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CUBAN GOVERNMENT DENIES WORKERS THEIR TRADE UNIONS RIGHTS

CUBAN GOVERNMENT DENIES WORKERS THEIR TRADE UNIONS RIGHTS

Despite Increased Repression Independent Unions Continue to Emerge
Inside Cuba
By Jack Otero

During the Clinton Administration Mr. Otero served as Deputy
Undersecretary of Labor for International Affairs, Assistant Secretary
of Labor-Designate and was the U.S. Government Representative on the
Governing Body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) 1993-1997.

Mr. Otero is a former Vice President of the U.S. National Labor Center
AFL-CIO. He was also International Vice President of the National
Federation of Railway and Airline Clerks, TCU; Vice President of the
National Democratic Party; President of the 1.7 million member Hispanic
labor organization, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.
His international experience includes a combined 27 years of service as
Member of the World Executive Board and Regional Director for Latin
American Affairs of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF).

In recent weeks several new independent unions have emerged, despite
increased repression by the Communist dictatorship – carpenters,
seamstress, teachers and other groups of workers have taken steps to
create new local unions identified with the major independent labor
centers, such as CONIC, CTDC, CITC, CUTC. These are acts of courageous
defiance since the Castro government explicitly prohibits independent
unions and has taken extraordinary repressive measures to quash any such
efforts. These developments point to the fact that opposition and
resistance to the regime is gaining momentum.

There is mounting evidence that the overwhelming majority of Cuban
citizens are crying out for a change in the system that will bring an
improvement in their daily lives. It is in fact, an absolute but tired
majority. Almost all Cubans are convinced that the status quo is
non-reforming and useless. Nobody believes any longer the propaganda and
false promises of the regime. Nor do they believe the many plans often
unveiled by the government, all of which are never implemented.
There is a general lack of everything, most particularly basic
necessities such as food– unless you have foreign currency to buy it in
special government stores. And most Cubans are desperate for work, and
vast amounts of arable land lie fallow. If allowed to plant food and
sell it freely, people in the island could once again feed themselves.
The regime, however, realizes that this would be a profound capitulation
to history. Better to let a nation stay hunger, undernourished and laid
waste than to compromise the Communist principle that the state must
control everything.
Nothing functions well in the island and everybody knows it. Although
resistance to the regime is growing every day, the social anonymity and
anemic willpower of the people generally are notable. This is still the
style of normal life in Cuba. There is prevalent paralysis at all levels
of society in the country. Only a few persons and a few groups have
remained steady in the pursuit of securing a more promising future for
the people. Those individuals and groups of individuals who advocate
free and independent labor unions represent one of the prominent forces
in the resistance. But they are paying a huge price for their
aspirations to a better life.

On January 12th, 2010 the independent trade unionist Osvaldo Alvarez,
from Perico, Matanzas province, was ambushed and severely beaten up by
state security forces when he was walking to the railroad station to
catch a train to travel to Havana.

The attack was conducted in the dead of night. Alvarez who lay wounded
and unconscious until taken to the hospital, ended up with two broken
ribs, contusions and lacerations but was unable to identify his
assailants. Mr. Alvarez is also a reporter for the independent agency
Trade Union Press based in Matanzas.

Another independent trade unionist, Isidro Manuel P?rez Cruz, resident
of Las Tunas and General Secretary of the independent union "Vicente
Garc?a" reported that on January 6th he was detained by agents of the
State Security police who roughed him up and confiscated his video JVC
camera. Next day he was summoned to the police station where he was
interrogated, booked and placed under probation under threat of a future
court trial. P?rez Cruz who is also a delegate to the independent
central labor federation CONIC, reported that he was warned at the
police station that he would be summarily arrested and sent to prison if
he continued involved in independent labor activities.

On December 28th teacher Rafael Leyva Leyva, member of the Collegiate
Independent Teachers of Cuba (CPIC) was also assaulted, beaten up and
arrested by a group of members of the so-called Rapid Response Brigades
headed by Rubinelsa Santana, along with the DSE official better known as
"el polaco." The brutal beating has resulted in a tear of his rectum,
causing him frequent hemorrhaging and the loss of sight from one of his
eyes.

