Who Says There Are No Strikes in Cuba?

By Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

Workers. Photo: Juan Suarez

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.

Bars, Che and workers. Photo: Juan Suarez

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.

13 thoughts on “Who Says There Are No Strikes in Cuba?

  • I don’t think that’s what he is saying…

  • It’s their and their shareholders money to lose. It’s an indication of how succesful Microsoft is, that those 6 billion dollars are only a drop in the bucket. And in fact you are most likely using a Microsoft product right now to comment on this site. That type of successful business would have been impossible in Cuba

  • What’s the alternative? Communism? And that system has worked out so well? There are no perfect solutions but so far capitalism is as good as it gets.

  • Basically what you are saying is “Communism good, Fathers bad”. Is that about right?

  • Repetition of my previous statement about my beliefs would be wasted upon you.

  • Yes, indeed. It was an attempt at humor. Cuba remains the most repressive country in this hemisphere.

  • Some fools think capitalism is efficient. Today Microsoft admitted it has LOST 6 1/2 billion dollars !(billion not million) in acquiring NOKIA. The U.S.A. needs a planned economy, but the planning should start from below…in the USA and Cuba.

  • How do you think they get to own the businesses John? How do you think I got my business?

    …you may not like it but few, if any, share your odd little point of view. Certainly not Cubans!

  • Oddly would be the correct word were people to actually prefer free enterprise capitalism to a more democratic form of an economy because the Empire really hasn’t allowed it in some 100 years .
    No one has ever been given a say in how capitalism works except the people who own the businesses. That can never be a democratic institution and democracy cannot exist side by side with totalitarian capitalism whose money overwhelms all morality and democracy. .
    You can’t have a democratic society in one in which most people spend 40 hours a week in the most totalitarian of systems : capitalism in which the worker agrees to spend 40 hours of his time under a totalitarian system in which he will always have little to no say.
    But , be real, you really do prefer capitalism to a democratic economic system, don’t you ?
    You do prefer the oligarchic: rule by the rich, that is the USG and not a more democratic party-less bottom-up electoral system ( similar to Poder Popular’s structure) , you likely belong to a religion which requires obedience or Hell and perhaps even adhere to a patriarchal nuclear family structure.
    What is it two out of four ? three out of four ?
    Just how totalitarian are your belief sets ?

  • Cuba is under the Castro family regime and the Communist Party of Cuba. Free enterprise capitalism accounts for the GDPs of the free Western World countries. Oddly, people prefer the latter to the former!

  • You have to be joking in suggesting that Cuba has an independent labor movement.

  • Cuba has an independent labor movement, just like the independent press and bar. But that’s OK, because the gullible US tourists want to get down there to see the buildings fall down.

  • Thanks for a very good article that highlights the central problem which is a lack of a bottom-up. worker controlled, DEMOCRATICALLY-run economic system.
    When the system is run from the top down and is enforced by an also top-down , government, those in control do not need to listen to those at the bottom.
    It’s the big problem in Cuba under state capitalism, .
    It’s the big problem in the USA and the world under free-enterprise capitalism .

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