By Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — Officially, no strikes have been staged in Cuba since the Central Trade Union established a commitment with the government in the 1960s. As of that date, the word “strike” became something of a taboo on the island, an exotic concept applicable to other countries, and invoking it locally entailed serious consequences.
There are many definitions, extrapolations, protocols and exaggerations surrounding the notion of strikes. My neighborhood dictionary says a strike happens when workers consider they are not being paid enough for their work or are being treated lousily. They have enough and rebel. The work they were doing is interrupted and the losses to the business and inconveniences caused the customers pressure the pertinent higher-ups. The workers may then get the management’s attention, or it could happen that the management is stronger and overpowers the strikers, forcing them to go back to work or replacing them with scabs.
It’s been my opinion that, despite what’s been officially established, there have been strike movements in our country over the last few decades. They haven’t been exactly like those we see in other countries, but they have operated in a very similar manner. The construction, police, education, health and other sectors witnessed an exodus of workers that forced the State, as employer, in some cases and always begrudgingly, to make a number of concessions.
A recent example of these conflicts was even reported on, by no other newspaper than one of the system’s flagship journals, Juventud Rebelde. I think the editors of the newspaper didn’t realize the ultimate significance of what they were revealing when they published the letter sent out by the postal workers of the town of Banes, located in the east-laying province of Holguin. The signatories of the missive tell of their grievances, stemming from what they perceive to be the unfair wages they receive.
Without going into many details, it is quite simply yet another case in which the interests of those who lead enter into conflict with the interests of those who are led. The latter began to accumulate grievances by successive incidents they considered to be arbitrary decisions against them. Representatives of these individuals thought it advisable to report the situation to the press through an open letter. In the text, certain principles of the Labor Code they feel were violated are invoked, as the authors point out that, as a result of this, “a massive exodus of postal workers has taken place in the municipality, putting the postal and press distribution systems in a crisis.”
It is interesting to see that, at grassroots level, the discontented lot, the workers, have teamed up with their immediate supervisor and their base trade union representative. It comes as no surprise, on the other hand, that the higher levels of the central trade union proved inoperative, if not downright supportive of the employer, that is to say, the State.
Rummaging a bit more, one finds additional information on the situation, in the eminently pro-government Granma newspaper. A letter to the editor signed by Luis Perez (from the municipality of Banes) describes the inconveniences caused by the exodus of postal workers. Despite the fact the situation affects him directly, Perez expresses support for the demands of the strikers, which he considers just.
Leaving one’s post, publicly condemning the management and securing solidarity from others are all clearly elements that make up a strike, and all can be caught sight of in the situation that has been developing in Banes over the past few months.
This incident, insignificant if regarded as an isolated conflict, does point to something significant. It confirms, in my opinion, the thesis that Cuba’s working class conserves a combative spirit and the decision to oppose the exploitation they are subjected to, in dependence of the degree of pressure applied to them and the degree of organization and awareness it has achieved in each particular context.
The validity of the strike, as a mechanism, is ratified, even though it is implemented unofficially and in extreme situations, while the pathetic role played by the alleged representatives of the working class in the mid and higher levels is revealed. Lastly, it again reveals the courage of Jose Alejandro Rodriguez, the honest journalist who published the postal workers’ letter in his regular column.