There Aren’t Any Real Unions in Cuba

Por Pedro Pablo Morejon

Meeting of the Cuban Workers Federation (CTC).

HAVANA TIMES – I’m normally a good guy, a friendly person, but I can turn hostile when somebody gets on my nerves. I have never got on with pseudo-union members because their hypocrisy mixed with arrogance really ticks me off.

I understood a while back that as soon as you begin to defend your rights, you not only run into problems with those in power, but also with a certain kind of person who lives their life believing that we are all robots like them, that we lack free will.

Working at a state-led company, somebody said to me this morning: “You owe me your union dues, when are you thinking of paying me?”

I looked at him for a few seconds, in silence, and replied: “I don’t owe anybody anything.”

He looked at me as if I were speaking Dutch. It seems that his brain short-circuited, stopping him from processing the response. He turned his body around and left.

I have always been one of those “troublemakers”, I know I have. Those people who extort Cuban workers get called on the carpet at meetings if union quota payments aren’t met.

If you don’t pay up…

So, they look at people like as enemies. They are so stuck in their role of playing the useful fool, they don’t understand the reality of the situation. What’s more, they just don’t care. They might even be good people, who accepted this position because they didn’t have the courage to turn it down. But this doesn’t excuse them from being complicit in social control.

For this is what a “union” does here in Cuba. It controls workers and it functions as a decision-making tool for those in power.

All of these unions fall under the CTC (Workers Central Union of Cuba), an organization that was founded in 1939, but dissolved in 1959 to create this “revolutionary CTC”, after which every true trade union organization was suppressed. The CTC was the only one with a legal right to exist in the country.

In fact, right now, many independent trade unionists are suffering police harassment and/or prison.

Today, Cuban workers don’t even have the right to protest. I remember back when I was a university student, that a famous Cuban labor leader said that when Cuba was asked about this at the International Labour Organization (ILO), it said that the right to strike wasn’t viable and completely absurd for workers, as it went against their interests because they were the owners of the factories and means of production. 

That was just too much shamelessness! However, sometimes I think that the ILO’s leaders were even more shameless for letting the CTC form part of this great international organization.

It’s all right there in the statutes

In order to give you a real idea about the function of these fake unions, you just need to take a peek at its statutes when it says that “The CTC and national unions that form part of it, openly and consciously recognize the Cuban Communist Party’s leadership, as a model of the avant-garde and maxim of working-class organization, take this on, makes it its own and follow their politics.”

It does this job very well, supporting every decision that the Party makes. This is why it stood up in favor of the government in 2011, when it decided to cut thousands of Cuban workers from its payroll.

They have no autonomy whatsoever.

Of course, the CTC’s leadership (who aren’t elected by a direct vote) is made up of the highest-ranking leaders of the Communist Party, the only legal political party in the country (it goes without saying).

Well, anyway, leaders at different levels on the ground don’t seem to be aware of this.

Just so we’re clear. A Cuban worker only has three rights: to be a member of this organization, do as they are told and pay their union quota.

I have to admit, while I don’t pay every month, I do pay some. Maybe out of cowardice, maybe in order to survive. You can’t imagine how hard it can be for an individual to live with a certain amount of self-determination under a totalitarian regime.

You give into the blackmail in the end.

I’d like to think that I give in sometimes in order to survive.


Read more from Pedro Pablo Morejon’s diary on Havana Times.

One thought on “There Aren’t Any Real Unions in Cuba

  • Pedro’s disparaging words towards Cuba’s so called “unions” is understandable. Why? How can there be democratic unions in a totalitarian state? If one needs a definition of oxymoron, this is one perfect example.

    Unions, that is, organizations that legally and democratically represent workers in bargaining with employers whether public or private, were instituted to provide the individual worker with some collective representation in dealing with the singular employer. There is power in numbers.

    The union was never created to be an arm of the employer nor an avenue for employees to exploit the employer. Pedro writes: “For this is what a “union” does here in Cuba. It controls workers and it functions as a decision-making tool for those in power.” This is an anathema to the rightful role of unions.

    Again, Cuba is a totalitarian state so it controls its workers. If the country was true to its commitment to workers there would be no control. A worker such as Pedro who has a legitimate work related grievance should have the unrestricted right to take his complaint to his local union steward (a person duly elected and approved by all the workers) and the steward would discuss the situation in a mutually agreeable matter with the employer for a mutually agreed solution.

    Of course in Cuba workers do not have “collective agreements” that clearly spell out the role of workers and managers representing the company or organization. Any work related discrepancy is outlined in this collective agreement.

    Cuba’s dictatorial government and government workers, as Pedro states, are not allowed to even protest. “Today, Cuban workers don’t even have the right to protest.” In the early history of unionism in Canada and the United States worker protests were also disallowed as worker protesters were branded as “communist” infiltrators and agitators. Some were even shot by the police as witnessed in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike (in Canada) where workers were protesting their work related grievances on the streets and some were shot and killed.

    The upside to worker protesters as time progressed was expanded human rights, increase in worker safety, increase in worker wages, and the right of more and more workers to organize themselves into unions for the betterment of workers, their families and society as a whole. Of course such a situation can only take place where democracy is predominate allowing workers to freely express themselves without brutal state intervention which is what Pedro, unfortunately, has to deal with.

    Germany has one of the best tripartite union organization models in the world. In any work related industry the so called union is made up of workers, company managers and government representatives – three distinct partners – all with the mutual agreement to help the organization and workers succeed in its mission. This model has historically been very successful for Germany, it workers, and its companies.

    Cuban workers, according to Pedro: “They have no autonomy whatsoever”. Perhaps if the Cuban communist government is looking to boost worker productivity and morale, it might want to investigate and implement the German tripartite model. It works wonders with little to no effort.

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