Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Cooperatives We Cubans Want

The Cooperatives We Cubans Want
July 13, 2012
Daisy Valera

HAVANA TIMES — Could it be that the Ministry of Transportation has come
to the conclusion that the bureaucracy eating away at that agency is
preventing it from providing people with decent services? Could it be
that timbirichismo (the proliferation of small, privately owned food
stands) has only resulted in the theft of supplies [at state workplaces]
and the aggravation of the public health situation?

These questions cannot be answered with 100 percent certainty, but life
in Havana today is subjecting us to bus stops with overflowing crowds
and waits for transportation that last for over an hour.

Added to these are the sea of squalid little stands whose monotonous
food selections are surpassed in poor quality only by the customary "rum
and cigars" of state-run establishments.

As the situation of transportation and food services is beginning to get
worrisome and is approaching what might call an attack of impotence, the
government is allowing the use of a certain word that it managed to slip
into the reform guidelines: "cooperatives."

According to the weekly newspaper Trabajadores, cooperatives could start
appearing here in the capital city [1]. But we know that the verb tense
used to deliver us this news is not too encouraging.

What it does remind us is that the majority of Cuban workers, in order
for us to begin forming work associations, will have to wait for a law
concerning cooperatives, which seems like a game of hide and seek.

The fact that this form of free association between workers is precisely
one of the best for a country that describes itself as socialist makes
our current situation almost unbelievable.

Another contradiction is the alarming and unfortunate way in which the
officialdom claims to be beginning to address the issue. In the words of
economics professor Claudio Alberto Rivera Rodriguez (the president of
the Cooperative Society of Cuba) it seems that the shot has been fired
to signal the beginning:

"In our nation, there exists an agricultural model that, beyond the
subjective and objective problems it presents, has given us good
results." [2]

The issue is this: If we start to create the new legal standard based on
the model used in the countryside, cooperatives in the cities will be
doomed to failure. Agricultural cooperatives have an inescapable
difficulty – they aren't true cooperatives.

Since the 60's (with the Credit and Service Cooperatives, or CCS), up
until the '90s (with the Basic Units of Production, or UBPC), this rural
experiment has been suffering from top-down management by higher
authorities, difficulties in accessing supplies, fixed wages, sales to
the government at prices that don't make effort worthwhile for
cooperative members and the impossibility for receiving donations.

All of this has resulted in a very objectively felt food shortage,
increased food imports and fields overrun by the thorny marabou brush weed.

Those of us who defend the cooperative initiative do so taking into
account benefits; such as representatives/leaders being appointed by the
workers themselves; their position not implying wage privileges; all
cooperative members having a voice and a vote, with the decisions being
made as a group; wages being related to production; and, finally, the
community benefiting from part of the capital being allocated to it.

What position does one take with respect to this threat posed by those
who want to repeat the same mistakes? How does one to react to the
possibility of any new cooperatives being hogtied by obligations to the

There remains no choice but to reject all mechanisms that discourage
production and impede the free association of workers without bosses and
demand the implementation of a tax law for cooperatives – taking into
account their economic role as directly confronting capitalist dynamics.

[1] "Cooperatives Looking to Reach the City" (Las cooperativas buscan
llegar a la ciudad) Trabajadores 7/9/2012
[2] "Cooperatives in Cuba Could Be Extended to Transportation, Food
Services and Other Services" (Cooperativas en Cuba podrían extenderse a
transporte, gastronomía y servicios) Cubadebate 7/9/2012

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