Ezequiel Morales from the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos (ICAP) (the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples) spoke with Hamish Chitts from Direct Action on May 9 after Morales had spoken to a workplace meeting of Brisbane bus drivers organised by the Rail, Tram, Bus Union and the Australia Cuba Friendship Society.
ICAP was founded in 1960 to strengthen friendship and solidarity between the peoples of the world. From the beginning, ICAP helped coordinate the international brigades that came from around the world to support Cuba through aid in agriculture, construction and other parts of the economy. Now it continues to facilitate visits and exchanges between friendship organisations. The institute organises delegations of international groups to visit Cuba and receives and distributes humanitarian aid from international solidarity groups.
Morales is a teacher by trade and was the secretary general (the equivalent of an organiser or a convener of delegates in a large Australian workplace) of various branches of the Union of Educators until 1996, when he began to work at his current position with ICAP. Morales discussed many topics with Direct Action that will form a series of articles. Here he discusses workplace democracy in Cuba.
Question: Could you tell us about workers’ democracy or workplace democracy and how the unions operate?
Answer: Sometimes people ask me, “Is there a democracy in Cuba?”. and I tell them, “Let’s go back to the meaning of democracy”. If you go to the meaning of “democracy”, rules or laws for the people by the people, then there’s democracy in Cuba, not only in terms of the union but in everything. Sometimes people think we don’t have elections in Cuba. We do; every two years, we have mid-term elections and every five year we have a general election. If people want to understand Cuban democracy and the election system, there are two requisites. First of all, try not to compare. If you compare, you will never understand it because it’s a unique system. Second, forget about political parties because parties or the Communist Party, which is the only one in Cuba, have nothing to do with elections. Elections in our country come from the very grassroots, and the candidates and delegates are nominated among the people and by the people, from the very grassroots up to a summit.
In terms of democracy for the workers, two things I’d like to mention. To clear up a misunderstanding created by the misinformation campaign which has been carried out against Cuba by the media, it has been said that there are union leaders incarcerated because they are dissidents, because they have a difference of opinion, and there is no freedom to create any new union. None of those things are true. You can organise and create another union, but, following the statutes of the Confederation of Cuban Workers, which goes back to the year 1939 and says that everyone can create a new union if it is created by a group of workers in a workplace in an industry or a factory or something similar. But no isolated individual can say they will create a new union and “I will be the president or secretary general of the union”. Also, if you want to be a union leader, you have to be a worker. So no one who is not a worker can be elected a union leader, because you are not representing your workers, you are representing your personal interest.
Workplace democracy is essential in correctly implementing the current reorganising of Cuba’s economy. In each workplace a committee of experts (consisting of a representative elected by management, a representative elected by the union and a worker elected from the shop floor) are in charge of telling the manager or administrator, as we call them, how to select the best workers to remain in the workplace and which are the one who should be reallocated. And the final decision is taken, not by the manager, but by the workers in conjunction with the union.
Q: Could you explain a bit more about the day-to-day democracy that already exists, and how workers are able to have a voice in what happens in their workplace?
A: Every month we celebrate or carry out in our workplace a general assembly of members of the union, or assembly of workers. It is not an ordinary meeting; it’s like a little party, because all the decisions taken there, in conjunction with all the workers, after being approved, become law. We have a General Confederation of Cuban Workers in 18 different unions, but all the unions have the same structure, a structure nationwide to the grassroots. At the grassroots, at the workplace, is a cell of the union, and that cell is made up of a secretary general and different secretaries according to how big the workplace is.
In every workplace, we celebrate the general assembly of workers. Before that, the staff of the union meet together, the different secretaries, analyse the agenda they will be dealing with, they analyse the report the manager has to render to all the workers. They analyse the report that the union leader will give to the workers, and they analyse all the production processes in the previous month and the guidelines for the next month. Then we meet all the workers, and the first topic on the agenda is to check their previous meeting.
Suppose a worker in the previous meeting said, “I consider that the food in the workers’ dining room is not good enough.” In this meeting, the manager has to respond to that.
Let’s imagine that someone said, “I consider that we don’t have appropriate ventilation or lights”. The manager must respond to that, and always a positive response. If they don’t have a positive response, at least they must say what we are doing to overcome the very bad situation. So that is the first point of the agenda.
The second is the report of the manager. The manager has to render an account with a big report, has to cover the entire economic situation of the workplace: goals achieved, those not met, reasons for achieving and for not achieving goals, and he encourages the workers to be more productive if he thinks there is a need. So, we analyse the report, we give our opinions, positive or negative, and then we approve it or not.
The third point is the union’s monthly report, which can criticise the manager or the production process or anything concerning the workplace. That is the moment to say whatever you want, to criticise or just to congratulate the manager or their staff. Then all the workers give opinions and approve the report or not.
That takes us to another moment in the meeting, what we call socialist emulation, in which we analyse all the workers for that month. We discuss who has been more productive, who has been more efficient, who has been the laziest, who has not made the most appropriate use of any personal protective equipment etc. We criticise each other collectively and, finally, we select the best workers in each area of work.
Every month this happens. At the end we say, “Okay, likes and dislikes”, and that’s the moment when we have criticism from the workers to the manager, and they say, “We need this and this and this and this and this”, and if he doesn’t have an answer, it goes to the first topic of the agenda in the following month. So we have many places to say whatever we want to say. We have our voice.
Q: So, any worker can raise any concerns they may have at that meeting?
A: Yeah, this is the moment. We like to say, “Please don’t keep complaining; leave it for the meeting. You can do it in the general assembly so that everyone hears and everyone can give their opinion.” That’s what we normally do.