Cuba's unions are autonomous and free, says leader

Campaign News | Tuesday, 16 November 2004

Deputy General Secretary of the Cuban union confederation talks to the Morning Star

From the MORNINGSTAR newspaper Tuesday November 16 2004

Cuban trade unionist Francisco Duran Harvey talks about work, democracy and the future after Fidel Castro.

FRANCISCO Duran Harvey, deputy general secretary of the Cuban TUC (CTC), was in London earlier this month for the Unions for Cuba conference organised by the TUC and Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

Attended by 27 Cuban delegates, including 16 women, representing 11 unions, the conference gathered 243 British delegates from 19 unions and additional delegates from solidarity groups.

The Morning Star spoke to Duran about the changing politics of Latin America and the trade union movement in Cuba.

There is an air of tranquillity about Duran. He’s focused yet relaxed and talks with authority and gusto, if quietly, about the passions of his life - the union movement and the revolution. What did he make of the recent astonishing electoral advance of left forces in Latin America and the possible US response?

For US capitalism and imperialism, he replies, “although Bush’s re-election can be considered an internal victory, at the same time, it has suffered reverses in Latin America.

“There are many factors conditioning change in Latin America - the levels of poverty, high degrees of ungovernability, all consequences of neoliberal policies. Another factor is the failure of the US policy of curtailing the aspirations of the continent.

“ Chavez ’s prestige and authority make him now not just a continental political figure but an international one, who has successfully demonstrated how much can be achieved when a country’s resources are used in a decent and transparent manner for the good of the nation.

“I have no doubt that these changes in Latin America are all the more significant as they represent the direction in which the world will go, starting from the premise that a better world is possible,” Duran says.

“These people are the majority which has been forgotten for decades by the traditional political parties. Now, the refocusing of political priorities in their favour is inevitable.

“And the Cubans will continue, as we always have, to offer support to those who need our teachers, doctors and nurses, in solidarity and without the slightest material interest in mind,” he says.

Duran praises the London conference as a remarkable experience, saying: “We felt loved and understood.” He has kind words, too, for the conference’s resolutions, which can be read on the web (see below), calling them “clear and explicit about the support and solidarity of the British trade unions with Cuba, their understanding of our realities, achievements and aspirations.” Asked how Cubans handle hostility or disbelief from trade unionists abroad, he says that they always have to “take into account disinformation from the world media.

“Unlike the Morning Star, the majority of the world’s newspapers are at the service of the powerful. “This media will distort any information we release, because these journalists - in the so-called free press - are not at all free, but subject to the dictates of their editorial boards. “Our work is not perfect. It has its faults,” he says. “No human endeavour is perfect, but what worries the US and its allies is the example of Cuba, a poor country of limited resources, subjected to a 45-year blockade, which has been capable of carrying out an extraordinary programme of social works.

“And so all manner of things are told about us by adjusting the reality to pre - conceived ideological stances - a task that is not difficult if you have the necessary media at your disposal.

“ We answer not with ideas or dreams, but concrete, irrefutable facts of an existing reality,” Duran says. “Many of the delegates visited Cuba and are not the type who would take the word of leaders like ourselves for granted.

“They are too sharp for that. They looked around and saw the palpable reality.

“This was expressed in the conference’s resolutions, which give ample testimony to the awareness, capability and common sense of the working class, which allows it to see through any lies put in front of it.”

So what do Cuban trade unionists learn from visits abroad? “Because our realities are so different,” Duran says, “we mostly learn by informing ourselves about how Europe is changing, how the workers have been losing benefits that took decades to achieve. “We have come across a new phenomenon of older workers whose contracts are reasonably good and safe and younger ones who enjoy none of these conditions or benefits,” he explains.

“I personally have learned a lot about the cruelty of capitalism which, today, appears to be even more savage than the original version.”

But, as rights diminish under capitalism, Cuban workers seem to be consolidating and expanding theirs.

“The first basic right,” Duran explains, “is to have a life which is free and independent.

“Many countries consider themselves free but are dominated politically and economically by more powerful states.

“Second is the right to build a future in which one has a great say and a leading role to play. Many countries talk about participation, but, too often, this is limited to the day when you cast your vote, to be then forgotten until the next election.

“We breathe an air of optimism, of a secure future. Our children are assured of a high-level education, our families of first-class health care.

“And, here, women retire at 55 and men at 60 - much earlier than anywhere else,” he points out. “Our democracy is very refined, as a result of a high level of participation.

“We have the right to organise in trade unions, to which the majority of workers belong. We were in existence 20 years before the triumph of the revolution. “We have a rich history of struggle under capitalism, which saw many of our leaders murdered.

“Our unions are entirely autonomous,” Duran says, adding that “we owe our standing to the open and consultative way we work with our affiliates.

“Unions defend the revolution because it helped transform savage capitalism into socialism working in the interests of the people, guaranteeing independence, on which our future is based, as is our employment. Duran reminds us that, when the revolution was won, Cuba had an unemployment rate of more than 40 per cent, illiteracy was 35 per cent and, while 10,000 teachers had no jobs, over half a million children had no schools to go to.

But do disputes ever lead to strikes? He explains that, although strikes are not illegal in Cuba, there hasn’t been one since the revolution, “not even the smallest one.

“Workers form an integral part of our social project. But, when disputes arise, these are brought to union attention and we have the obligation to represent the workers.

“Union general secretaries participate in enterprises’ a d m i n i s t r a t i v e councils at all levels,” Duran continues.

“Any worker can confidently put forward their case and, in the event of an unsatisfactory response from the local union, come directly to us in the CTC.

“The CTC meets the government twice a year to discuss all the existing problems and our general secretary takes part in all meetings of the council of ministers.

“As a result of this accessibility and openness,” he says, “we, as a union, need not take extreme positions.

