Transformation processes in Cuba; from state company to cooperative
«We were told from one day to another that we were a cooperative,” says Jorge. “We had no clue how to do it. When we were going to distribute our income after the first month some of the partners suggested we should share everything between us. Then a bright head said; but then we won’t have any money to invest in new commodities for next month!”he throws his head back, laughing.
Jorge is newly elected leader of the cooperativeLa Legua,a roadside restaurant on the highway between Havana and Santa Clara. They sell snacks, fast food and drinks to people passing by. Until July 2014 it was part of a national state company,Palmares.
The top-down transformation ofLa Legua, from a state company to a cooperative, is part of the new economic adjustments Cuba is undergoing. One of the key elements is to reduce the number of state employees. In 2011 95% of all workers in Cuba were state employees, the number is now down to 75%, and the goal is 60%. One strategy is to stimulate small private companies and cooperatives initiated from below, another is turning state companies into cooperatives. Several previous state companies are undergoing this transformation; textile companies, restaurants, transportation, etc.
The twelve former employees (five women) atLa Leguawent from state employees to cooperative partners overnight. They have a flat structure, although they have elected a leader and a board, and all partners meet every second month to discuss important decisions. The transformation has included bureaucratic, administrative, and ideological challenges, but they have learnt many new skills and earn much more.
“We used to be ordinary employees; we came to work, did our job and went home. Now it is another matter…and as a leader I feel a responsibility to make this work”. Jorge points a thumb in the air: “We need to strengthen our financial and administrative competence and capacities, and…”He points a second finger in the air: “We need to change our way of thinking. There is a big change in mind-set from being a worker with limited responsibilities to a partner with full responsibilities for both the company and fellow partners. But…”He points a third finger in the air: “Our salaries have quadrupled (from 480 pesos per month), and that’s very motivating”.
The cooperative laws in Cuba were developed for agricultural cooperatives. The new non-agricultural cooperatives are still in an experimental phase, and are facing similar challenges toLa Legua.
The University of Santa Clara (UCLV) have an established working group that combines research and social work. They have developed guidelines on cooperativism and provide training for newly established cooperatives, both top-down (from state companies to cooperatives) and bottom-up (new cooperative initiatives), in laws and regulations, administrative and financial issues, and in organizational and ideological matters.
UCLV has been a partner of Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) since 1996, and the cooperation includes (as of 2016) support to the capacity building ofLa Leguaand three other new cooperatives.