Under the Castro-Communist regime only one union is allowed to operate –
the CTC – Confederation of Cuban Workers – which is an instrument of the
dictatorship to control and subjugate workers. The CTC leadership is
appointed by the government and they all must be members of the
Communist Central Committee. The Cuban government thumbs its nose at
international opinion and to the ILO, which has insisted that Cuba
respect and apply the various ILO Conventions and Recommendations
adopted and ratified by previous Cuban governments. Castro contents the
government is undertaking a complete review of its Labor Code, except
that it has been doing such review for the past 12 years. The Castro
regime contends that workers' freedom of association rights protected by
ILO Convention 87 was imposed by the imperialist power of capitalism and
does not apply in Cuba.

The Cuban government controls the market of labor and sets wages and
working conditions within the state sector, but such starvation wages
have only resulted in abject poverty for state Cuban workers and the
populace in general. The government also controls employment in the
private sector. No foreign corporation in Cuba can directly employ Cuban
workers – it must do so through employment agencies set up by the
government for such purposes. But only those workers whom the Communist
Party trusts are allowed to be hired by foreign corporations.
And, shamefully, the Cuban government retains between 95% and 98% of
what it receives in hard currency from the corporations for contracting
out this labor force.

This dictatorial repression does not permit labor strikes or any other
form of workers' peaceful protests. Any independent labor activity is
nearly impossible and extremely risky, as the government does not
hesitate to employ tactics of harassment, intimidation, arrests and long
term prison terms against those who dare defy the ban on the creation of
independent unions. There are several trade union prisoners still
languishing in jail, some of them still service 25-year terms imposed on
them during the massive trade union reprisals and arrests of 2003.

But those who ardently spouse the cause of free and democratic trade
unionism in Cuba have not given up the fight, risking their freedom,
their lives and the security of their own families. Despite the
repression, there are several labor organizations in Cuba – conducting
underground activities and with representation throughout the island.
Existing labor groups such as CONIC, CUTC, CTDC, CITC, among others,
advocate the principles of free trade unionism but are unable or capable
of representing effectively the interests of the workers, as they are
not recognized as legitimate entities by the government. Therefore, they
lack the basic rights to form unions of their own choosing, rights to
collective bargaining, right to strike or have freedom of speech. In
addition, the government forbids peaceful marches or their
demonstrations to display publicly their labor demands.

The independent unions in existence were established by dissidents who
oppose the Castro dictatorship, though they are often the victims of
brutal repressions, physical attacks, banning of their children from
school, banning of their relatives for any employment – either with the
state or the private sector. And in many cases such independent leaders
are arrested, brutally beaten and sentenced to long prison terms. There
have been a few who had been lucky to get out of jail and/or leave the
country for exile. But, not everyone is that fortunate.

There are several independent trade unionists languishing in prison. In
2004 nine members of the CUTC were condemned to long prison terms, many
of them as long as 25-year sentences. Among them was Pedro Pablo Alvarez
Ramos, General Secretary of CUTC who was freed after serving nearly five
years in prison but forced into exile in Spain. Two others were also
freed due to their dismal medical conditions, including Carmelo Diaz who
has stubbornly remained in the island leading the CITC. Several others
convicted in 2004 are still behind bars. See the CFTU webpage for more
information on the trade union prisoners visit our website:
www.freetradeunionism.org

The single union concept remains the angular stone of the Castro
regime's labor policy. I do not foresee any significant changes in the
near future that will permit Cuban workers to secure freedom of
association and collective bargaining rights, so long as this Communist
regime remains in power. We at the CFTU are determined to continue
pressuring the ILO and the international community to take action to
force the Cuban government to respect and apply the human and trade
union rights conventions adopted by the ILO and ratified by the Cuban
government.

But it is also our objective to hold responsible those foreign
corporations and governments that have lent a blind eye and a deaf ear
to the brutal repression of freedom and enslavement of the Cuban people
by the Castro regime. Those foreign corporations and governments are in
open complicity with the slave labor practices, imprisonment, torture
and other human indignities levied by the Castro regime upon the Cuban
people and Cuban workers for the past 50 years. When the time comes
those corporations and governments that are now profiting at the
expense, suffering and pain of the Cuban people will pay the price for
their dastardly conspiracy with the Castro regime. They will not be
exempt of punishment for the exploitation and abuses inflicted upon the
Cuban people. For sure, they will have their comeuppance for their
greedy and inhumane sins.

3.22.2010

http://www.miscelaneasdecuba.net/media/Web1/Despite%20Increased%20Repression%20Independent%20Unions%20Continue%20to%20Emerge%20in%20Cuba.doc

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