Trade Unions in Cuba

Elio Delgado Legon

eliosrHAVANA TIMES — The history of Cuba’s workers’ movement begins many years ago. It was the workers of the tobacco industry who set up the country’s first trade union – the Association of Tobacco Workers of Havana – in 1866, when the island was still under Spain’s colonial domination.

Owing to the exploitation it has endured since first coming into being, the working class has been the most revolutionary of all, and its trade union movement has proven an ideal means of mobilizing laborers in their struggle against capitalist exploitation and in their demands for better wages and improved social conditions.

It would be impossible to account for the state of development that revolutionary thought and praxis have reached in Cuba without assessing the influence that the workers’ movement has had on them.

The history of the Cuban workers’ movement may be divided into two major stages: the one preceeding the revolution of 1959 and the one which began on this date, extending to today.

During Cuba’s republican era (1902-1958), the struggle of Cuban workers was part of a revolutionary and anti-imperialist movement that protested for the rights of the working class.

On every date of symbolic importance for the proletariat, such as May 1st, the workers’ movement went out to claim its rights. At every congress of the movement, the workers planned new strategies to force capitalists to grant them at least part of their demands as laborers.

Many trade union leaders were murdered before the revolution because of their revolutionary intransigence, their moral fortitude and their capacity to mobilize the working class in its struggle to secure its demands.

Strikes were one of the most effective methods workers resorted to when they claimed their rights, for every strike day spelled thousands of pesos in losses for the capitalist factory owners.

I have come across a number of ill-intentioned (or ill-informed) comments, to the effect that Cuban trade unions don’t have any real role to play in the lives of workers because these do not have the right to strike.

On January 1, 1959, the situation changed radically, for the revolution set a government by the people and for the people. The workers became the owners of the means of production, and the aspirations of the revolutionary government coincided with that of the workers entirely.

A new, proletarian consciousness began to be forged. The revolutionary government considered the working class one of its fundamental pillars, and the workers responded as could only befit their class consciousness: by offering the revolution their unconditional support.

This, at least, is what they’ve demonstrated in the course of over fifty years, by joining other popular sectors in their massive participation at official functions, parades and rallies organized as a show of support for the revolutionary process.

This support is also demonstrated by the unity of Cuban workers, who are members of one, central trade union, an institution which represents and guides them: The Cuban Workers Federation (CTC).

As I write this, the Cuban working class is immersed in the preparations for its 30th Congress.

I have come across a number of ill-intentioned (or ill-informed) comments, to the effect that Cuban trade unions don’t have any real role to play in the lives of workers because these do not have the right to strike.

It would be impossible, in the limited space of this post, to list the numerous occasions in which the Cuban working class has demonstrated its support of the revolution. No Cuban worker or trade union leader would think of calling a strike to demand something to which they’re already entitled – putting their concerns on the table at a meeting, or taking these directly to the union leaders, suffices to solve the problem, or, at the very least, to obtain an explanation as to why the problem cannot be solved.

Today, a strike in Cuba would be inconceivable, for such a strike would not deal a blow to the economic interests of any capitalist, but to those of all Cuban workers, who are the true owners of the country’s chief means of production.

The role of trade unions under socialism is very different from the one they play in capitalism – the socialist revolution is carried out, after all, to give workers their full rights.

It is a mistake to conceive of the State as an independent institution which owns everything. The socialist State is nothing other than the representative of the entire people, who are the true owners of the means of production.

The role of trade unions under socialism is very different from the one they play in capitalism – the socialist revolution is carried out, after all, to give workers their full rights.

Today, Cuban workers take part in the elaboration and control of their companies’ production plans. If the management does not fulfill its obligations towards workers, their trade union, which is part of that company’s Governing Board, is there to demand compliance with the established norms.

The Cuban workers’ movement is also represented on the Council of State and plays an important role in the approval of new legislation at the National Assembly. The new Labor Law is one of the pieces of legislation to be discussed by workers in their preparations for the congress, before it is submitted to the National Assembly for final approval.

