Cuba: Nothing Changes on May Day

Today, Cuba marks May Day, in acknowledgement of the Cuban Revolution. It is an occasion that is strongly linked to the concept of labour empowerment, as workers from various towns march with their colleagues to Plaza de la Revolución to hear speeches – the most substantial of which have historically been delivered by the Castros – at the foot of the statue of José Martí.

There are also many cultural and musical events in honour of the occasion. National public service announcements about this year's parade state that it “will serve to demonstrate the people’s commitment to complying with the Communist Party’s economic and social reform guidelines.”

But some bloggers are wondering whether anything has really changed in Cuba, despite the fact that self-employed workers will be taking part in the march for the first time.

At Translating Cuba, Anddy Sierra Alvarez writes:

The propaganda has begun for participation on May Day, no one is forced to go, they’ve said for a lifetime, but this is not the reality. For not only are those belonging to the Cuban Communist Party forced to participate, but they are told so in the bureaucratic meetings they have every month.

The point of the march is to show the worlds that Cubans feel fine, there’s no desperation, no dissatisfaction with the government, no hunger, and that all we Cubans here who are trying to get the government to change the form of the government — or to bring it down — are painted as liars, defamers, or mercenaries supporting the interests of the government of Barack Obama.

Generation Y draws a parallel to “the last time the Plaza of the Revolution was full, crammed with people”, which happened in March, when Cubans attended a papal mass:

The television broadcasters repeated, with a strange insistence, that attending this Mass were ‘believers and non-believers.’ It was…a clarification — and not subtle in the least — that…Cubans were there because of ‘discipline,’ out of ‘respect,’ or because they are an ‘equable’ people, but not, in fact, because of faith.

I wonder whether this May Day they will also throw out such contrasting adjectives. They could, for example, say that on this Workers’ Day both ‘Revolutionaries and Non-revolutionaries’ are marching, which would not be absurd on a day that should have a labor and union tone, not a political one. Can you imagine the grave voice of the announcer affirming that in the flag-waving crowd there are both ‘employed and unemployed'? Of these, the latter would undoubtedly have to be the most energetic block, because the number of unemployed workers in 2012 has grown to 170 million throughout the Island. In front of the microphones they should make the distinction that in the mass of people facing the statue of Jose Marti are found ‘sympathizers and non-sympathizers’ with Raul’s government. Because after all, who would believe that a million individuals are all in agreement with the administration of a president?

She continues:

There will be no surprises nor nuances, but rather attempts to lump together hundreds of thousands of participants and present them as a unanimous chorus supporting the system. And May Day once again will be hijacked, like so many times before. From the podium those who salute will be precisely those who should be called out and criticized on the banners, not those who should be leading a workers‘ commemoration. The day will end without demands being made of this boss named “the State” to raise salaries, lower the cost of living, or improve working conditions. Instead, every little head seen from the Plaza’s tower will be counted as a round of applause.

Without Evasion notes that “the official press has been announcing the parade this May 1st with a newly added component to the ‘army’ of workers that will march in support of the revolution and socialism: the self-employed”:

I cannot quite understand the issue. Aren’t the self-employed a sector that represents private enterprise? Haven’t we been taught in school that private property is one of the ‘evils of capitalism,’ a source of exploitation for the proletariat? Has the Cuban system created a new species, the owner-laborer?

What concerns her most, though, is that:

…when convening ‘independents’ to this parade, the government has the intention to continue to monitor the supply of slaves, even the sector of freedmen, i.e., those who are in the first phase of buying their freedom through their economic activity, independent of the Master. Official control mechanisms deem important that those individuals who turn autonomous do not become independent or associate freely, and, at the same time, the government needs to offer the world the impression that private businessmen and manufacturers are aligned with the revolution, thus legitimizing the ‘renewal.’

Worst of all is that there is a representative sample of the self-employed who will lend themselves to the new farce. So then, the self-employed will march this May 1st under the banners of socialism, and maybe soon a ‘union of revolutionary self-employed’ will be established. This won’t, even remotely, be a march on anyone’s own account.

Bad Handwriting finds the whole thing “surreal”:

In Cuba, where workers are being subjected to ‘downsizing’, where the uncertainty about their place of employment, and the uncertainty of non-living wage are fundamental concerns, the first of May is celebrated with massive parades in all provinces. Signs abound in support of the Revolution (read Government) but there will not be a single sign demanding wage increases, the disappearance of the double currency, or transparency in the layoffs.

This country is so surreal, that the newly unionized self-employed workers, will parade in massive numbers. A group whose main concern should be the demand for non-discriminatory treatment, easing of red tape to access a work permit, extending the range of permitted activities and less severe taxes.

Finally, Through the Eye of the Needle calls this year's anniversary “an odd May Day”:

For the first time in more than fifty years self-employed workers and owners of small businesses will take part. They are already unionized.

So, will these new people be pressing for labor concessions – something prohibited under socialism – or will they simply be supporting the Revolution and the Party?

Will this be merely a display of cowardice? If they are attending this gathering out of a sense of conviction, they should be applauded. But I fear that even in the private sector a double standard is becoming evident. It is an indication that they by no means consider themselves to be free men and women. I respect the decision they have made. But what they are aspiring towards is to be treated with respect by the State itself, which not only manipulates them at whim, but also burdens them with excessive taxes, sells them wholesale supplies at already inflated retail prices without any special consideration, while unleashing on them a herd of ravenous inspectors. And, though no one will say so publicly, they are considered to be cowards by society itself. Is this the way we pretend that change is taking place in the country?

The changes will only be successful after a resurgence of civil society. But for that to happen, it is necessary to discard the heavy ballast of our induced fears and double standards. If you do not violate the country’s laws, no matter how unjust you feel they are, behave like a respectable citizen, and neither defame nor cause harm to others, then what is there to fear?

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