Carmelo DÃaz FernÃ¡ndez
Minaldo Ramos Salgado
MarÃa Elena Mir Marrero
Emilio Jerez Oliver
VÃctor Manuel DomÃnguez GarcÃa
Reinaldo Cosano AlÃ©n
Bill Preston and Carl Gentile, Co-Chairs of the U.S. Labor for Friendship with Cuba trade union delegation.
Re: An answer to the accusations, innuendos, insinuations, and fabrications regarding the Delegation’s visit to Cuba and its meeting with the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.
First and foremost, we reject your analogy that "To visit Cuba with an agenda prepared by the Communist Party and the official CTC, with the purpose of assessing the current situation of the people on the island, is like trying to learn about the living conditions of Cuban political prisoners by only interviewing the Director of Prisons under the Ministry of the Interior."
For your edification: our itinerary/agenda was planned way in advance by the members of the U.S. Delegation and in fact was consistent with each of our members’ constituencies in regards to both our occupations and our positions in U.S. trade unions. The CTC in every instance and without exception honored our requests.
In the majority of our encounters with the different sectors of the Cuban labor movement we were not only allowed to ask a variety of uncensored questions relative to the Cuban workplace, but we also received unsolicited responses from rank-and-file workers on the very same issues that confront U.S. workers and how those issues are addressed by our Cuban counterparts.
For instance, on the questions of workplace grievances and final adjudication of the issues, we found that the Labor Courts are consistent with the application of arbitration and judicial review in the United States, with the notable exception that there are more layers of appeal under the Cuban system.
Co-Chair Carl Gentile, conversant in Spanish, was able to ask questions not only within the context of the formal meetings and arrangements of our gracious hosts, but also on his own free time to converse and ask questions of Cuba’s diverse work force outside of a formal setting, and yes, "without the presence of a member of the official CTC." He was able to ascertain from these encounters that the average Cuban worker overwhelmingly supports, and has an intense pride in, Cuba’s economic and political system and that system’s ability to address problems and challenges in the work environment.
We also had the opportunity to visit the Latin American School of Medicine, where we were able to speak to medical students from the United States and other Latin American nations. As an aside, Carl was taken ill the last day of his visit, and was taken to a community clinic where he received excellent care and treatment; contrary to your pronouncements, the health care system is not "in shambles"Âthat pejorative should be reserved for the system in the U.S.
There were also examples and verifications of how the CTC on a number of occasions opposed recommendations and proposals from the government on matters that the Cuban labor movement interpreted as harmful and in contradiction to the interests of the working class; in specificity we refer to the following:
(1) The CTC, far from being an instrument of the Cuban government, defeated proposals to tolerate high unemployment, tax employment income, and shut enterprises deemed commercially unprofitable.
(2) The CTC also successfully lobbied the National Assembly to reject a provision in the 1995 Foreign Investment Law that would have allowed foreign enterprises as well as joint ventures to hire Cuban workers directly; in essence, the CTC forced the government to compel these entities to continue hiring employees through the state’s labor agencies, as a result of which the workers continued to enjoy the provisions and protections of Cuban labor law as well as unions.
(3) The CTC also forced the suspension of implementation of provisions in the 1994 tax law mandating that workers contribute to the social security system, where Cuban workers already pay little or nothing!
(4) The CTC won the right of workers in affected workplaces to adjust their hours of work to meet family, transportation, and other social needs, and blocked implementation in 2006 of regulations disciplining workers for tardiness, since the CTC argued that mass transportation problems and the fact that stores were open for business only at the same time most people worked made the proposed regulations unreasonable. All of these challenges were addressed in the context of collective bargaining.
Our delegation was also able to ask for and receive statistical breakdowns of some of the cases before the Labor Courts as well as decisions that were rendered on the basis of both appeals and settlements.
The delegation has observed first-hand how the blockade emanating from our country has significantly impacted the lives of ordinary Cuban citizens. We feel it is a moral imperative of this delegation to oppose this criminal imposition bordering on genocide. We have a moral responsibility to demand the end not only of this imposition of our government but of the restrictions on the rights of U.S. citizens to travel to the island unhindered by licenses, qualifications, etc., and any other bureaucratic impediment that is a cloak for a worn out right-wing ideology.
