Isbel Díaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban workers do not enjoy the right to strike. This right, which is elementary in any country which considers itself democratic, is nowhere mentioned in the current (and out-of-date) Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. The Constitution, however, doesn’t explicitly deny workers this right either.
Some friends have told me the Cuban government, which has, of late, been impelling certain forms of economic organization that are by definition exploitative, may officially acknowledge the right of workers to strike.
According to Diario de Cuba, the Cuban government has affirmed: “Nothing would impede Cuban workers from organizing a strike should they ever decide to resort to such methods,” pointing out that the country’s legislation “includes no prohibition in this connection (…) nor does the penal code establish any sanction whatsoever for exercising such rights.”
All of us know, however, that, in practice, this is a lie. With the aid of the State Security apparatus, management personnel deploy every mechanism at their disposal to prevent disaffected workers from organizing to protest, no matter what the issue.
The fear of being stigmatized, manipulated, associated with an imperialist plot or the United States and others cloud the minds of Cubans and keep them from taking a step in any direction. What’s more, the institution officially designed to “channel” such discontents is the Federation of Cuban Workers (CTC).
To date, the CTC has been the only institution entitled to represent workers before the Cuban government, a right conferred upon it by Article 61 of Decree Law 67, passed in 1983. Such an official designation tacitly rules out the existence of other, alternative labor organizations.
Las year, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) asked Cuban authorities to modify this article with a view to guaranteeing trade union pluralism.
The ILO also called on the Cuban government to “expressly” acknowledge the right of Cuban workers to strike, “in order to safeguard the legal certainty” of those workers who chose to exercise this right.
To no avail. As far as we know, the draft of Cuba’s new Labor Law does not include any of the suggestions made by the ILO.
The history of Cuba’s workers movement is rich in episodes of trade-union activism. To mention one example, four general strikes, involving the most renowned anarchist leaders of the time (Marcelo Salines and Alfredo Lopez), were organized in Havana during 1918 and 1919.
One of these strikes left Havana without newspapers. President Mario Garcia Menocal had no choice but to intervene, and the workers obtained the pay hike they were demanding.
In 1925, the Cuban National Workers’ Confederation (CNOC) was founded. The right of Cuban workers to strike, which was ultimately included in the Constitution of 1940 (Article 71), was one of the more important rights obtained by the confederation.
Will Cuban workers continue to wait for help from the CTC, which has swept away this entire tradition? The CTC approved a motion to make the communist affiliation of its Secretary General mandatory, allowed for changes to the country’s Social Security Law, made in 2008, which added five years to the minimum retirement age, supported the laying off of “superfluous” workers and, lastly, is devoting efforts to place the new class of private business owners in the same, administrative category as State employees.
In view of this, one cannot help but find a touch of irony in the news broadcasts by Cuban television, which show workers from around the world (including countries belonging to the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) organizing strikes to protest the abuses of their employers and governments.
To add insult to injury, Article 13 of Cuba’s current Constitution “offers asylum to those who are persecuted for their ideals or their participation in struggles for democratic rights (…) for the rights and demands of workers, peasants and students.” This means that foreign workers have more rights, in Cuba, than we Cuban workers do.
Do we need to remind Cuban authorities that the State isn’t putting food on our tables, that we are the ones who are putting food on their tables?