Cuban President Raul Castro told unionists to accept layoffs and reforms that open the way for private enterprise as necessary for the survival of socialism.
“To defend and explain these measures, the working class must learn and be convinced of their importance for the survival of the revolution,” Castro said in an address to the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, the only union recognized by the Communist Party. “Otherwise we will fall off the cliff.”
Castro’s speech was published in the party newspaper Granma as Cuba prepares to dismiss 500,000 state workers by March, affecting 10% of the workforce.
The dismissed workers are being encouraged to go into business for themselves, and Granma said the central bank may offer micro-credits to new entrepreneurs as the island faces its worst economic slump since the former Soviet Union ended support in the 1990s.
Economy Minister Marino Murillo said workers aren’t productive enough to merit their salaries and Cubans are consuming faster than they produce, according to Granma. The average worker earns 20 US dollars a month in addition to free rationed food staples and health care and nearly free housing and transportation.
Castro, 79, has initiated measures to open the economy, including loosening of property laws and controls prohibiting private enterprise such as taxi and mobile phone companies, since his brother Fidel began handing over power in 2006. The state still controls 90% of the economy.
In August the government eased controls that prohibited Cubans from selling their own fruit and vegetables. It also extended lease periods to 99 years from 50 years for foreign investors in an effort to build up tourism infrastructure and draw more visitors to the Caribbean island of 11.4 million people.