TUC delegates pack Cuba fringe meeting
Campaign News | Wednesday, 10 September 2008
Total union support for the Miami Five
Cuba Solidarity Campaign meeting packed at TUC
Over 250 delegates to the TUC congress packed out the CSC fringe meeting to capacity in Brighton on Monday.
The delegates enjoyed a Havana Club Rum reception and a buffet whilst a live Cuban band played them in. They heard from some very special guests, including Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, Reynaldo Valdes Grillo, Deputy General Secretary of the CTC, and Manuel Montero, European Officer of the CTC, 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. The meeting was chaired by Carole Regan of the CSC Executive Committee, who gave special thanks to Reinaldo and Manuel for coming and sharing their views with the TUC delegates.
Keith Sonnet, Deputy General Secretary of Unison, was the first to speak, telling the delegates how important Cuba is on the TUC agenda. He gave praise to Cuba for its tremendous record on human rights, which is often unreasonably criticised in the media, and explained that this is one of the reasons why Cuba is such an important country to learn from. As an example of Cuba’s humanitarian commitments, Sonnet cited the invaluable medical aid that Cuba has provided to other countries in need. He also commended the orderly evacuation 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.
Next up was Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, who also stressed the importance of Cuba for the TUC, adding that the issue of obtaining visitation rights for the wives and children of the Miami 5 is crucial at the moment. Barber stressed how imperative the issue is to the TUC;
‘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.’
He decried the process that led to the incarceration of the Miami 5 as ‘extremely flawed’, and denounced the denial of visas to their families, saying that they have been denied ‘the most basic of human rights’.
Indeed, this comment is supported by The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and Amnesty International who have condemned both the trial and the denial of visitation rights. Barber explained that the focus at the moment is to maximise pressure on the US government to grant these visitation rights, and therefore encouraged all trade unions to pressurise their US counterparts to put pressure on the US government. He spoke highly of all the work done by CSC, Unite, and Unison in supporting the Miami 5, and added that a change to Cuba’s situation would be excellent, as the US blockade is ‘utterly unjust and outrageous’.
The Cuban guests gave thanks to the TUC for inviting them to the congress and emphasised how much they value 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, especially in the face of the great difficulty that they have endured with the US blockade. The US, they argued, will never accept their independence and sovereignty, quipping that ‘when they lost Cuba, they lost their most important casino’. They gave their opinions on the Miami 5, condemning 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. They added that
‘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’.
They expressed deep gratitude to the CSC and the unions for all their help, and especially in bringing the case to public attention;
‘That is why the role of the campaigns by the CSC and the unions is so important. We are very grateful for what you are doing and we will not let you down. We will continue building socialism in Cuba. Long live the workers of the world!’
Derek Simpson, Joint General Secretary of Unite, praised Cuba’s education and healthcare systems, saying that ‘the US would die to get the systems they have’.
Tony Woodley, also Joint General Secretary of Unite, added that they are working for a ministerial visit to Cuba so that we can learn from them and make progress in our own country. Woodley also spoke of the determination of the TUC to support the Miami 5, saying that they are ‘certain’ that they will obtain their freedom. In a very personal and passionate plea Tony called for maximum support in this inhuman case. Tony pledged the full and total support of his union in the campaign.
Tony Benn summed up the talks 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.’