Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the April 25, 1996
issue of Workers World newspaper


By Gloria La Riva

The Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC) will hold its 17th National Congress starting April 27. The proceedings will culminate in a massive march in Havana on May 1--May Day, International Workers' Day.

The labor congress is being held after five years of the most intense economic crisis in Cuba's revolutionary history, called the Special Period.

The Cuban delegates will discuss and debate many issues. They will focus on the economic changes introduced in recent years, and the national struggle to overcome the economic crisis brought on by the demise of the Soviet Union, formerly Cuba's main trading partner.

Unionists from many other countries will attend the congress as invited guests. Almost 60 labor activists from the United States will be part of a delegation of the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange.


Cuba's strategy for economic survival has included major reforms to survive the loss of its former socialist allies. The changes include opening to foreign investments, restructuring the economy to maintain social gains and reduce a huge budget deficit, promoting tourism to boost revenues, and allowing self-employment and limited private restaurants by Cubans.

Significant changes are affecting the socialist state's longstanding guarantee of full employment.

When the international socialist camp was strong, Cuba was able to maintain full employment and a completely socialist-run economy. Now, because of a drastic drop in fuel and resources, Cuba cannot sustain the same level of production. Cuba has been forced to look to capitalist countries for increased trade and investments.

With foreign corporations now investing in tourism, nickel, oil mining and factory production, some Cubans are employed in joint ventures. In addition, self-employment, introduced in 1994, means that 200,000 Cubans operate outside the state economy.

The work force is undergoing a major reorganization. Workers are being shifted from less productive and "paralyzed" industries to areas where more workers are needed-agriculture and tourism, for example. It is estimated that several hundred thousand workers could be moved from their current jobs to other areas of employment.

In preparation for the congress, special "Theses for the 17th Congress" were distributed to all Cuba's work places late last year. The theses were discussed in the municipalities, and then at grassroots union assemblies from Jan. 15 to March 15.

In 11 chapters, the theses deal with many subjects pertaining to workers in the Special Period. The main objective-defending the socialist Cuban Revolution by strengthening the workers' role-runs throughout the document.

The opening states, "The essence of this 17th Congress ... will be to ... determine what we are to do, together with our people, their organizations and institutions, to guarantee under any circumstances the revolutionary power of the workers, by the workers and for the workers."


Although this is the first congress since the Special Period began, Cuban workers have already been fully involved in the process of solving the economic crisis.

In 1994, for example, the Cuban National Assembly halted all discussions on possible economic changes until the workers and mass organizations could offer their solutions to many questions.

At that time, Cuba was still subsidizing almost 75 percent of all the nation's enterprises, as well as providing social services and supplying food to the people. Because many factories had shut down and production had dropped almost 40 percent-and without the income to sustain all these subsidies in the national budget-Cuba's deficit had become increasingly untenable.

A great excess of money-almost 13 billion pesos-was in circulation, contributing to dangerous inflation. The Cuban peso was quickly losing its value, reaching 135 to one dollar.

Over 80,000 work-place and student meetings-called "Workers' Parliaments"-were convened in February and March 1994. Over 3 million workers took part.

They themselves proposed, discussed and ratified ideas to end the country's financial crisis.

Instead of raising prices on the basic rationed foods, the workers' parliaments supported price increases on items like rum and cigarettes, and, for the first time, a small charge for sports and cultural events to help raise needed revenue.

In those work-place debates, Cuban unionists assessed and accepted difficult proposals: eliminating government subsidies to many state-run factories and consequently reducing the number of workers in many of those work places.

Chapter V of the theses for the upcoming congress states:

"The fundamental principle of the re-ordering of labor is that no worker will be left jobless as a result of the process, which is to be governed by the determination to find employment formulas for those workers whose jobs are eliminated. ...

"The union movement must be alert and not allow the violation of the rights of `redundant' workers. To do this, the unions must preserve their ties with the redundant workers, look after them in all ways and work tirelessly for their relocation."


There is a world of difference between the objectives of the Cuban economic restructuring and the aims of capitalist restructuring taking place in the United States and throughout the world.

In Cuba, the need to reduce national government spending has not resulted in gutting vital social services like education and health care. Not one school nor hospital has closed-unlike the United States, where the Education Department budget was just cut by 25 percent.

In the United States, workers are under attack by corporate mergers and mass layoffs. Only a little over 15 percent of the work force is unionized. Workers' rights are eroding under the blows of the government and corporate union busting, to enable the companies to exploit the workers more easily. And whichever party is in power- Democrat or Republican-it represents the bourgeois class.

The Cuban union movement, in contrast, encompasses over 97 percent of Cuba's workers. It works closely with the governing Cuban Communist Party, which is itself based on and represents the working class.

Pedro Ross Leal, head of the CTC, is a member of the Communist Party's political bureau, its highest body.

There is a fundamental difference between unions in a capitalist country and a socialist society. Under socialism, the working class is in power. Unions advocate for the workers in a cooperative relationship with the socialist government.

In those areas of Cuba where workers are employed in joint ventures, the Cuban Ministry of Labor operates a special office-in some ways like a union hiring hall-to provide labor for those enterprises to prevent the foreign corporation from hiring whoever it wants. If a problem with a worker develops, the company must discuss it with the Cuban manager and the union. If the worker needs retraining or replacement, he or she returns to the Ministry of Labor office for retraining and placement.

Many other issues will be brought to the Congress:

adjusting wages; the sugar harvest; how to better defend workers given the new changes while mobilizing the labor movement to higher levels of efficiency and productivity; overcoming negative influences of the reforms; and union participation in Cuba's defense.

Members of Workers World Party will attend all open sessions of the CTC Congress and report on it in upcoming issues of Workers World.

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