Cuba’s 1955 Sugar Industry Strike

Elio Delgado Legón    

Fructuroso Rodríguez.  Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban sugar industry workers had been demanding the differential pay they were entitled to since the beginning of December, 1955. That year, sugar had been sold at higher price than that which had been used to calculate wages after the previous harvest.

The most noteworthy strike actions took place in Santo Domingo, Las Villas, the birthplace of the then Vice-President of the University Student Federation (FEU) Fructuoso Rodriguez, a sugar-producing region where three sugar refineries were in operation. The main road was blocked for an entire day, telephone cables and posts were torn down, all businesses shut down and the city was declared “dead.”

Tensions were high on December 24, as all repair work at sugar refineries had been halted. Fructuoso Rodriguez arrived in the afternoon and headed for his aunt’s house. I was waiting for him there, and we began to talk about the situation. After the Christmas Eve dinner, he made arrangements with me to call a meeting with those most active in the struggle against the Batista dictatorship the following afternoon.

During the meeting, Rodriguez explained the need for the struggle to support sugar workers and to show the dictatorship what the people were capable of when organized. Everyone left the meeting with a specific task.

The following morning, my comrades and I began leaving burning tires on the main road, across the entire city. Some of the townspeople joined us, placing other obstacles on the road and scattering broken bottles across the pavement so that no vehicle could get through.

All businesses shut down and Santo Domingo was declared a “dead city” for the entire day. In the afternoon, the police and rural guard forced some townspeople to clean up the road so that cars could get through.

The town’s businesses remained closed while the police patrolled the streets, shotguns in hand and machetes dangling from their belts.

A demonstration that was to begin at the park and head down the main street towards the headquarters of the rural police (at the other end of the town) had been organized for the 27th.

Rodriguez arrived wearing a driver’s cap and joined the front line of protesters. Arm-in-arm, we walked at the front. At the center, I and some of the bolder comrades joined him. Behind us, more and more people joined the demonstration, until a fairly large crowd had gathered.

We walked this way almost two blocks. At the second street corner, several cars full of police officers and rural guards holding shotguns and unsheathed machetes were waiting for us.

They began firing into the air and to advance towards us wielding their machetes. The crowd dispersed and Rodriguez fled down a street to our right. As he was trying to get inside a house, they shut the door in his face and the rural police got him. They hit him on the temple with the butt of a shotgun and detained him. Then, they bandaged his wound, took him to the station and made him sit in the lobby while they drew up the report.

I had hidden in a nearby porch and was able to see everything from there, avoiding arrest.

When I walked past the station, I saw Rodriguez sitting in the lobby with a bandage over his temple.

Since I worked near the station, some of the officers there, including the one assigned to the reception desk, knew me. I approached the reception officer who was on duty and asked permission to talk to the detainee.

To my surprise, he let me in and told me to leave quickly, before the lieutenant arrived. I went in and talked with Rodriguez about some of the pending actions, like a proclamation that still had to be printed and distributed.

Later, Rodriguez was taken to Santa Clara, where he was taken before the court and confined in the provincial jail to await trial. I visited him in jail some days later to inform him of what we had done.

The sugar workers came out of the strike victorious. Though it was not a total victory, they were at least able to get part of what they were demanding.

Before returning to Havana on January 10, after a trial where he was fined fifty one-peso quotas for inciting civil disorder, Fructuoso Rodriguez passed by Santo Domingo to say goodbye to his family and the comrades who had taken part in the strike. He ran into me in the street and greeted me with a strong embrace. It was the last time he visited Santo Domingo and the last time I saw him, for he was murdered by the police on April 20, 1957.

2 thoughts on “Cuba’s 1955 Sugar Industry Strike

  • Elio wrote an interesting account of an important historical event, with a personal viewpoint.

    The sugar strike shows what the people can do to confront tyranny when they join together. Perhaps Cuban workers will be able to organize a strike against the dictatorship today?

  • Strange though that during the complete destruction of the Cuban sugar industry no workers went on strike to protect their jobs. Maybe syndicalism was freer under Batista than Castro? That would be one of the most damning statements ever.
    The communists ran the trade unions for Batista. They did the same – actually the same person – for Castro.
    i recommend the documentary “Memoria syndical” for those interested.

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