Cuba Beware: Cooperatives Are Too Efficient

July 13, 2017 |

By Fernando Ravsberg

A Cuban cooperative. Foto: Laydrene Pérez

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban lawmakers who have inspected non-agricultural cooperatives in dozens of different regions in Cuba, have claimed, in Parliament, that these “increase their contribution to economic and social sectors of the utmost importance; they contribute to improving its members’ quality of life and they manage to satisfy clients’ demands, especially in the construction sector.”

However, these same lawmakers warn that these cooperatives “could reduce human capital at state-owned companies, as there is a growing exodus of trained personnel who move to cooperatives.” This legislature’s message will work against the cooperatives with their great sin being the fact that they are an attractive job position and they satisfy their clients’ demands.

However, it isn’t the only sin: “a significant group of cooperatives perform their functions and makes deals outside of the region where they are based, which limits the public administration’s competent bodies’ control and inspection of them.”

That is to say those cooperative members leave their home communities to resolve economic and social problems and this causes problems with the bureaucracy’s control, which now must leave their air-conditioned offices in order to inspect them. It’s a hard knock life for a Cuban bureaucrat.

With these warnings coming from lawmakers, the legalization of cooperatives will move forward at the pace of a tied-down turtle. I suspect they will put every possible monkey wrench on them to try and make state-owned companies catch up to them, even though this will just be artificial progress and at the expense of lower productivity and efficiency.

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  • Jon

    Will there be more reporting on the variety of coops forming. Interviews with members? Very exciting.

  • flet

    Cooperatives? !!! Like bicky does not make me laugh,

  • drspocks

    I was very interested in the coop movement in Cuba. for many of us in the north we are also looking to coops as a means to recreate the original ‘socialism’ that was savagely destroyed after the early days in the Soviet Union.

    But if the essence of socialism is that the mans of production is in the hands of the workers, then why hasn’t Cuba embraced this model more enthusiastically? Coops are a staple of social democracies in Europe, with the largest, in Spain having nearly 7,000 worker/owners. In the US the movement remains small as ever larger corporations take over more and more of every conceivable market.

    Isn’t it clear to the Cuban officials that large state bureaucracies are so redundant that they create a work culture of not working to insure “full employment.” Is the government opposition to expanding coops based on their fear that they will be too successful?

    But if not a vigorous coop economic model, then what are the governments options for economic development? More of the same certainly isn’t working.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Back in the 1930’s, my grandmother was a member of the Aberdeen and Northern Co-operative Society in Scotland. This enabled her to purchase groceries, bakery, milk and butcher products with records maintained of her purchases. At the end of the year she would receive her ‘dividend’ which I recall being as high as two shillings and threepence in the pound. (about 11%). As the years passed and private enterprise bloomed, the coop “divi” reduced until it reached zero. Then eventually the co-op was closed. Although an attractive theory, the co-op could not match for the efficiency and flexibility of private business.
      If properly organized, non-agricultural co-operatives in Cuba may have initial success. They are but a stepping stone to the entry of private enterprise which will eventually overtake them. GAESA as an importation monopoly will inhibit proper development of co-operatives and ensure that private enterprise is denied opportunity.

      • Jon

        Private enterprise and class society? Exploitation? Inter capitalist war? Personally I hope not. Anyway climate change will get us 1st probably.

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          Who raised class society and “inter-capitalist war” Jon?

      • George

        Oh Carlyle, an anecdote.
        Businesses go bust every year, that is the nature of the market.
        One of them happened to be a co-operative in the 1930s.
        Thus all co-operatives are doomed??
        “There is a growing body of evidence that worker-cooperatives are not only more just to the workers, but are more resilient in the face of economic crisis.”
        http://www.shareable.net/blog/are-cooperatives-better-at-surviving-a-crisis

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          OK George, give us all an example of a worker cooperative in the capitalist world that has survived and grown over a period of say fifty years? The Aberdeen and Northern Co-operative lasted unti linto the early fifties, when it just closed the doors.
          But if you know of example(s) of such co-operatives growing, please name them?

      • Ryan Ross

        I don’t think the fact that “private enterprise” can out compete and force out of business coops is necessarily the best of outcomes. Maybe they can trim costs by buying materials cheap from foreign countries, or offshoring their production facilities, escaping paying a fair share of taxes, making demands of their labor that cut benefits and pay while accumulating greater wealth for the top execs and shareholders. You may think all that’s a plus, but I think it’s a race to the bottom where we now see the greatest disparities in income distribution and vast numbers of the working lower class living in poverty and despair. Your view from the top leaves too many in the gutter.

  • lpress

    Are there any software/information technology cooperatives?

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    Read it and didn’t get excited! But the believers will be happy.

  • johnwagner

    Who writes the headlines for the articles in the HT? Are the Editorial staff fearful that the articles are too objective, insufficiently preachy, so that we, the readers, will fail to grasp the correct point, and need careful instruction?

  • Jon

    Great