author photo

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.

Will Cuban Workers Ever Get Back Their Right to Strike?

June 24, 2013 | Print Print |

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right, which is elementary in any country which considers itself democratic, is nowhere mentioned in the current (and out-of-date) Constitution of the Republic of Cuba.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


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Cubans don’t do a lot of things that workers, voters, consumers and taxpayers do in other countries. In Cuba, I always ask my friends why Cubans don’t take their frustrations to the street again as they did in August 1994. Short of calling Cubans cowards, I believe that most Cubans are simply too afraid of the Castros. My 5’2″ mother often faced fire hoses and police dogs in her civil rights marches in the early 1960’s in the US south. Why Cubans fear their poorly trained and poorly armed guajiro police force escapes me. Remember the young man who faced off against the Chinese tanks in Tiannamen Square in Bejing? Why don’t we see that kind of bravery in Cuba?

  • daggi

    Most strikes – and probably the most successful strikes – in the world take place in China, where there is also no right to strike, and the officially sanctioned ‘trade unions’ are nothing but (and are infact state-controlled labour fronts).

    But China has had its “capitalist communism (stalinism)” for quite a bit longer than Cuba has. I’m sure Cuba’s workers will catch up soon. They’ll have to.

    • Griffin

      You are incorrect. China does not even appear in the top 25 of a list of countries ranked by the number of strikes and/or lockouts. It’s remarkable that a small country like Denmark has far more strikes than huge China. On a per-capita basis, China has a minuscule rate of strikes.

      http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/lab_str-labor-strikes

      http://www.economist.com/node/16976532

      • Andrew

        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).

        • Griffin

          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.

      • Andrew

        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.

  • Rafael

    Many Cuban workers don’t even make 20 USD a month which isn’t enough to eat on let alone think about a family. Consumer prices continue to rise and wages remain frozen. Some blame the US embargo, others the failure of the Soviet style centralized economy and some both. But the fact is that if some workers at some state company wanted to go on strike they should have that right and not face repression for doing so. That should be a given in revolutinary Cuba or anywhere else.

  • CUBAQUS

    Public strikes in Cuba are rare. Workers with a valid reason to complain (low wages, non-payment of wages, …) often don’t strike out of fear of reprisals. There are few jobs to go around and troublemakers are often fired by the state capitalist system.
    Fear is still a determining factor in Cuba though it is on the decline in the people.
    The fear of the regime on the other hand is on the rise. Protests are harshly dealt with. The regime wants no new “maleconazo” style explosion of anger and frustration. It is therefore extremely important for them to control all organizations like the CTC and the FEU as a free-spirited leadership could result in open protests. The so-called representative organizations are there to repress the people, not to give them a say or even a voice. More often their role is to inform on those that complain rather than address the complaints.

  • Dave Smith

    The headline and the article are not consistent. The headline suggests that Cuban workers have had “the right to strike” taken away from them but the article concedes that there is not prohibition on striking. The situation in Cuban law is much the same as under UK Common Law (which is the basis of the legal system throughout the Commonwealth – i.e the former British Empire) where there is no “right to strike”. In Trinidad and Tobago (which is where I am from) the law actually bans strikes except in certain limited situations. The legal position of worker’s ability to strike in Cuba is far better.

    • Griffin

      Che declared that under the revolution there was no way Cuban workers would ever be allowed to strike. There has never been a strike in Cuba since Castro seized power.

      The Cuban workers do not control the CTC and the union does not represent the workers’ interests. The CTC is directed by the Communist Party in order to control the Cuban workers. The CTC is a key instrument by which the Cuban State exploits the Cuban worker.

    • Isbel Díaz

      I think you just skipped the next paragraph when I said
      that such ability to strike is a lie here. Please, read carefully.

      We cannot even make a demonstration of our own against the
      USA bombing Iraq, because Cuban security forces would just come and take us away (this is an example that really happened). Can you imagine what would happen if the demonstration were against the government?

      So, believe me, you don’t know the ‘legal position of workers’ in Cuba.

      If you are in trouble in Trinidad and Tobago you can go on strike to change the law. We don’t have that chance here.