THE BLOG
08/04/2013 08:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Independent Labor Unions Outlawed in Cuba, for the 'Proletariat' and the Self-Employed Alike


Self-employed. Photo by Silvia Corbelle.

The National Tax Administration (ONAT) office is open and dozens of people have been waiting from very early. An employee shouts directions for what line to get into for each procedure, although a few minutes later confusion will reign once again. At a desk without a computer another official writes the details of each case attended to, by hand. The wall behind her back is damp with humidity, the heat is unbearable and people constantly interrupt to ask for forms. An institution that takes in millions of pesos in taxes every year carries on with feet of clay, suffering from material precariousness and poor organization. Congested offices, interminable paperwork and lack of information are only some of the problems that hinder its management.

However, the setbacks don't stop there. The lack of stable wholesale markets with diversified products also slow down the private sector. The inspectors fall on the cafes, restaurants and other autonomous businesses. Strikes or any public demonstrations to reduce taxes are strictly forbidden. It is expected that the self-employed will contribute to the national budget, but not that we will behave like citizens willing to make demands. The only union permitted, the Central Workers Union of Cuba (CTC), tries to absorb us in their straitjacketed structures. Paying monthly dues, participating in congresses where little is accomplished, and parading in support of the same government that lays off thousands of workers: it is to this that they want to reduce our collective action. Why not create and legalize our own organization, one not managed by the government? An entity that is not a transmission line from the powers-that-be to the workers, but the reverse?

Unfortunately, most of the self-employed don't consider that salary independence and productivity must be tied to union sovereignty. Many fear that at the slightest hint of a demand their licenses will be cancelled and other measures taken against them. So they remain silent and accept the inefficiencies of ONAT, the inability to import raw materials from abroad, the excesses of the inspectors and other obstacles. Nor have emerging civil society organizations managed to capitalize on the needs of this sector to help them achieve representation. The necessary alliance between social groups that share nonconformity and demands doesn't materialize. So our labor demands continue to be postponed, caught between the fear of some and the lack of attention from others.