TUC Congress reports

Autumn 2008

Guest speakers from the Cuban trade union movement, a packed fringe meeting, two motions, and a film on the Miami Five ensured that Cuba was high on the agenda at September’s TUC Congress in Brighton.

More than 250 delegates packed the CSC fringe meeting to capacity on the first day of Congress.

The audience heard from special guests Reinaldo Valdés Grillo, Deputy General Secretary, and Manuel Montero, European Officer of the CTC (Cuba’s equivalent to the TUC). The Cuban trade unionists spoke about the terrible injustice of the Miami 5 who were wrongly incarcerated in US jails 10 years ago for trying to oppose terrorist groups operating in Miami against Cuba.

Keith Sonnet, Deputy General Secretary of Unison spoke of Cuba’s humanitarian example citing the invaluable medical aid it has provided to other countries in need. He also praised the orderly evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Cubans from areas affected by Hurricane Gustav, and the fact that no lives were taken as a result of government efforts. He explained that if human rights were not highly valued in Cuba this would not have been possible, adding that ‘all you have to do is compare it to the appalling situation in Haiti’ to see proof of this.

Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC stressed the importance of obtaining visitation rights for the wives and children of the Miami 5: ‘Let’s take the opportunity this year to help the Miami Five. This is a gross injustice that ought to be put right and ought to be put right very quickly indeed.’

Barber said now was the time to maximise pressure on the US to grant these visitation rights, and encouraged all trade unions to ask their US counterparts to put pressure on their government. He spoke highly of all the work done by CSC, Unite, and Unison in supporting the Miami 5, and campaigning against the ‘utterly unjust and outrageous’ US blockade.

Thanking the TUC for inviting them to Congress the CTC guests emphasised how much they valued their links with both CSC and the trade unions in Britain.

They highlighted the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution and spoke of how proud they were of their country’s progress. The US, they argued, will never accept their independence and sovereignty and said that ‘when they lost Cuba, they lost their most important casino’. They contrasted the awful injustice of the situation, which is ironically underlined by the fact that whilst the Miami 5 are in prison, the real terrorists are walking free and are protected by the US government and the CIA, adding:

‘The saddest thing is that the truth is not known in the States. The Americans would not allow such injustice if they knew about it, but the media don’t mention the truth’.

Both Joint General Secretaries of Unite addressed the meeting. Derek Simpson praised Cuba’s education and healthcare systems, saying that ‘the US would die to get the systems they have’.

Tony Woodley spoke of the determination of the TUC to support the Miami 5, stating he was ‘certain’ that they will obtain their freedom. In a very personal and passionate plea Tony called for maximum support in this inhuman case and pledged the full and total support of his union in the campaign.

Tony Benn summed up the meeting with his expression of gratitude to Cuba for the inspiration that it has provided; ‘I feel a personal gratitude to Cuba for what they have done for me - if they can do it why can’t we? I do believe this battle can be won. The truth will set us free, and it will set Cuba free.’

Whilst at the TUC Reinaldo and Manuel had a busy schedule of meetings. In the course of 3 days they held meetings with representatives at all levels of Unite, UNISON, GMB, RMT, Aslef, TSSA, PCS, BECTU, NAPO,UCU, NUT, UCATT and the Bakers Union amongst others.

On Wednesday 10 September the TUC Congress passed motions of support for the Miami Five and CSC’s Cuba50 campaigning and celebratory events.

Representing the UK’s six million trade union members, the TUC committed to supporting events to mark the 10th anniversary of the arrest of the five, and to pressure the UK government to pursue an independent policy towards Cuba and improve trade and diplomatic links.

Unite tabled a motion on the Miami 5 which called acknowledged the work of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign on the issue. The motion went on to call for a retrial of the men at a venue other than Miami; full visitation rights for the families of the 5 and for the TUC to work with US unions to put pressure on the American government.

The motion which was seconded by UNISON also called an autumn campaign of action to draw attention to the case. This included national press adverts which appeared in the Guardian, Independent and the Morning Star in September.

The Fire Brigades Union tabled a motion marking the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution in 2009.

The motion noted the progress that Cuba has made in eradicating illiteracy, free education, greatly reduced infant mortality and increased life expectancy.

The motion encouraged affiliation to CSC; called for a CTC speaker to address TUC Congress in 2009 and for a high level UK Ministerial delegation to visit Cuba to strengthen links and trade between the two countries.

Both motions were passed unanimously. After the debate on the motions delegates were shown the short film on the Miami 5. The President of the TUC, Dave Prentis used his introduction to urge people to join CSC and to affiliate their branches if they had not already done so.

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