The truth about unions in Cuba

This mural on the wall of ExpoHolguin in Holguin, Cuba, was painted by Spanish artist Paco Bernal Gil. It reads, ‘300 million children sleep in the street today; not one of them is Cuban.’

This mural on the wall of ExpoHolguin in Holguin, Cuba, was painted by Spanish artist Paco Bernal Gil. It reads, ‘300 million children sleep in the street today; not one of them is Cuban.’

In his Dec. 17 announcement of U.S. “policy changes” toward Cuba, President Barack Obama stated, “We believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions.”

What in the world could he mean? More than 90 percent of Cuban workers are union members already. Compare that to the U.S., where in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11.3 percent of the workers are union members. Isn’t it U.S. workers who need more freedom to join unions?

Then on Dec. 22, the U.S. State Department offered $11 million in U.S. tax dollars to fund programs proposing to foster “civil, political and labor rights in Cuba.” What? The U.S. budget has $11 million to spend for “labor rights” in Cuba when more than 50 percent of the families of U.S. public school children are so poor they are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches? (New York Times, Jan. 16) What is this really about?

The 1959 Cuban revolution overturned the capitalist economic system there. But the unification of the Cuban unions into the Workers Central (Central Trabajadores de Cuba, CTC) goes back to 1939, 20 years before the revolution triumphed. The unions are voluntary, self-financed, independent organizations. Union membership dues equalling 1 percent of wages are directly collected in the workplace, not through payroll deductions.

What workers’ democracy looks like

Cuba is a workers’ state building socialism. The wealth created through production of goods and services is used to improve the lives of all the people, not to profit just a few. Their unions are directly involved in solving the many challenges that confront Cuban society — which include the weight of the unilateral U.S. economic, financial and commercial blockade, layered on top of hundreds of years of colonial underdevelopment.

Proposals to initiate or change laws are discussed in every workplace, in neighborhood assemblies and in mass organizations like the Federation of Cuban Women. The amendments and comments made are recorded, considered and alter the final outcome. The Economic Guidelines adopted at the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party were shaped through extensive consultation with the Cuban people — not just Party members. Three million people discussed them in 163,000 meetings. Cuba’s total population is around 11 million.

Economic decisions in the U.S. are made by the bosses, bankers and an insatiable, profit-maximizing capitalist class. These decisions are increasing social inequality and economic insecurity for the working class while they enrich the top tenth of the wealthiest 1 percent.

Unions may fight for a better deal under the for-profit economic system, but in this era of capitalism at a dead end, it is often a losing battle. Leaps in productivity, rather than lightening the burden of the working class, instead result in unemployment, bankrupt cities and growing income inequality. It is “experts” trained by the banks and corporations, not workers or unions, who write the laws on economic matters for the legislators to rubber stamp.

Cuban workers are the leading force in building socialism and guaranteeing that the basic needs for a dignified life are available to all. This includes free, quality health care and education, plus access to culture and sports. At the convention center in the city of Holguín, a mural points out that “300 million children sleep in the street today; not one of them is Cuban.” This is the result of their socialist economy.

On Jan. 15, the Cuban News Agency (ACN) reported something far outside the experience of workers in the U.S. The CTC, Cuba’s equivalent to the AFL-CIO, called on workers to hold assemblies in all work centers so that managers could report to the workers about the adopted economic plan and budget for the year. They said, “It is not possible to meet a production plan without the active participation of labor collectives, which have the capacity to use their potential in terms of the efficiency we as unions know they have.”

At the close of the National People’s Power Assembly’s fourth session, Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz elaborated: “The fact that in our social system, trade unions defend workers’ rights is a secret to no one. To effectively do so, trade unions should be the first to look after the interests of any given workers’ group, but also the interests of the entire working class, which are essentially the same interests defended by the entire nation.

“We cannot leave any room for selfishness and greed to thrive and consolidate among our workers. We all want and need better salaries, but first we have to create wealth and then distribute it according to the contribution each one can make.”

But what happens to workers in the U.S. when productivity increases? The Labor Department reported on Jan. 9 that wages had declined in December, even though official employment had improved a little. Wall Street economist Diane Swonk explained it this way:

“This is still a buyer’s market in terms of labor. For all the good news on unemployment and the number of jobs we’ve created, if these wage numbers are to be believed, employers still have their pick.” (New York Times, Jan. 10)

That explains why the U.S. ruling class got Congress to put $11 million into setting up a phony program to get their claws into Cuba under the cover of promoting the “freedom to organize unions.” What the bosses here really want is to have their pick of wage slaves who must sell their labor power on the “free” market, instead of workers planning and ruling their socialist destiny.