“Every element of employment law or pay policy is always thoroughly discussed with the unions. This certainty of always being listened to is a tremen - dous source of security.” What about wages? “Salaries are related to the worker’s output,” answers Duran.

“The salaries of teachers and health workers have recently been increased to match the growth of these sectors. “We are also looking at other areas, particularly industries which are undergoing a streamlining process which will lead to improved output and salaries.” When asked to comment about a remark made by Aleida Guevara to this paper that the Cuban people still have a way to go before they fully exercise their power, he says that, “for a revolu - tionary, each goal is but a new starting point.

“New forms evolve in stages - it takes time to perfect the levels of participation in the exercise of power.”

He says: “What is important is that it has to be done taking into account our realities, which are difficult and bear no comparison to anywhere else.

“In the trade union movement, all we do is perfect our performance. Even if things are done well today, we expect them to be done better tomorrow.” It all sounds good, but how will Cuba fare when Fidel Castro is gone? “This question we hear from friend and foe,” confesses Duran.

“All news references to Fidel make a disrespectful note of his age or years in power. This is tendentious. Cuba has been preparing itself for such a day, although we have total trust in him.

“He has earned this trust with the endeavours of his entire life. We laugh at all these stories,” he says, “because we know the reality and they cannot fool us.

“We have been very careful in avoiding creating generational gaps. This is an important feature of our revolution - we have ministers who are barely 30. The continuity is secured.

“At first, they said the revolution would sink, acted despicably to defeat us and thought that, by assassinating Fidel, they could achieve this.

“Today, they are raising their banners again, just as they did when the USSR fell apart. But, over the years, the revo - lution grew stronger.

“Many, throughout the ’90s, crowed over our imminent downfall as the last bastion of socialism. After the wall fell in Berlin, many in Miami started packing their bags. But we are still here,” Duran says.

“We have lost over 20,000 Cubans making and defending this revolution. It is obvious that the revolution would not have existed, especially facing such a powerful enemy for such a long time, without a wide social consensus.”

Interview by Michal Boncza

UK unions pledge solidarity with Cuba

London 6 November - More than 200 delegates from all of Britain's major trade unions pledged to build a campaign within the British labour movement of solidarity with Cuba and against the policies of George W. Bush.

Meeting at the headquarters of the British TUC in London, the 2nd Unions for Cuba Conference organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign attracted leaders of the major trade unions who all pledged their support for the right of Cuba to build a socialist society free from US interference.

Among the speakers were Kevin Curran, leader of the general workers' union the GMB, Bob Crow of the rail and seamen's union the RMT and Jeannie Drake president of the TUC itself.

Jeannie Drake promised that the TUC would oppose anti-Cuban manoeuvres at internayional fora such as the ILO and ICFTU both of which are planned to be organised by the US this year.

And delgates were ureged to go back to their branches and affiliate as many members to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign as they could.

Some 27 representatives of Cuban trade unions were invited to the conference.

Led by the Cuban CTC deputy General secretary Francisco Duran Harvey it was the largest delegation of Cuban trade unionsists ever to visit the UK.

In 2003 the British TUC voted unanimously to oppose the US policy towards Cuba and this year it invited the Genereal secretary of the CTC, Pedro Ross Leal, to its annual Congress.

Below is the statement adopted unanimously by delegates at the conference:


London, 6th November 2004

This “Unions for Cuba Conference” organised by the Trade Union Congress and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign held on 6th November 2004 at the Trade Union Congress Centre, London affirms its commitment to building enduring solidarity with Cuba, in particular with the Cuban trade union movement (CTC), amongst trades unionists in Britain based on the principals of respect for Cuba’s sovereignty and independence; an end to the US blockade of Cuba and an end to interference in Cuba’s affairs by foreign governments.

This Conference, mindful of the decision of Trade Union Congress 2003, reaffirms its condemnation of the “intensifying and hostile attempts by the United States to undermine the self-determination and economic position of Cuba”

We note the recent re-election of George Bush to the Presidency of The United States. During his election campaign he once again expressed his desire to force a change in the Government of Cuba. On 31st October 2004 he said "I strongly believe the people of Cuba should be free from the tyrant,"

We note and condemn the imposition by United States of further measures against Cuba, announced in May 2004. These include: steps to discourage tourism, preventing remittances being sent from the United States, preventing Cuba from making deposits in foreign banks of dollars obtained from sales from activities related to tourism and other trade services which will impact on Cuba’s ability to purchase medicines or food from abroad, and providing $59 million US dollars to fund activities in Cuba and internationally to hasten ‘regime change’. These measures represent a clear attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of Cuba.

We express our commitment to campaign against the continuing blockade of Cuba by the United States Government using the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Torricelli Act, the Helms-Burton Act and their support for bodies such as the Cuban-American National Foundation.

We welcome the fact that when asked "Would you support US military action against Cuba?" an overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament in Britain said that they would not support that action. We call on the British Government to respect the sovereignty of Cuba by completely disassociating itself from any attempt to blockade the right of the Cuba to enter into trade with whomsoever it wishes and endorses the call of Congress on “the UK Government and the European Union to oppose any closer identification with the Bush administration’s hostility towards Cuba and to oppose any further US or EU sanctions”.

We recognise the right of Cuba to take the necessary steps to defend its sovereignty. We therefore call for the immediate and unconditional release of the "Miami 5" - René Gonzalez, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero.

We pledge ourselves to working to strengthen solidarity between trades unions in Britain and Cuba through: building bilateral links between fellow trades unions in both countries, promoting material which conveys the viewpoint of Cuba, encouraging national, regional, local branch and individual affiliation to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and active involvement in the work of CSC, encouraging visits by trade union delegations to Cuba, exchanging of information about the concerns of trades unions in both countries.

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