Bernard Reagan, national secretary of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, has eulogised the Cuban ″trade unions″ in a laughable piece of semi-Stalinist sophistry (Morning Star, 9 February).
Reagan makes out that Cuban workers have been struggling continuously since the Cuban Workers’ Confederation was founded in 1939. It is true that workers fought to overthrow the dictator Batista during the 1950s – something every socialist supports. The disagreement comes after the Castro movement took over and linked up with the old (Stalinist) Communist Party.
In early 1959, workers replaced the old union bureaucrats. However, in November 1959 the Castro government imposed its own slate, using Lázaro Peña and other Communist Party apparatchiks as their agents in the workers’ movement. By November 1961, the CTC had changed its name to Cuban Workers’ Central (rather than Confederation — hence the same initials). Peña became the new CTC general secretary. The CTC effectively became a labour front — it accepted government proposals to give up Christmas and sick leave bonuses and to work 48 hours a week. The state actively prevented workers organising their own unions and did not enshrine the right to strike. Until 1992, the CTC was recognised in the Cuban Constitution as the ″representative″ of Cuban workers.
The regime has not loosened its grip on the unions. On 13 September 2010, the CTC — the CTC, not the management — announced that half a million state employees would be “redeployed” – forced into self-employment. The state allows limited discussion in ″assemblies″, but all within narrow parameters. The CTC is not independent from management. CTC leaders are party-state functionaries, with no workplace organising experience, who are parachuted in from other branches of the state administration to ″lead″ the workers.
In reality, workers in Cuba have so little power that their monthly ration barely covers half the necessary means of subsistence, and many have to rely on black-market work or tiny ″self-employment″ enterprise to get by. Nobody should be fooled. We want solidarity with the Cuban workers, not apologetics for the Cuban Stalinist regime.