Speech given by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Central Committee and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, during the closing session of the 20th Congress of the Cuban Workers’ Federation (CTC), February 22, 2014, Year 56 of the Revolution
Compañeras and compañeros:
It is my responsibility to make the closing remarks for this important Cuban Workers’ Federation Congress, which is certainly not limited to these three days of work by delegates in the capital; it is a process which began 15 months ago with trade union debate across the length and breadth of the country, including the broad, democratic discussion of the proposed Labor Code, approved by the National Assembly this past month of December.
Also part of the workers’ Congress was the profound analysis of the principal document which took place in workplaces, municipal and provincial bodies, in almost 66,000 member assemblies, with the participation of more than 2,850,000 workers focused on the improvement of the work done by trade union organizations.
Within the framework of the tasks undertaken prior to the Congress, we commemorated, this past January 28, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the CTC, which emerged as the first unified organization of Cuban workers, under the difficult conditions of the bourgeois, neocolonial republic, facing, for years, the repression and assassination of several of its most revolutionary leaders, the majority communists, among them the valiant sugar union leader and Communist Jesús Menéndez, founder, along with the unforgettable Lázaro Peña, of this organization.
Present and future generations of trade union leaders must assimilate the valuable legacy contained in the life of the Captain of the working class, the well deserved title Lázaro Peña was able to gain among Cuban workers, as a founder and fervent defender of the unity of revolutionary forces before the Revolution and, after the triumph, the person who taking as his own the line established by Fidel, established himself in the organization and provided brilliant leadership during the historic 8th CTC Congress, in 1973.
Unlike previous congresses which concentrated on analysis and discussion of specific issues and generated proposals for modifications to existent labor related legislation, this 20th Congress had the advantage of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, approved by the 6th Party Congress, as well as the work objectives agreed upon during the First National [Party] Conference.
Preparatory events leading to the Congress made clear that the working class, in its majority, supports the path being followed to update our economic model, while at the same time, clearly expressed was dissatisfaction given the slow pace with which some government approved decisions are implemented – on occasions without the creation of adequate conditions, the provision of reasoning and appropriate information, or necessary supervision of the implementation process.
No matter how delicate or complex the question of the wage system currently in place in the state economy may be, I cannot neglect to address it, although I have referred to the issue at other times.
I fully agree with you that the current wage system is not consistent with the socialist principle of distribution, “from all according to their ability, to all according to their work,” or what is the same thing, it does not guarantee that a worker is compensated in accordance with the contribution made to society.
It is also true that salaries do not meet the needs of workers or their families, generating a lack of motivation and apathy toward work, negatively affecting discipline, and encouraging the exodus of personnel toward better compensated activities, regardless of the professional qualifications required. At the same time, it has a negative effect on the promotion to leadership positions of the most capable and self-sacrificing, given the damaging phenomenon of the ‘inverted pyramid,’ which translates as, generally: greater responsibility – less personal income.
At the same time, we have lacked a comprehensive perspective in the implementation of our wage policy and performance bonuses, leading to the isolated approval over the years of dissimilar systems of supplementary non-salary compensation in sectors and activities, not always linked to work results or increased productivity.
Nor can we forget the almost 1.7 million citizens who devoted years to work and today enjoy the right to a well-deserved retirement, whose pensions are low and insufficient to meet the cost of basic goods and services.
While reaffirming this crude reality, a comprehensive solution to which we continue to work on intensely, we cannot foster false hopes within the population as to a short term resolution. It would be irresponsible, and have a counterproductive effect, to implement a generalized increase in salaries in the state sector, given that this would only serve to initiate an inflationary spiral in prices, since it would not be adequately backed by a sufficient increase in the supply of goods and services.
Doing this might seem easy, it is done in many places around the world, even in rich Europe, in some of the countries in crisis; it is the neoliberal formula implemented in various regions of the world to protect and expand the fortunes of the rich and condemn million of inhabitants of the planet to poverty.
