Worker to Worker Canada-Cuba Solidarity

Article excerpt

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, which cost Cuba 85 per cent of its international trade, and a tightened US economic blockade, Cuba faces its greatest crisis since the revolution. Cuban unions are rising to the challenge. More than ever, they need co-operative relationships with unions in the developed capitalist world, and Canadian labour is responding.

In November 1992, a group of Canadian union activists formed Worker to Worker / Canada - Cuba Labour Solidarity. We began to work with the US - Cuba Labor Exchange which seeks to change the AFL-CIO's (American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organizations) position of support for the US blockade. Canada's unions weren't willing to talk to their Cuban counterparts. Our job was to get them to try. We began with a unionists' tour of Cuba.

We learned that Cuba's labour movement is similar to ours with independent national unions, workplace locals, municipal councils, provincial federations and a national labour central, the CTC. These unions argue with management about workers' rights in the workplace, are member-funded and have competitive internal elections.

There are also major differences, the first being that all unionists we met feel they are participants in building their society. They are involved in discussing how to keep their workplaces operating. Like many European unions, they bargain sectoral (rather than workplace) agreements, with local additions.

Instead of a check-off, each member pays dues individually. As one local leader said: "if they don't like you, they don't pay." Members can recally any elected union official, and unions have direct representation in parliament. Overall, the scope of issues they deal with seems broader than ours.

Cuba is in what they call "the Special Period." There are shortages of everything. Consequently, 80 per cent of workplaces have periodic shut downs. Because Cuban workers are guaranteed the right to work, most places have more workers than work. Workers cannot be transferred against their will and it isn't clear there are jobs to transfer them to.

In this context, multinational capital investment is beginning and Cuba's unions are in the unfamiliar position of dealing with a foreign, profit-oriented type of management. Further complicating matters is a move away from central planning to self-financed, independent enterprises in some sectors -- a factor which has weakened sectoral bargaining and enforcement of labour rights. …