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Friday, 18 January 2013

Cooperative Cuba is on the horizon

Now here's an opinion piece that caught my eye by someone called Keith Harrington posting on a website called "Truthout" in which he comments on the fact that Cuba may be beginning to build a different model of market socialism that sees a huge role for workers-owned cooperatives. Keith links to this article by Marcelo Vieta, an economist who has made two trips to Cuba to conferences where the cooperative solution was discussed. They both make for interesting reading. Keith for example makes this point:

"Specifically, the government is placing high priority on the development of worker-owned-and-managed firms and has recently passed a law intended to launch an experimental cadre of 200 such firms. Under the law, workers - rather than government bureaucrats or elite boards of directors - will democratically run the businesses, set their own competitive prices, determine wages and salaries and decide what to do with the profits they generate. In other words, Cuba's new worker cooperatives will operate pretty much along the same lines as their successful cousins in the capitalist world, including Spain's Mondragon Cooperative Corporation.
But what sets the Cuban cooperative experiment apart and renders it such an incredible opportunity for the global worker-cooperative movement, is its occurrence in a political-economic milieu that is currently free from the distorting effects of capitalist competition. This is significant because while cooperatives have proven just as competitive as capitalist firms in a capitalist context, when capitalist profits and growth assume top priority, worker-owned firms may be compelled to act more like capitalist firms and subordinate core objectives such as worker empowerment and well-being, community development and environmental sustainability. Indeed, as cooperatives grow, even the percentage of actual worker owners in their ranks has been known to decline, as we've seen with Mondragon.
In short, the worker-ownership movement could greatly benefit from a national-scale economic environment that will allow cooperative enterprises to develop according to their own particular democratic nature and exhibit their true potential, free from the profit-above-all dictates of capitalism. No country bears as much promise in this respect than contemporary Cuba."

While Marcelo concludes:

"In sum, from the countless conversations I had while in Cuba with academics, government workers, co-operators, and people on the street, many Cubans are very willing to contemplate and consider the role of a larger co-operative sector. There is no doubt that many Cubans are working hard to make this a reality in the coming months and years. My sense is that many – perhaps the majority – of Cubans know that they have too much to lose to go down the neoliberal path, a distinct possibility given the trajectory of other ‘socialist’ command economies, and the structural reforms that are unfolding. The co-operative path to economic sustainability would, I think, be a viable alternative development model for many key sectors of the Cuban economy. Such a development model would keep social wealth within the country and expand the capacities of Cuban workers in self-management. Such activism and participation among workers can also be a key spur to the nature of reforms in crucial areas where large state enterprises will remain, whether fully state owned or in joint enterprises. The co-operative road to reforms, most importantly, could help conserve the successes of Cuba's brand of socialism, notably its egalitarian education, cultural and health sectors, which remain quite unique across South America and the Caribbean. At the same time, such co-operative-based reforms could help Cuba move along a new path toward 21st century socialism."

These may just  be two lone voices crying in the "blogerness", but they have a handle on that curious Cuban knack of doing the exceptional. Always, with Cuba, it is wise to be prepared to be surprised.

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