While American union leaders express their admiration for the Castro dictatorship, millions of Cubans are enslaved by a communist regime that has outlawed independent labor unions.
The rise and fall of Cuba’s Independent Labor Movement: The state of worker’s rights in Cuba today.
May Day 2023 is a good moment to revisit Cuba’s labor history and the state of Cuban worker’s rights today.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Special Rapporteurship for Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) in their new Report on Labor and Union Rights in Cuba (available online in Spanish) “warn about the persistence of systematic patterns of labor rights violations, particularly due to the lack of democracy that prevents the full exercise of labor rights, which are affected by the socioeconomic context that the country is going through, and which are linked to situations of precarious labor conditions, worsening hiring conditions, absence of occupational health and safety measures, lack of freedom of expression. Likewise, persecution for political reasons in the labor context and the structural discrimination that affects Afro-Cubans, women, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and LGBTI persons are particularly highlighted in the report.”
Havana Times on April 27, 2023 reproduced the article “International Report Reveals Workplace Violations in Cuba” by Elena Nazco that offers a damning indictment of workplace conditions under the Castro regime. Collective bargaining and the right to strike are legally prohibited in Cuba, and Cubans know it, reports Nazco in the following excerpt from her article.
Of the people interviewed by IACHR and REDESCA, 92.3% believe that workplace and union rights don’t exist in Cuba. Meanwhile, 98.4% believe that union rights aren’t respected, are limited by the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC), that operates as the only legally recognized union and limits freedom of assembly, protest, and negotiation with employers, even in the case of foreign companies. 93.8% say that the labor standards complaint process is useless or isn’t carried out properly. Lastly, 72.3% are afraid of or reluctant to access the labor justice system. These numbers are backed by accounts from interviewees who have suffered censorship, ostracism, and unfair treatment at the hands of their employers, in one sector or another. Some of the women reported sexual harassment by their superiors, while members of vulnerable communities were discriminated against because of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, or disability. Others were fired or sanctioned for their political stances and are normally labeled “anti-establishment” or “counter-revolutionary” (which earns them the title “ideologically untrustworthy”). In short, approximately 56% of the population believes that there is discrimination in the workplace, based on statistics compiled by the OCDH. Another sector affected by government policy is medical brigades and other missions abroad, whose workers suffer forced labor – according to the IACHR and REDESCA. The so-called “internationalist missions”, which include around 35,000 Cubans in the medical sector alone, make up a valuable source of revenue for the State, which takes up to 90% of the wages other countries need to pay its professionals.
This is in stark contrast to the achievements of the Cuban labor movement over the first half century of the Cuban Republic (1902 – 1952). A high point for Cuban labor was also a low point for Cuba’s communists that cut a deal with Cuba’s first dictator, Gerardo Machado.on May 20, 1925 was elected Cuba’s fifth president, but overstayed his welcome, and became a dictator. Historian Pedro Roig in 2018 described what happened.
“The end of the dictator was ignited by a minor labor dispute. On July 25, 1933, Havana bus drivers went on strike protesting a municipal tax increase. The strike turned into a political confrontation that escalated when streetcars operators (tranvias) and taxi drivers joined the protest. Capital transportation came to a halt. By August 1, it had spread to other labor sectors and grown into a general strike. Machado called for a meeting with the communists perceived by the dictator to be the leaders of the strikes. Machado offered them legal recognition and state support. Rubén Martínez Villena, and Joaquín Ordoqui met with Machado and accepted the offer. The communists called off the strike but failed. It turned out to be the agreement of the impotent, since neither party had the strength to control the mounting crisis.”
Machado was driven out of office on August 12, 1933 and Cuba’s communists were discredited for having made a deal with him that was viewed in most quarters as a betrayal of the workers. With the communists discredited, a revolutionary moment took place that benefited Cuban trade unions, and workers. Ram6n Grau San Martin’s provisional government lasted a hundred days, and marked a before and after in Cuban history. Grau between October and December of 1933 issued a first package of popular and nationalist measures.
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