Cuba’s Self-Employed Join State Union to Avoid Trouble
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 their ranks.
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 promoting membership.
“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.