I think it is easy to see, from what I’ve expounded on above, the reason why trade unions and the government work towards the same objectives in Cuba. It is because no antagonistic contradictions exist between them.

Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 80 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.


8 thoughts on “Trade Unions in Cuba

  • March 19, 2016 at 12:11 pm
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    Trade unions are banned in Cuba as has been shown.

  • March 19, 2016 at 12:10 pm
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    The trade unions are owned by the Billionaire Castro family. Workers have no say in them and are not allowed to strike or set up their own trade union.

    Cuban wages are 16 times lower than they were when the Castro family began looting the country. Cuba was a first world country back then and the people wanted democracy not Communism.

    Today, 2016, there are no trade unions in Cuba.

    Elio is just another pro Castro sadists who clearly enjoys the suffering of the Cuban people.

  • July 4, 2013 at 10:47 am
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    I have come across a number of ill-intentioned (or ill-informed) comments, to the effect that Cuban trade unions don’t have any real role to play in the lives of workers because these do not have the right to strike

    I suspect that in fact these comments do not claim or suggest that the CTC and its organisations have “no real role to play in the lives of workers” but instead that they do not play the role of trade unions, and maybe also that they actually play a role opposite to that of trade unions in capitalist-bourgeois democratic countries.

    Those are two very different things. And you know that, because you elaborate on the subject. Therefore the CTC, just like the state-run or controlled trade unions in the USSR, East Germany, China, Vietnam – and Fascist Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy – are not trade unions as such, but labour fronts.

    If my dog barks, it’s a dog. If it miaows, it’s not a dog. “Trade unions” that do not do what trade unions do, are not trade unions, but something else. Be hones, give them a different name, and stop playing about. It’s not difficult.

  • July 2, 2013 at 9:16 pm
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    Eliot wrote: “No Cuban worker or trade union leader would think of calling a strike to demand something to which they’re already entitled”

    The Cuban worker may be “entitled” to a living wage, or safe working conditions, or reasonable hours, or freedom of labour, but they don’t actually have those things. The role of the Cuban union should be to represent the workers’ interests to their employers, the government. But in reality, the union serves only to enforce government policy onto the workers.

  • July 2, 2013 at 1:09 pm
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    I see it is fairy tale time again.

  • July 2, 2013 at 4:34 am
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    In an attempt to set the record straight with respect to the real situation of workers and the history of trade unions in Cuba Jorge Masetti and Claudio Castillo created this documentary about the Cuban trade union movement.

    From the site linked to:

    “In this documentary the myth of the absence of working unions and the role of the Cuban communists in the trade unions is exposed. From the start of the movement over the communist “deal” with Batista and the final betrayal of the Cuban people by the communist party in its alliance with Castro the story is told.

    This video “Cuba Memoria Sindical” shows a left wing anarchist view of history and was created with the help of:
    – Central Workers Organisation of Sweden, SAC
    – Asociación Sin Visa
    – GALSIC (Groupes d’Appui aux Libertaires et Syndicalistes Indépendants à Cuba)

    Acción Democrática”

    See and or downmoad the video at: http://www.cubaverdad.net/cuba_trade_union_history_2.htm

  • July 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm
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    What Elio fails to understand, or refuses to acknowledge, is that the Cuban trade union is not independent of the state. Thusly, when Raul calls for the lay-off of a million workers, the union marches in goose-step with the Castros in carrying out the regime’s agenda. An independent union would likely counter-offer and the final negotiated settlement between the workers and state would be a lesser number of workers displaced. While the Castros self-identify as socialists, the Cuban economy is a state capitalist monopoly. This monopoly acts in the same capacity as the “capitalist” owners he refers to in this post. It is never in the interest of the worker to be laid off while it certainly is in the interest of the State to trim bloated payrolls. The Cuban Trade Union may represent the Cuban worker but they take their marching orders from the Castros.

  • July 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm
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    “It is because no antagonistic contradictions exist between them.” I agree — neither government nor trade unions entirely allow for voluntary market transactions to take place between free individuals. There is central planning instead of supply and demand. Which is why every socialist system that is or has ever come into being is both a tyranny, and a failure.

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