Workers' Control in Latin America, 1930-1979

By Jonathan C. Brown | Go to book overview

dismissed without union approval. Furthermore, management agreed to promote workers according to seniority and to uphold existing wage scales. 77 These developments meant that management no longer absolutely dictated policy on employment, promotions, or pay at the sugar mills or in the fields. Henceforth, workers took over a share of these responsibilities through their local unions. Greater authority at the factory level also translated to greater power at the political level. After the revolution of 1933, no government that came to power could ignore organized labor. 78 As a result, workers emerged from the revolutionary period with greater control over their lives and the realization that collective action translated into political power.

However, the revolution of 1933 did not solve all of the workers' problems. Although sugar prices, profits, and wages initially rose from their 1933 levels, the economy stagnated. Increased regulation on the sugar business, continued political instability, and the lingering effects of the Great Depression discouraged foreign investment. 79 Without investment, there was little economic growth. Without growth, no new jobs were created, and unemployment and underemployment remained high. In addition, new trade agreements made the island nation more economically dependent. 80 The United States was in a position in which it could withdraw its favors at any moment and wreak havoc on the Cuban economy, and it did this several times in the late 1930s to block liberal reforms that might have additionally benefited rural workers. Economic stagnation, high unemployment, and dependence on the United States plagued Cuba for the next twenty-five years. The malaise eventually contributed to the revolution of 1959, which brought Fidel Castro to power. Sugar workers played an important role in this revolution as well. By setting fires in cane fields and destroying company property, the workers let management and the government know that they were not satisfied with the status quo. Although their wages increased and they obtained greater control of the workplace following the 1959 revolution, their struggle was not over. By embracing some of Castro's labor strategies and rejecting others, Cuban workers continue to struggle for greater control over their own lives.


Notes

The author thanks Louis A. Pérez and Carl Van Ness for their helpful comments and suggestions.

1.
Three recent books include Lionel Soto, La revolución del 33 ( Havana, 1977); Angel García and Piotr Mironchuk, Los soviets obreros y campesinos en Cuba ( Ha

-39-

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