(The following text was printed as a leaflet; that leaflet was ripped up by the organisers of the Cuba Solidarity fringe meeting to whom it was addressed, in a half-hearted attempt to emulate the Cuban police state...)
A Letter to Delegates
It is a disgrace that over the last two years the National Union of Teachers [now National Education Union] has spent £48 000 subsidising delegates on “solidarity” visits to Cuba.
This is an enormous waste of money, and politically it is positively harmful, too.
Cuba is a police state with no free elections, free speech or free trade unions. ‘Solidarity’ delegations to Cuba help the regime. They allow the regime to claim it has the support of foreign trade unionists.
The ITUC states bluntly and truthfully that, “The trade union movement [in Cuba] is controlled by the state, and the leaders of the single union CTC are not elected by the workers but appointed by the state and the Communist Party of Cuba… The right to strike is not legally recognised, and in practice it is denied.”
In fact the right to strike was abolished in 1960, during the early days of the Castroite revolution. A massive purge of trade union leaders began in early 1960 and a series of anti-union laws were enacted. In April 1960 Raul Castro sent troops to change the leadership of the construction workers’ union.
In 1960 all independent women’s organisations were disbanded, and black Cubans’ “Sociedades de Color”, which had 500 local branches, was also abolished.
Why do we send delegations to Cuba? Because some on the left believe that Cuba is socialist and “progressive”. That is ridiculous. Socialism means freedom and liberty and there is much more freedom for workers in Tory Britain than in “Communist” Cuba.
While America’s sanctions on Cuba are wrong, that does not justify the Cuban state’s repression against free trade unionists, oppositionists, artists and journalists.
Amnesty International’s 2017-8 report states, “Arbitrary detentions, discriminatory dismissals from state jobs, and harassment in self-employment continued to be used to silence criticism [in Cuba].”
Amnesty continues: “The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a Cuban NGO not officially recognized by the state, recorded 5,155 arbitrary detentions in 2017, [following] 9,940 in 2016.
“The Ladies in White, a group of female relatives of prisoners detained on politically motivated grounds, remained one of the primary targets of repression by the authorities. During detention, the women were often beaten by law enforcement officials.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports: “According to former political detainees prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas. Those who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are often subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denied medical care.”
Amnesty again: “The Open Observatory of Network Interference conducted testing on a sample of websites in Cuba and found 41 sites blocked by the authorities. All the blocked sites expressed criticism of the Cuban government, reported on human rights issues, or discussed techniques to bypass censorship.”
Such comments should be considered seriously by those in our union who hold up Cuban education as a model. How likely is it that education is of high quality when discussion is heavily circumscribed and websites and other media are harshly censored? Those that are really concerned to discuss pedagogy with foreign trade unionists would be better off going to Finland (although no one would get a suntan on the beach in Finland).
HRW states that, “During Castro’s rule, thousands of Cubans were incarcerated in abysmal prisons, thousands more were harassed and intimidated, and entire generations were denied basic political freedoms. Cuba made improvements in health and education, though many of these gains were undermined by extended periods of economic hardship and by repressive policies.
“Castro’s draconian rule and the harsh punishments he meted out to dissidents kept his repressive system rooted firmly in place for decades.”
“[R]epression [in Cuba] was codified in law and enforced by security forces, groups of civilian sympathisers tied to the state, and a judiciary that lacked independence. Such abusive practices generated a pervasive climate of fear in Cuba, which hindered the exercise of fundamental rights, and pressured Cubans to show their allegiance to the state while discouraging criticism.
“The denial of fundamental freedoms throughout Castro’s decades in power was unrelenting, and marked by periods of heightened repression, such as the 2003 crackdown on 75 human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and other critics of the government. Under Fidel Castro, the Cuban government refused to recognize the legitimacy of Cuban human rights organizations, alternative political parties, independent labour unions, or a free press. He also denied international monitors such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and international nongovernmental organizations like Human Rights Watch access to the island to investigate human rights conditions.”
£48000 is a staggering amount of money to misspend in this way. It would be better spent on real international solidarity.
Let’s spend our resources campaigning for the release of jailed teacher trade unionists in Iran and Ethiopia, in solidarity with the Virginia teachers strike and solidarity with workers independent organisations across the planet.
Let’s stop believing the myth of Cuban “Socialism”. Workers of the world, unite.
What should you do with your Che Guevara T-shirt?
You should throw it away.
Recycling it is a better, and a more eco-friendly way to get rid of it. Perhaps – depending on what it is made of – you could cut it up and compost it.
Whatever you do, you should stop wearing it. Because by doing so you are showing your support for the repression of freedom, democracy and workers’ rights in Cuba.
Of course Che was good-looking, brave and ‘iconic’. He was also a revolutionary. Unfortunately it was not our revolution; Guevara helped to make a revolution against the Cuban workers.
In 1960 he said clearly: “Cuban workers will have to get used to living in a collectivistic regime and therefore cannot strike.”
From the 1950s he was a hardened Stalinist, signing letters Stalin II. He helped to set up the Cuban secret police, the G-2. He was responsible for setting up the first labour camp in Cuba, Guanacahabibes. And as head of the Ministry of Industry from 1961 to 1965 Guevara supervised the transformation of Cuba into a mini-replica of the USSR. Free trade unions were replaced by state run labour fronts and independent workers’ organisations were repressed out of existence.