U.S. workers welcome Cuban union leader

Solidarity trumps blockade

Organize Sacramento holds reception, June 28.

Victor Manuel Lemagne Sanchez, secretary general of Cuba’s hotel and tourism union and elected delegate to Cuba’s National Assembly, is on a two-week tour of 11 U.S. cities. Landing first in northern California on June 27, Lemagne will conclude his visit in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area on July 11.

This is the first multicity U.S. exchange with a representative of the Cuban Workers Central Union (La Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, CTC) since 2000. Lemagne is also the first Cuban elected representative to be granted a U.S. visa.

Lemagne’s warm reception from U.S. workers and the organized labor movement is in sharp contrast to the bellicosity displayed by the Trump administration.

In the first two days, Lemagne met with leaders of the San Francisco Labor Council, San Jose/South Bay Central Labor Council and University of California/Berkeley Labor Center. He was received on the floor of the California Senate and Assembly in Sacramento, the first Cuban elected official to be invited there.

Lemagne spoke at an Organize Sacramento reception. UNITE HERE, which organizes hotel, restaurant and casino workers in the U.S., hosted receptions throughout northern California and will do so in Los Angeles and San Diego.

A public event initiated by the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity, and supported by many Cuba solidarity organizations, overflowed the hall of the University Professional and Technical Employees, Communication Workers Local 9119 at Berkeley on June 29. The meeting featured Lemagne and Clarence Thomas, retired International Longshore and Warehouse Union militant and former Local 10 secretary-treasurer.

Lemagne: ‘We will forge ahead’

Lemagne read a CTC statement responding to Trump’s speech in Miami: “We fully support the declarations of our revolutionary government in response to the statement by the U.S. President Donald Trump on June 16 which attempts to bring back the epoch of the Cold War which has been characterized as interventionist, rhetorical and manipulative.”

Lemagne explained: “The measures … have been called national security measures with respect to strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, [but they are] actually a step backwards in the small steps forward gained through the agreements with Obama, harming not only the people of our country but the people of the U.S.

“Every maneuver and aggression by the empire are destined to fail. [Cuba’s] response is to continue the economic development of our country. We will continue to forge ahead with infinite loyalty to our revolutionary process. … We will not be taking any steps backward. We will never give up. History has shown that even in the worst situations we have been able to win over all obstacles.”

Lemagne reviewed the history of the U.S. blockade and its cost to health and other essential sectors. He emphasized that Cuba is the only country that U.S. residents cannot travel to freely. A U.S. law prohibits vacationing in Cuba.

Lemagne said that unions in the hotel and tourism sector donate part of their tips to support health care and the fight against cancer. “Over the years I have been a leader in this union, the workers have contributed more than $23 million to this,” he said.

Lemagne stressed that the vast majority of workers in Cuba are union members. Union membership is voluntary, and the workers have participated in updating the Cuban labor code. Assemblies in every sector discussed proposed changes and collected opinions and proposals; 75 percent of these amendments appear in the new code. The code applies at all workplaces. In joint ventures, the property belongs to the state and to the workers and people of Cuba. If managers mistreat the workers, they are removed.

U.S. workers are fighting for benefits in their contracts that already exist in Cuban law, such as health care and vacations, explained Lemagne. “Workers take up issues at monthly workplace assemblies. It is the employer’s responsibility to implement the agreements.’’

Longshore workers’ solidarity with Cuba

“The bonds between U.S. and Cuban workers cannot be broken. Not by any president,” Thomas asserted. He reviewed the ILWU’s long solidarity with Cuban workers and their unions, predating the 1959 socialist revolution and continuing after it.

In 1947 the ILWU participated in a Havana meeting establishing an international sugar workers’ committee. An ILWU representative was elected chair. Cuban union leader Jesus Menendez was elected vice chair, but he was brutally assassinated the next year by U.S.-backed sugar bosses.

As the U.S. began its economic war against the Cuban Revolution, the ILWU maintained political independence from U.S. foreign policy. A rank-and-file union delegation went to Cuba and met with the CTC. The Sept. 9, 1960, ILWU Dispatcher featured the delegation’s favorable report, titled “We met the Cuban people.” ILWU workers’ delegations have visited Cuba frequently, meeting with their class sisters and brothers.

Standing in opposition to Washington’s intense regime-change policies toward Cuba, the International ILWU and Local 10 advocated freedom for the Cuban 5, U.S. political prisoners from 1998 to 2014.

Thomas announced that Lemagne would attend the ILWU’s annual July 5 Bloody Thursday commemoration honoring two dock workers killed by police in 1934, which unleashed the historic San Francisco general strike. Later that day, San Diego will greet Lemagne at an activity hosted by UNITE HERE Local 30.

Other events will take place July 6 in Los Angeles at the UCLA Labor Center; July 7 in Chicago at Workers United with Local 1 SEIU and the Latino Caucus; July 8 in New York at the New York State Nurses Association hall with 1199 SEIU; and July 10 in Baltimore at the Amalgamated Transit Union hall. (Facebook.com/2017CTC)

More labor solidarity with Cuba

A California Labor Federation Solidarity resolution urged its affiliated labor bodies to call on elected officials to “endorse unrestricted travel to Cuba” and “officially” support laws that eliminate the embargo on Cuba and the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay. The CLF is made up of more than 1,200 AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions, representing 2.1 million union members. (calaborfed.org)

Two large delegations of union members and officers attended the May Day celebration in Havana in 2016. The California delegation brought signs.from the Fresno-Madero-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council AFL-CIO, expressing solidarity with the Cuban workers and showing fists made from Cuban and U.S. flags. The Maryland-DC/AFL-CIO president spoke at Cuba’s May 2 Solidarity Conference.

A CTC representative was invited to and attended the April 2017 United Steelworkers convention. And a large California union delegation attended May Day in Havana this year. Their banner was displayed outside Organize Sacramento’s office when Lemagne was there.

(Photo: Tamie Dramer)

(Photo: Tamie Dramer)