Young British trade unionists show solidarity with Cuba

Granma | Wednesday, 25 May 2016 | Click here for original article

A total of 28 young trade unionists, representing different British unions, formed part of the 11th Contingent of the May Day International Solidarity with Cuba Brigade, organised by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).

The brigadistas, from Unite, UNISON, GMB, CWU, RMT and USDAW - representing several million workers in Britain and Ireland - joined trade unionists and political activists from across the world, undertaking a programme of solidarity work and political, educational and cultural visits.

They also participated, together with other international guests, in the May Day parade in Havana and the International Solidarity with Cuba Conference on May 2.

The 28 young trade unionists made up the largest delegation staying at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp, a testament to the strength of solidarity with Cuba within the British trade union movement.

Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Palestine, Canada and South Africa also sent large delegations and many more countries from across Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe were represented on the camp.

Through their program of activities, the brigadistas learned firsthand the impact of the ongoing economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States - despite the reestablishment of diplomatic relations - which denies access to basic machinery, equipment and goods.

They also participated in discussions on topics of interest including the role of trade unions in Cuba, analysis of the Cuban political system and U.S. intervention on the island.

The opinions the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC), which organized the brigade in Britain, shared with Granma International following their visit to Cuba, are evidence of the knowledge these young trade unionists acquired during their stay:

George Waterhouse, Rail, Maritime and Transport workers' union (RMT):

—“… a once in a lifetime experience. I've campaigned in solidarity for Cuba for many years and found it very special. Standing with Cubans as they marched through Havana, worked in the fields or sat with a glass of rum in their houses.

I've been to Cuba many times on holiday but have never encountered such real experiences of Cuban society.
The Cuban people struggle with pride and dignity as the revolution overcomes inevitable contradictions and obstacles placed in its path.

We learnt from strong women who led a local committee for the defence of the revolution and workers on cooperative farms. Cubans are proud of their revolution and fighting to continue its successes into the 21st century.

Delegates can take home a sense of inspiration at what can be done and apply it to our workplaces. It was an honour to represent my union on the best delegation I've ever had the pleasure to participate in.”

Mary Hackwood, Unite London and Eastern Region (Britain's largest trade union):

—“Seeing how communities work together, care for strangers and their own with no question of their economic standing.

Yes there are things that aren't great but it's how the society knows that and put plans in place to try to improve them that makes the state so different from anywhere else… there are no homeless people, the elderly, children and disabled are all priorities in communities.

The education and health system is second to none! (Had to use it myself).

I can proudly say these two weeks have been the most emotional, political, amazing, uplifting time of my life. The best saying I heard while I was there was that Cuba is like an ant sleeping with an elephant (America). They have to be aware at every point. U.S. goal has stayed the same, just not their strategy!”

Lexy Davies-Jones, Unite Wales:

—“A once in a lifetime opportunity that I feel so grateful to have experienced. From learning about the struggles imposed on Cuba from the illegal US blockade to meeting with workers and families on how they maintain their values and community priorities in spite of the great difficulties they face.

My affirmation to socialism and trade union values is even more strengthened… The fight goes on!”

Jack England, Communication Workers Union (CWU):

—“Travelling to Cuba as part of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign delegation was life-changing. It allowed me to see there is a different, fairer way of life and I intend to campaign hard for that here now that I am home.”

Ross Holden, GMB:

— “Going to Cuba with CSC shows you the Cuba away from the tourist trail. Here I met ordinary and often rural communities, who with their hospitality and generosity treated me as a friend rather than a visitor.

These communities have their own intimate connection to Cuban socialism and were more than happy to answer questions on Cuba today and their opinions on current issues such as relations with the U.S. in light of Obama's recent visit.

The brigade taught me a great deal about the island, the resilience of the Cuban people and their socialism against global challenges, and it has also inspired me.

For me, this trip is only just the beginning. I will be going back to my GMB branch, Young Members Network and the UK trade union movement as a whole with everything I have learnt from this trip, working with them to show full solidarity with Cuba and to campaign with CSC.”

Bernadette Lafferty, UNISON Scotland:

— “Visiting Cuba with the CSC has been the most amazing experience of my life. It is inspiring to see how strong the Cuban people are and how they get by with the limitations from the blockade.

The most important thing that I have taken from this trip is that the people of Cuba still need our help and solidarity to end the blockade as people think that since Obama visited this meant it was over.

The blockade is unfair and unjust and has to stop! The people of Cuba need our help and I plan to do all that I can to do so! VIVA CUBA!”

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