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In Cuba, you can't talk of unemployment

An Interview with Pedro Ross Leal, General Secretary of the Cuban Confederation of Workers (CTC)
in the People's Weekly World, 21 October 1995, pg. 18

In an exclusive interview for the World, Pedro Ross Leal, general secretary of the Cuban Confederation of Workers (CTC), deals with some of these issues the CTC will discuss at its upcoming 17th Congress, April 27-30, 1996.

"The Congress has already begun," said Ross, "because our congresses and all the events of the trade - union movement organized in our country begin in the grassroots orgaitizadons, in discussions with all the workers. In other words, this won't be a congress of the delegates that just come to hear the final sections."

On the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, Ross said, "The blockade not only harms Cuba, but also harms North Americans, their ability to do business, to earn income, to create jobs in the United States, the ability of peopie in the U.S. to enjoy vacations here in Cuba, to interact with their colleagues in research centers, the ability of both peoples to have civilized relations as they should be."

"The civil rights of Americans are harmed when they're not allowed to travel freely to other countries. In the so-called land of freedom and free enterprise, U.S. citizens are not allowed to trade, to do business here in Cuba," Ross said.

Q: What do you hope to achieve at the 17th Congress of the Confederation of Cuban Workers?

A: Five years have passed since the 16th Congress and in those years we've lived through what is known as the Special Period. Five years have passed since the disappearance of the socialist camp in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, which was our main trading partner. Seventy percent of the country's imports came from there.

In these five years, the U.S. blockade against Cuba has heen brutally tightened. In these years we've had to introduce reforms - changes to restructure the country's economy - that don't correspond to the economic line Cuba followed in previous years. All of that affects the lives of workers.

Among the topics that we're going to discuss is "The Workers and Their Problems" which is an overview of the world situation. Another will be the situation in Cuba since our last Congress. There's another entitled "Our Strategy Doesn't lead to Capitalism" in which we define what that strategy is and why we propose it. Another topic will be the problem of employment and the reorganization of the work force. The issue of workers' wages will also be a burning topic at the Congress.

Q: There is taIk now that some: 800,000 workers will be unemployed in Cuba. What effect will it have on the Cuban worker?

A: This is one of the subjects that is under discussion right now and that we'll place before the 17th Congress. Look, there's been a lot of speculation on this question of unemployment in Cuba and the number of unemployed people. Some official organizations have even made predictions about how many people could be left jobless, considering that our workplaces have been overstaffed, that for a long time we've tried to guarantee full employment.

Many people were given jobs without much economic content. The current economic situation demands efficiency and to be efficient you have to have exactly the number of workers that are actually needed. Now, we're not going to do this reorganization of the work force using mechanistic methods, which are used under capitalism in a ferocious manner.

In Cuba right now, you can't talk of unemployment. What you have to talk about are "paralyzed people" because the Cuban economy became paralyzed.

It's not that people lost their jobs. It's that their factory stopped running because it didn't have raw materials. And the country is struggling to get that factory going.

In any case, the labor reorganization implies a movement of the work force. We don't call it unemployment; rather there's movement because right now we need to fill 500,000 jobs in agriculture.

Each year tourism generates a number of new jobs. This is one example. We have hospitals where we need assistant nurses, maintenance and cleaning personnel. We need people for community work: street cleaning, park maintenance, cemeteries, aqueducts, sewer systems. Besides the fact that self-employment has been opened up and this is a source of employment.

So our strategy is that in each work place there should be just the number of workers that are needed and to place the excess personnel in other sectors of the economy, giving people the opportunity to get retrained, guaranteeing their wages during retraining, guaranteeing a subsidy - 60 percent of the wages - to everyone who has to wait to be placed in a new job.

As a trade union organization, we don't accept the term "unemployment." We speak of "available workers" for whom we have to find new jobs. And the government agrees with us on the policy of finding new jobs for any excess personnel.

Q: There have been alIegations about corruption and privileges to some sectors now that joint ventures with foreign companies are being established in Cuba. How are you responding to this problem?

A: We think that you have to fight corruption in any form and anywhere it appears. We know that with the opening up to foreign capital, and especially with certain unscrupulous people, they sometimes use bribery to get an advantage in some business, to get priority in an area of the economy. And they try to bribe - and sometimes succeed in bribing - some official, some employee. But we have to fight that. And the best guarantee that this fight will be waged is that the government itself has denounced this and has argued that rapid measures have to be taken against corruption.

Q: What about the differences between the Cuban worker who has access to dollars and the worker who doesn't?

A: If only everyone had access to the dollar! We wouldn't have a situation of inequality between those who have dollars and those who don't. But of the few workers - when you talk about access to dollars, you can't think of large numbers - who receive dollars, for example, personnel in the tourism industry, from tips, the nickel miners who receive monthly incentive pay, we've gone over the situation with them, so that they make some kind of contribution for the rest of the workers who don't receive dollars. And there has been an extraordinary willingness.

Last year workers in tourism donated a million dollars to buy cancer medicine. In Cuba, cancer is the second greatest cause of death. Now miners, fishermen and port workers have also decided to donate part of the dollars they receive to their compatriots who don' t receive dollars.

Q: What about Cuban workers' benefits - health, education, sports, culture?

A: The fundamentaf thing is not to lose these benefits that we've won. There should continue to be free and universal education for all children, public health for all workers, for all citizens. There should still be the system of social security that we have for all the elderly, for anyone who suffers an accident for any woman who gives birth, for people who become disabled.

There should continue to be equal access to work for men and women, Blacks and whites, with no racial or sexual discrimination. In other words, maintaining those great conquests that we've achieved is already a big demand, and that's what we're working toward.

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