The Cuba Cooperative Working Group (CCWG) was convened in January 2014 by Eric Leenson of Sol Economics, the leading organisation of the international project, “Socially Responsible Enterprise and Local Development in Cuba” and Stanley Kuehn of the National Cooperative Business Assotiation in the USA (NCBA CLUSA) to study the Cuban economic “update” with an emphasis on worker and producer cooperatives. To further this goal, Sol Economics, Havana Consulting and Cuba Educational Travel recently organized a week-long study trip to Cuba to research the newly emerging Cuban cooperative sector and to analyse the prospects for international cooperation and exchange. Twelve people representing different sectors of the US and international cooperative movement attended lectures with Cuban academics and researchers, and visited cooperatives in Havana and in the neighboring province of Pinar del Rio.
In December 2012 temporary legislation was passed to enable the establishment of non-agricultural worker cooperatives. The law privileges cooperatives in the private sector by giving them tax breaks, discounts on inputs provided by the state, priority in leasing state-owned property, and access to “soft credit” from the state bank. A final cooperative law is due to be finalized by 2016.
By mid-2014 a total of 498 worker cooperatives had been approved. Of that total, 384 are proposed conversions from state-owned enterprises, and 114 of them are proposals by private groups of entrepreneurs. Of those approved, 257 are currently functioning businesses. From those cooperatives, 43 % are active in the gastronomy sector, 14% in the construction sector and 6.5% in the personal and technical services. The application process is lengthy and requires local, provincial and national level approval. Some applicants have been waiting for more than a year with no response. Although second level cooperatives are allowed by law, none have been established so far.
CCWG Cooperative Tour
The CCWG visited six of these businesses on the tour: two agricultural cooperatives, the cooperative 30 y 33 (an urban market owned and operated by the workers,) Servipas (a transportation business) Cooperativa Novedades (an mechanics shop) and Cooptex (a clothing manufacturing factory). All of these cooperatives had been created out of formerly state-owned enterprises.
Workers and managers at each of these cooperatives reported better working conditions, a significant increase of income, a stronger sense of belonging and ownership, and increased participation. While they had been given some rudimentary form of training on cooperative principles from the Ministry that oversaw their conversion, there is currently no cooperative education institution in the country to deliver comprehensive training for legal, accounting, management and governance issues specific to cooperatives.
“It is interesting to note that in the most extreme examples of market-based economies on the one hand (US) and state-planned economies on the other (Cuba), we are both looking to worker cooperatives to solve some of the problems created by the failures of our respective economic systems in the midst of a globalized economy marked by intensifying concentration of capital and downward pressure on wages and deteriorating labor conditions. In both countries researchers, worker cooperative developers and cooperative members are pushing for the development of more robust cooperative institutions and legal regimes that codify cooperative values and situate worker coops within the larger solidarity/social economy”, declares one the visitors, Rebecca Kemble, President of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC).
“Additionally, the more outreach the international worker cooperative community can do towards promoters and members of the emerging Cuban cooperative sector, the better. This could mean direct exchanges between cooperatives in a certain sector – for example, in recycling or construction – or simply including and inviting them to worker cooperative meetings and conferences whenever possible. Establishing linkages between the international cooperative movement and Cuban economic researchers studying cooperatives and the solidarity economy would also be of great value”, concludes the President of the USFWC.
International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and
Service Producers' Cooperatives
Secretariat: C/O European Cooperative House - avenue Milcamps 105
1030 Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 2 543 1033, fax: +32 2 543 1037