streets.
As is the norm in such debates in Cuba, the viewpoints, concerns and proposals put forward by participants are recorded and a summary of the national debate is compiled. This will help the Communist Party commission responsible for drafting the Guidelines in its work of incorporating the most common concerns and suggestions arising from these grassroots debates in the final draft. The first draft of the Guidelines did not drop out of the sky; it draws on two earlier rounds of mass consultations initiated by the PCC leadership since Raul Castro became acting president in July 2006, as well as extensive input from economists and other specialists.
Here we see the Cuban Revolution as a process of consensus-building, in which no strategic decisions are taken without consulting the popular sectors that will be affected by the proposed changes, in this case the working people as a whole. Given the scope and complexity of the much-needed socialist renovation that is now underway, striving for consensus on what must be done to "change everything that must be changed" is no easy task. It has proceeded slowly but surely amid hurricanes, global economic turmoil and the implementation of some reforms that cannot be delayed, such as the leasing of idle state farmlands.
As can be seen in the debate that took place in this Havana hospital, people are saying what they think, as Raul has repeatedly urged. In other words, it's a real debate. Also evident is that workers are not just discussing the problems of their own workplace or profession, but the problems of the national economy as a whole.
The remuneration to convince
Wage policies must guarantee that everybody receives according to their work, say the debates on the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution.
By Marianela Martin Gonzalez
Juventud Rebelde, December 30, 2010
Translation: Marce Cameron
If the ration book is phased out now this would not only affect retirees, but all of us who work for a salary that is acknowledged to be insufficient to cover all household expenses. This is how the worker Lilia Fernandez refuted some of the arguments of her co-workers, who propose the elimination of the ration book system and the sale of these products at prices not as nominal as those in the rationed goods stores but neither as exorbitant as those in the convertible peso stores.
This discussion took place in the Paediatric Teaching Hospital in the Cerro municipality of the capital [Havana], where a hundred workers belonging to one of the trade union branches analysed the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution.
Attention was drawn more than once to Guideline 156, which endorses wage policies that would guarantee that everybody receives according to their work and that this results in quality products and services. "Only in this way will we be able to dispense with this ration book, vilified by many but so necessary for the majority", said Lilia.
She pointed out that while the state lacks sufficient financial resources to provide a constant supply of consumer goods, and while staple products such as rice are always given priority, we will continue to deal with the ration book system, which up to now has also functioned as a mechanism to regulate demand.
Odni Naranjo, a Communist Party Provincial Committee functionary, explained that we have an unfavourable economic situation. Only 4% of GDP is contributed by agricultural production, and the country must spend enormous sums on food imports that the island could produce. In addition, for every five workers, in many cases three are underutilised.
"When we put in order situations such as these, then it will be possible to pay workers more. We'll move to subsidising the people who need it, rather than products, as we're doing now with rationed products and some materials for housing construction", she clarified.
Jesus Kindelan, a nursing graduate, said in regard to the review of agro-industrial policy in part seven [of the Draft Guidelines]: "With everything that calls into question the importation of food, for which we pay a price, we should be ashamed that we have to call for reducing losses in the productive chain, as is proposed in Guideline 172. It's time to say that we're going to remove and punish those responsible for allowing food to rot in the countryside, sitting on the trucks, in the warehouses or in the markets, where it's often thrown away because prices cannot be lowered."
Juan Peraza, representing the national office of the Cuban Confederation of Trade Unions, said that Cuban's economic dictionary must eliminate the word "loss" if we want the economy to take off, advance and show sustained results. Dr. Pedro Flores said that to achieve this in agriculture there needs to be a more direct relationship between producers and consumers: "Better remunerating the inspectors so that they walk behind the man with the trolley selling root vegetables and other products will not resolve this problem. It's necessary to free up the relations between producers and consumers. We should stop viewing those who sell their products directly as cheaters and law-breakers; what's needed is that the people receive fresh food and without so many intermediaries."
Concerned about the reorganisation of the workforce, whether in the state sector or in self-employment, Dr. Andres Alvarez was interested to know in concrete terms about the policies that would provide work incentives for those who today stand with their arms crossed on street corners [i.e. the unemployed who are capable of working]. So that these people view with interest agriculture, masonry and other trades that lack a sufficient workforce, strategies will have to be devised, assured Eduardo Zamora, member of the Cerro municipality Communist Party bureau. According to Zamora around $130 million [convertible] pesos had been approved for the acquisition of supplies that would allow self-employment to expand on a massive scale, but to date the work permits most sought after have been for food processing.
Dr. Miraida Roque said that to motivate the new generations to opt for such needed professions as health workers, rhetoric is not enough. "Our children, society as a whole must see that a doctor is respectable not only because of what they do, but also in the way in which they are remunerated for their work; if not, interest in these professions that require so much dedication will be lost", she said.
The topic of low salaries and the high price of food closed this session, although the priority of the program for the rehabilitation of water mains, aqueducts and sewers was also discussed. "There's no point fixing all the hydraulic infrastructure if measures are not taken to lower the prices of hardware items that are needed inside homes, where due to the deterioration of this hardware a large proportion of the water that is pumped is lost", said the worker Enrique Ruiz.
Another nurse, Teresa de la Torre, stressed that as well as high prices for hardware, the costs of plumbing work "are sky-high". It's hard to find a good plumber and when you do, "they charge like a wounded bull".