Will Cuban Workers Ever Get Back Their Right to Strike?

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right, which is elementary in any country which considers itself democratic, is nowhere mentioned in the current (and out-of-date) Constitution of the Republic of Cuba.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?

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.


12 thoughts on “Will Cuban Workers Ever Get Back Their Right to Strike?

  • July 4, 2013 at 10:06 am
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    Thank you for the links. But I was not implying that the workers in China are happy. On the contrary, they are thoroughly exploited by the “Communist” regime who sell their labour to foreign capitalists. Ironic, isn’t it?

    The Chinese model is of course where Raul is trying to lead Cuba. That would be a tragic and final betrayal of the promise of the Cuban revolution.

  • July 2, 2013 at 2:37 pm
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    Here’s the links:

    http://www.labourstart.org/cgi-bin/show_news.pl?country=China
    Labour News from China (current main stories: workers taking US boss hostage, bus drivers on strike after “union” sides with bosses, angry workers resort to direct action, 119 workers killed at chicken factory fire….)

    http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/
    current main stories: child worker dies at ASUS factory, 3 suicides at one FoxConn factory in 20 days, worker dies at Timberland production line, building jumping – suidide – spreads to Samsung factory, and various reports on developments in chinese trade unionism.

    Even if you disagree, worth reading, I ‘d say.

  • July 2, 2013 at 2:32 pm
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    Sorry Griffin, you’re wrong. Those statistics are compiled, for the case of China, by the state “union”, which obviously is not there to organise strikes or support workers, but to do the opposite – to increase productivity and to crush any non-sanctioned organisation and worker activity.

    I suggest you look for at example at the masses of literature on the subject or at websites such as LabourStart or China Labour Watch..

    Strikes in China often quickly turn in to something near to local-civil war, when workers take local politicians and officials hostage and demand their “ransom” (finally getting their pay, for a pay rise, better working conditions, etc.).

    Otherwise there are also many suicides (FoxConn is the tip of the iceberg).

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