Young Cubans deal with the unimaginable: pink slips
'We have to think differently' to deal with new reality brought in by reforms
By Mary Murray
updated 5/4/2011 9:15:41 AM ET
HAVANA — Last hired, first fired – one of those golden laws of free market economies most workers know by heart.
But not Adrián Chacón and Alejandro Ortega, two young repairmen who found themselves on the losing end of the fight for their jobs. The best friends were knocked off balance when the Cuban government changed what had been a hard-and-fast rule for the last 50 years.
Like all Cubans their age, these young men were told all their lives that a tough job market had nothing to do with the Cuban reality – that only capitalist workers faced layoffs. That, under the island’s state controlled socialist economy, work was a guaranteed right.
Sure, the state might not pay people enough to put much food on the table, but anyone looking for work would always be welcomed at some public company or government ministry.
Not so fast …
That promise went out the window last year when Cuban President Raul Castro told people to take a hard look around them.
Cuba, he said, must stop being the “only country in the world where it is not necessary to work.” The only way to heal Cuba’s battered economy, he insisted, was to start producing more, and with fewer people.
Castro first took aim at Cuba’s bloated state payrolls and state-run companies failing to turn a profit. Both drain the public treasury, he argued, at a time when the country’s very survival was at stake.
While promising a wholesale overhaul of Cuba’s financial system, Castro had the state start by laying off workers in droves. His plan was to cut 500,000 jobs by the first quarter of 2011 and more than one million by 2015 – effectively eliminating one in every five jobs.
While that frenetic pace has slowed considerably (perhaps someone figured out that throwing so many people out of work in such a concentrated time could end up fueling social unrest), thousands of younger workers, including Chacón and Ortega, were among the first to go.
Initially, both had similar reactions to the layoffs: anger. Months later, the friends have adapted differently to their circumstances.
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