Another tale of two systems

Maybe it was just a matter of coincidence or a mistake that got by a sleepy editor. On Aug. 28, The Chicago Tribune unwittingly juxtaposed two stories that expose the world of difference between capitalism and socialism and the way they treat workers and their livelihoods.

Tribune foreign correspondent Gary Marx (no relation to Karl) writes about the closure of a sugar mill in Camilo Cienfuegos. The decline in Cuba’s sugar exports began with the U.S. embargo, then leaped with the collapse of the socialist states. Cuba was forced to compete on the world market where demand has continually decreased due to the development of sugar substitutes. An estimated 70 of 156 Cuban sugar mills are slated to be closed. The jobs of about 100,000 Cuban workers will be affected.

Cuba is one of the leading sugar producers in the world. The Cuban economy has been based on sugar for 400 years, since colonialization. The sugar industry was dominated first by the Spanish, then by U.S. corporations. This particular mill was built by the Hershey family to supply sugar to their candy-making operations. After the 1959 revolution all the sugar mills became publicly owned.

The agricultural sector is undergoing a vast restructuring as part of a larger planned diversification of the Cuban economy. While the sugar industry will decline in importance compared to the rest of the economy (tourism already brings five times the income of the sugar industry), it will nevertheless maintain its current output of about four million tons a year through modernized production. About half of the 3.5 million acres devoted to sugar cultivation will be switched to other higher-income crops, reforestation or livestock.

Are the Cuban sugar workers destined to be thrown on the scrap heap like their class brothers and sisters at LTV, US Steel, Bethlehem or Enron? Will they be denied their pensions and health care? Will their children be forced out of college? Will their communities be destroyed?

The socialist Cuban government has promised to move all the workers into other newly created jobs in the agricultural or other productive sectors or send them back to school for technical training. The workers will continue to receive their current weekly wages until their transition to new jobs is complete and whether they are in school or not.

Because Cuba has a national health care system, the workers will continue to receive free high quality health care. And their children will still be able to attend school because college is free of charge.

“The mandate of the revolution is to defend the community, to protect the community,” said Ulises Rosales de Toro, head of Cuba’s Ministry of Sugar. “Maybe the mill will disappear but not the community.”

Only a socialist economy like Cuba’s, where public ownership and workers’ management predominates, has the capacity to make big economic transitions and not adversely affect workers and their communities, even in the face of the hardship posed by underdevelopment.

The second article, by Stacey Hirsh, deals with the fears of workers at a factory rumored to be for sale in the U.S., ironically the Hershey chocolate factory in Hershey, Pa. Another giant food monopoly will likely buy it. Hirsh noted the “grave concerns” among the workers over their jobs, and what the loss of tax revenues in this company town will mean. Where will they get health care? Will their homes be threatened? What about school funding?

This is the reality for 7,500 steelworkers who lost their health care benefits when LTV filed for bankruptcy – the hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers who have exhausted their unemployment benefits. Far from being a “defender of communities,” capitalism has been a destroyer of communities devastated by factory shutdowns. They are at the mercy of the capitalist credo: dog eat dog and devil take the hind most.

Thanks, Chicago Tribune, for showing that capitalism is a system only concerned with delivering maximum profits to the bosses while socialism, by its very nature, is a more democratic and humane system that puts workers and their families first.



John Bachtell is the District Organizer for the Communist Party of Illinois. He can be reached at jbachtell@ameritech.net