Unionism for the Self-Employed

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.

4 August 2013


One thought on “Unionism for the Self-Employed

  1. Blast to the Past: Cuba labor relation before 1959

    According to the World Health Organization archives in 1958, an industrial worker in Cuba earned an average salary of the equivalent of $6 US dollars per each 8-hour work day, while an agricultural worker earned the equivalent of $3 US dollars. Cuba then ranked number 8 in the world for industrial workers and number 7 for agricultural workers, with regard to salaries paid.

    The International Labor Organization in Geneva, Switzerland in 1960 published this data: In 1958, Cuba had a labor force of 2,204,000 workers. The rate of unemployment at that time was 7.07%, the lowest in Latin America.

    The Cuban Workers Confederation (CTC) was created in January of 1939. In 1958, the labor movement was a powerful force in Cuban society. It consisted of 33 federations with a membership of 1,522 unions composed of 1,214,271 workers.
    Chapter Four of the 1940 Cuban Constitution recognizes “the inalienable right of the individual to work” and that the state will use all resources within its power to provide work for those without.

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