Although I have expressed it on other occasions, it is not unimportant, especially before a workers’ congress, to reiterate that in revolutionary Cuba, no one will be left unprotected and there is no place for shock therapies for the people. None of the changes we implement will ever undermine the social conquests achieved by the Revolution.
If the average salary increases more rapidly than the production of goods and services, the effect on the economy and the people would be fatal, equivalent to “eating up” our future, irrationally augmenting the foreign debt and, definitely engendering instability within Cuban society as a result of galloping inflation, which would destroy the buying power of salaries and pensions.
Let us keep in mind the essential principle of the distribution of wealth: first it must be created and, in order to do so, we must consistently increase efficiency and productivity.
On this issue, I set apart medical services, for which, yes, salaries will be increased shortly, given that the country’s fundamental income at this time is a result of the work of thousands of doctors offering their services abroad.
As we advance toward this end, the conditions will be developed for better salaries and pensions.
Precisely for this purpose, decisions already adopted by the government are underway and many others are being studied, to gradually eliminate various obstacles which remain in the management of the enterprise system, about which you have received ample information.
This is also the fundamental objective of the process of elimination of the dual currency and exchange rate, the initial stage of which is underway to prepare the necessary conditions, and the roll-out of a flexible compensation system is being planned, one consistent with the aforementioned socialist principle of distribution.
Given these circumstances, and in accordance with the agreements of the 6th Party Congress, growth has been promoted in our economy of non-state management models, in which workers receive salaries significantly higher than those in the state sector, be that in budgeted entities or in enterprises. This reality, which surprised no one, cannot lead to stigmatizing self-employed workers or members of cooperatives, who in their majority have joined the trade union movement, abide by what has been established, and fulfill their tax obligations.
Well and good. We are not unaware that this objective factor adds urgency to the aspirations of workers in the state sector, contained for years, to see increases in their income as soon as possible.
We must never forget that the economic system which will predominate in socialist, independent and sovereign Cuba will continue to be based on the ownership, by all of the people, of the fundamental means of production, and that the state enterprise is, and will be, the principal actor in the national economy. The construction of our prosperous and sustainable socialism depends upon its performance.
Thus, the process of updating our economic and social model is directed toward creating the conditions which will allow for a sustained and justified increase in the income of state sector workers, while at the same time protecting the social conquests of the Revolution.
In these circumstances, the role of the Cuban trade union movement expands, in addition to the important missions which are its responsibility: on the one hand, organize, integrate and mobilize workers in the interest of developing work, patriotic and moral values; and on the other hand, representing workers and defending their rights before the administration, in a climate of reciprocal high expectations.
To reach this objective, formalisms and the old mentality which emerged over years of paternalism, egalitarianism, excessive gratuities and inappropriate subsidies, must be eliminated from trade union work. We know that there are magnificent comrades who are still nostalgic about the past, when in the most difficult moments during the beginning of the special period, we found ourselves obliged to implement emergency solutions; nevertheless, we must eliminate old habits, and the psychological barrier associated with them, to understand that we will never return to that trade union role as a distributor of incentives of various kinds.
The CTC and its unions must concentrate on that which is essential, carrying out activities in the interest of successfully implementing the Guidelines and developing broad, differentiated political-ideological work defending the unity of Cubans, taking into account that this work is complicated under conditions in which the non-state sector of the economy is growing, in which the methods and work style traditionally used in the state sector, are not applicable – those which must also be perfected.
In this context, we must take into account the urgent necessity of promoting and attracting foreign investment, in the interest of accelerating the economic and social development of the country, an objective toward which we are advancing with the creation of the Mariel Special Development Zone and the drafting of a proposed law addressing foreign investment, which we will submit to the National Assembly this coming month of March.
Trade union work in joint venture companies, and in those based on foreign capital, will logically be differentiated, not in its essence, but yes in the manner in which it has been carried out to date, and preparations must be made now for that eventuality.
