Sunday, March 6, 2011

Translation: Expanded meeting of Council of Ministers

Here is an abridged translation of an important report in Granma on an expanded meeting of Cuba's Council of Ministers. I've translated only the first part, which reports on the decision to adjust the timeline of the rationalisation of state-sector payrolls. In October, Cuba's trade union confederation, the CTC, announced that in a first wave of rationalisations of the state-sector workforce, some half a million workers would be made redundant in the first few months of this year — signalling an end to Cuba's policy of using state-sector payrolls to guarantee everyone a job at the cost of chronically low labour productivity and, during the past two decades of the post-Soviet Special Period, average wages and salaries that don't cover all basic necessities.

Workers deemed surplus to needs are offered up to three jobs in priority sectors where there have been persistent labour shortages, such as agriculture, construction, teaching and policing. Those who reject such job offers are paid 60% of their wages for up to six months and are expected to find work in the expanding non-state sectors of the economy: self-employment, cooperatives and small businesses. The success of this rationalisation process depends on two things: economically, on the expanding small-scale private and cooperative sector being able to quickly absorb most of these surplus state-sector workers to avoid large-scale unemployment; politically, the process must be carried out with maximum transparency and fairness and, it goes without saying, the understanding and consent of the majority of Cuban workers.

In earlier translations of commentaries published in the Cuban press, such as those of Luis Sexto in Juventud Rebelde, concerns have been raised about the "bureaucratic distortion" of this process and of workplace redundancy commissions being inadequately prepared. It must be done, but it must be done properly. It's also likely that the process of establishing urban cooperatives and small businesses and expanding the scope of self-employment is proceeding too slowly to absorb such large numbers of workers in such a short time-frame. The necessary organisational and legal frameworks to facilitate the expansion of the small-scale private and cooperative sectors are still being established. As far as I'm aware, regulations governing the establishment of urban cooperatives have yet to be published, and Cuba's state banks don't yet offer loans to set up urban cooperatives and small businesses. Many of the licences for self-employment and small businesses granted in recent months involve the legalisation of black-market operations, which will now be taxed and regulated. 

The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leadership's social base is the class-conscious vanguard of Cuba's working people organised in the Communist Party, a party of some 800,000 members with firm roots in the working class. The party leadership is extremely sensitive to this social base. It cannot impose its will on the majority of Cuban workers; it must persuade them of the necessity for unpopular measures — such as the workplace rationalisations and the gradual elimination of the ration card — in order to save the Revolution.

Expanded meeting of Council of Ministers

By Leticia Martinez Hernandez and Yaima Puig Meneses

Granma, March 1, 2011

General Raul Castro presided over the expanded meeting of the Council of Ministers on Friday, where he said that all the opinions gathered up to now — fruit of the debate on the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution — will be analysed, independently of the numbers of people who have expressed them.

His comments followed the presentation of a preliminary report by Marino Murillo Jorge, vice-president of the Council of Ministers, on the discussions of the Guidelines. Granma has been authorised to publish in advance that as of February 7, 127,113 meetings had taken place with the participation of more than 7 million citizens, who made more than 2,346,000 interventions that resulted in 619,387 proposals for deletions, additions and modifications and expressions of doubt and concerns regarding the content of the Draft Guidelines. At the conclusion of this process the people will be provided with detailed information about its results which, in the opinion of Raul, constitute a formidable instrument for the work of the [Communist] Party and government leadership at the national, provincial and municipal levels.

The president of the Councils of State and of Ministers [Raul Castro] added that that updating of our [socialist-oriented economic] model is not a task of one day and not even one year, and that given its complexity it will take at least five years to carry through its implementation.

He affirmed that in this strategic activity there is no room for haste and improvisation, stressing that the greatest threat to the Revolution lies in the errors that we may commit. Given this, we have to work without rush but without rest, and promote order and discipline in everything we do, without losing sight of the importance of ensuring the meticulous preparation of all the cadres and specialists charged with the implementation of the changes we are going to introduce.

By way of example, Raul said that the process of rationalising state-sector payrolls is not an end in itself, but a means towards the recovery of efficiency and discipline in the work collectives, based on the principle of suitability and entitlement.

He said a task of this magnitude that affects, in one way or another, all citizens cannot be bound by inflexible timelines and that its rate of progress will depend on our capacity to create the organisational and legal conditions to guarantee its success, systematically controlling its development in such a way that the necessary corrections can be introduced opportunely and so that the existing deficiencies in state agencies can be rectified.

Taking into account the delay in the initiation of this process [of workplace rationalisations], he proposed that the timeline for its execution be adjusted, while reiterating the will of the Cuban state to leave nobody uncared for.            

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