Independent Unions Versus Updating the Model / Dimas Castellano

The pronouncement of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), regarding the measures taken by the Government to deflate workforces and to bring about greater self-employment, published in the Journal of Communist Party on September 13, 2010, is a good reason to discuss the dependence of the Cuban labor union movement with respect to the State.

According to some paragraphs in the document: “The leadership of the Government has been working on a set of measures to ensure and implement the changes necessary and urgent to introduce into the economy and society …; In correspondence with the process of updating the economic model and the economic projections for the period 2011-2015, the Guidelines provide for next year’s reduction of more than 500,000 workers in the state sector …; Our state can not and should continue to maintain businesses, productive entities, of services and budgets with inflated payrolls, and losses that slow down the economy …; the union is responsible to act in its sector with a high level of demand and to maintain systematic control of the progress of this process from start to finish, taking the appropriate actions and to keeping their superior organs and the CTC [Cuban Workers Union] informed… “

Both these paragraphs, like the rest of the document, show the total lack of independence of the CTC. There is no mention in them of the interests of workers, which the organization supposedly represents, such as the failure of wages with respect to the increasing cost of living, violations of the conventions of the International Labour Organisation that have been ratified by the Cuban government and the helplessness of the workers in the face of the administrative arrangements, such as the massive job layoff that is taking place.

To understand the impact updating the model will have on workers it is necessary to understand the process by which the labor movement was denatured.

The Cuban unions gave the first signs of life during the substitution of wage labor for slave labor. The creation of the Association of Cigar Makers of Havana, the first strikes and the establishment of regular workers, since 1865, prove it. The growth and strength of this movement led to the establishment of the great twentieth-century labor unions, which, resting on the freedoms and rights recognized by the Constitution of 1901, achieved considerable benefits, particularly in terms of wage increases and reduction of the duration of the workday, while playing an important role in major political events such as the overthrow of Gerardo Machado regime in the general strike on August 5, 1933: an unprecedented event in the history of Cuba.

The strength achieved by the labor movement was reflected in events such as: labor legislation passed in this period included the legal existence of unions, the right to strike, the eight-hour day, minimum wage for sugar workers, stable employment, holidays and sick leave and maternity pay, among other measures that were expanded and supplemented in April 1938 with Decree 798, the most important Republican labor legislation and one of the most advanced in the world; many workers demands became laws for the benefit of workers. The economic autonomy of the unions was reflected in the acquisition of properties, such as the construction of the modern building of Carlos III by the Electrical Workers and their leasing it to the Electric Company, the construction of the Havana-Hilton hotel by the Gastronomic Union and their leasing it to the Hilton chain, and development of the Grafico, by the Graphic Arts Union.

However, the destructive germ of that movement had been brewing since 1925. In that year, almost simultaneously, they founded the National Workers Center of Cuba (CNOC) and the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). Then, in 1934, with the founding of the Cuba Revolutionary Party (commonly called “the Authentics”), a struggle began with the Communist Party for control of trade unionism, which worsened in 1939 with the dissolution of the CNOC to make way for the founding of the CTC and, in 1944, with the Authentics victory in elections that year, so that during the celebration of the 5th Congress in 1947 — there were actually two conferences: one controlled by the Authentics and the other by the Communists — a ministerial resolution declared the Authentics Congress legitimate, at the expense of the Communists.

The subordination sharply manifested itself before the coup d’etat of March 10, 1952. The then Secretary General of the CTC, Eusebio Mujal, who had called a general strike against the coup, accepted an offer from the Batista government in exchange for preserving the rights acquired by the CTC, which dealt a severe blow to Cuban labor. In 1953, with the resurgence of labor strikes, the Authentics union leadership was trapped: if they supported they strikes they would be in conflict with the government, if they didn’t support them they would lose the workers movement, and Mujal opted for the latter: an alliance with the dictatorship.

The government that took power in 1959 needed to shore up union support for its project, and a general strike from January 1-5 served to consolidate it, and was used to create an illusory image of the role that workers had played during the insurrection. However, on January 22, 1959 came the first blow to trade unionism.

The CTC was dissolved and replaced by the CTC with the surname of Revolutionary (CTC-R). The resistance to such intention was swift. The Humanist Labor Front was created, where 25 of the 33 federations of industries joined together under the slogan Neither Washington nor Moscow! This opened a period of conflict that was resolved at the Tenth Congress in November 1959, where David Salvador, appointed Secretary General of the CTC intervened, when asked by an observer of the Social Christian Movement, about what was then the plan for the workers, David responded firmly and laconically: “Whatever the Comandante [Fidel] says.”

Faces with the division, the then prime minister of the government, Fidel Castro, proposed a vote of confidence for the candidacy of David Salvador, leaving out the most prominent anti-Communists. However, after the Congress, the Labour Minister, Augusto Martinez Sanchez, did what the government could not do during the sessions of Congress: He began a process of dismissing the officers of the unions, and interventions in the and federations, which was not completed until they had a majority in the leadership.

Already by the XI Congress of the CTC-R in 1961, there were no traces of the former workers’ movement. For the first time a candidate was put forward for each position and every delegate, representing the Government, renouncing almost all the historic gains of Cuban unionism: the nine days of sick leave, the extra Christmas bonus, working a 44 hour week which was constitutionally increased 9.09%, among others.

The coup de grace came in 1966 during the XII Congress (which I attended as a delegate for Santiago de Cuba) in which Lázaro Peña, then Secretary General, was dismissed. Thus unionism came under state control and the CTC became an appendage of the Communist Party to control workers. The results of the subordination results were reflected in the 1976 Constitution, in which only six articles of Chapter VI are dedicated to the rights of workers, and ignore almost everything achieved by the union movement since the creation of CNOC 1925.

The process described was a consequence of considering that people are reducible to a form of organization where people act as mere implementors, which corroborates the undisputed proposition that autonomy is impossible without the existence of a genuine trade unionism.

In the current situation, i.e. in the absence of a genuine trade unionism, the Cuban Government, after exhausting all possibilities to survive without change, is undertaking some reforms under the name of updating the model, which will have a strong negative impact on workers with regards to the degree of helplessness in which they will find themselves before the State, which allows the State to decide for itself and is limited to seeking support for the workers, as evidenced by the current Statement of the CTC-R.

If the current government plan does not address the rights and freedoms that unions require to enable workers to move from the present mass condition to being true subjects of economic management, that is, that they can earn wages corresponding to the cost of living and that being an entrepreneur is no longer a privilege limited to those not born in Cuba, the State will face a new and resounding failure. There is no alternative: Either the independence of unions will be restored or there will be no update of the model.

November 12 2010