In particular, it becomes imperative to strengthen the permanent ties between trade union cadres and locals, their participation in members’ assemblies and the attention given youth beginning their working lives – which requires that prior preparation and knowledge of the concrete situation in every workplace is assured, in the interest of having an effect on political-ideological and productive work with the workers.
It is also essential to ensure ongoing training and development of trade union cadres in relation to the content and scope of policies and measures being adopted within the framework of the implementation process of the Guidelines, to fully understand new legislation so that they have the information required to clarify doubts, supervise implementation, call attention to any deviation in a timely fashion and involve the workforce in practical application.
This line of work takes on greater relevance when we consider the extent to which the executive leadership of union locals has been renovated, by almost 44%, while 35% of general secretaries in trade union sections and bureaus are new, and 17% of these are under 30 years of age.
Likewise, since the previous congress, a significant renovation of the CTC and various unions’ principal leadership has taken place. Today joining us is the previous Secretary General, compañero Salvador Valdés Mesa (applause), who as a result of his important work was promoted to a vice presidency of the Council of State, and, as a member of the Party’s Political Bureau, has remained well-informed about the development of this event.
At the same time, I believe it is only right to recognize the energetic work undertaken over the last eight months, at the forefront of the Organizing Committee, by compañero Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento (applause), who you have elected today as the CTC’s new Secretary General.
Before closing, I must address the events which are taking place in the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. We have strongly condemned the violent incidents unleashed by fascist groups, which have led to deaths, tens of injuries, attacks on public institutions and destruction. We know, from our own experience, who is behind them, who finances them and supports these brutal efforts to overthrow the constitutional Venezuelan government.
These events confirm that wherever there might be a government which is not convenient to the interests of ruling circles in the United States, or among some of its European allies, it becomes the target of subversive campaigns. They now use new subtle, occult methods to undermine, without renouncing violence, to disturb the peace and internal order, and prevent governments from concentrating on the struggle for economic and social development, if they are not able to overthrow them.
More than a few examples can be found in non-conventional war manuals, which were implemented in various countries of our Latin American and Caribbean region, as is occurring in Venezuela today, and some with similar features have been in evidence on other continents, first in Libya and currently in Syria and Ukraine. Any one who has doubts about this, I would invite to leaf through the U.S. Army Special Forces Unconventional Warfare Training Manual 18-01, published in November 2010, entitled Non-conventional War.
Right now in Ukraine alarming events are taking place. The interference of Western powers must end, to allow the Ukrainian people to legitimately exercise their right to self-determination. It must not be overlooked that these events could have very serious consequences for international peace and security.
We have expressed and confirmed here today our full support for the Bolivarian, Chavista Revolution, and for compañero Nicolás Maduro (applause), who with intelligence and firmness has managed this complex crisis.
We are convinced that the Venezuelan people will be able to defend their irreversible conquests, the legacy of President Hugo Chávez and the government they freely and sovereignly elected, as our statement indicated this past February 12.
Compañeras and compañeros:
I believe we have held a magnificent workers’ Congress, which has established the direction for the future of the Cuban trade union movement, since the questions analyzed directly address the role of the CTC and its unions in the ideological, political and economic work of the Revolution. For that reason, in the name of the Communist Party and the revolutionary government, I congratulate our working class and all men and women who have participated directly in this 20th Congress. (Applause)
In this context, I think it is appropriate to recall an excerpt from Fidel’s speech concluding the historic 8th Congress more than 40 years ago, when he said, I quote, “A point of view is not be imposed, it is discussed with the workers. Measures are not implemented by decree, no matter how just or correct they might be… the fundamental decisions which affect the lives of our people, must be discussed with the people, fundamentally with the workers.” End of quote.
Thus, as Fidel taught us, we will continue.
Long live the working class! (Shouts of “Viva!”)
Thank you very much (Applause)