The year 2012 may have been the United Nation’s International Year of Cooperatives, but 2013 may turn out to be the more historic year for worker-ownership if the Cubans have anything to say about it.
To listen to the mainstream American media, however, you’d never know it. As a video supplement to a recent New York Times article makes clear, the corporate press has already made up its mind on how the story of Cuba’s economic liberalization is bound to end: “In a state defined by all-consuming communism for the past 50 years,capitalist change comes in fits and starts, and only at the pace that the government is willing to allow.”[Emphasis added]
In other words, Cuba’s post-communist story ends just like China’s – in capitalism, because according to orthodox dogma, there’s nowhere else to go. Trapped by the limited possibilities of this dichotomist capitalism-or-communism mentality, mainstream commentators lack the perspective needed to appreciate (much less inform others) that a transition away from a state-dominated command economy might conceivably lead to a type of market that is very distinct from our elite-shareholder-dominated and profit-fixated capitalist model.
But that is precisely the nuanced story we find in Cuba when we dig just below the surface and consider the very guidelines the Cuban government has adopted to steer the transition process. Since the state unveiled its nuevos lineamientos or new guidelines for economic development in 2010, the easing of government restrictions on private entrepreneurial activity has only constituted a single aspect of a much broader picture of change. Unfortunately, The New York Times and its ilk have gotten so hung up on the privatization shift, that they’ve left out crucial details about the types of private enterprises the Cuban government is attempting to foster.
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.