We make these demands without any preconditions directed to the sovereign nation of the Republic of Cuba, since anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of the historical relationship between Cuba and the United States will be aware of how that relationship has been skewed and deformed by our country for more than a century; from the Cuban war of liberation against Spain and the infamous Platt Amendment, to our government’s support of the Batista regime, to the U.S.-sponsored invasion via the "Bay of Pigs," to the bombing of the French munitions ship, to the many confessed CIA assassination attempts against Fidel, to the 1976 bombing of a Cubana Airlines civilian passenger aircraftÂkilling 73 people, to the terrorism which resulted in the death of an Italian tourist as one example that creates a chilling effect in general for any foreign tourism in Cuba and does irreparable harm to that nascent and growing industry.
To add our voices as U.S. citizens to our government’s insistence on preconditions within this context would be an act of chauvinism and racism that would only reinforce an unhealthy dynamic that has existed for too long, replete with all the negative consequences that such preconditions would imply.
In order to address your question "Would the U.S. labor movement accept to be an extension of the government or political parties to discipline and repress the workers? Would you accept if Sweeney in the past or now Trumka were appointed by George Bush or Barack Obama?"
The question must be put in proper perspective: Cuba has a socialist economic system; the United States has a capitalist economic system. Labor unions operate differently under each system. Under capitalism, unions are for the most part always playing a defensive role in literally a life and death struggle to maintain wage and health benefits, which are constantly under attack by the employer, not only in the private sector but also, with the institutionalization of the IMF in countries that subscribe to a "market economy," in the public sector as well. Workers in the U.S. are forced into strikes because of the determined and purposeful obstinacy of the owners. In a capitalist society, as we have seen by the recent conflict over the accessibility or lack of accessibility to health care, the mantra is Profits before People.
The very existence of unions in our country is impeded by a spiraling unemployment rate, which is a disincentive for workers to join or form unions. According to a study by the Brookings Institution, an elite bourgeois research organization that reflects the views of U.S. imperialism’s own ruling circles, "in 2008, 91.6 million peopleÂmore than 30 percent of the nation’s populationÂfell below 200 percent of the federal poverty level": http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2010/0120_poverty_kneebone.aspx .
Even in the most powerful union at a workplace, workers cannot legally intervene in choosing what goals and missions the enterprise should follow: That is legally off the table under the system of "free enterprise." Unions in the U.S. cannot ask for management to be accountable in terms of the efficiency of the enterprise or workforce. In contrast, it is the workers who are held to those standards in an environment with decreasing resources and manpower. Unions are a shrinking part of the U.S. landscape.Â
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "in 2009, the union membership rateÂthe percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a unionÂwas 12.3 percent, essentially unchanged from 12.4 percent a year earlier . . . The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 771,000 to 15.3 million, largely reflecting the overall drop in employment due to the recession. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers": http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm
The above referenced statistics demonstrate how "free labor" in a market economy is impacted in terms of job security. Combine this with the historical offensive of capital against labor, and the product that presents itself is a severely emasculated and informally proscribed labor movement.
Cuban workers are not faced with these hurdles: (1) The bargaining of health care benefits is not an issue, (2) The contradiction of wages vs. prices is not part of the labor relations paradigm, (3) The struggle against layoffs is "off the table"; every Cuban has a right to a job.
And finally, almost ninety-eight percent of Cuban workers belong to a trade unionÂthis in a country where membership is voluntary! Approximately four million people belong to a total of 19 CTC-affiliated unions. Dues deductions amount to one percent of each member’s earnings collected per month without the machinery of automatic dues deduction. Workers elect their union officials from a list of nominated candidates by secret ballot every two and one half years. All union officials, inclusive of the General Secretary of the CTC, receive their mandates from election by secret ballot. As previously stated, grievance procedures include arbitration panels (Labor Courts) with one representative each from management, the union, and the workersÂwho thereby choose two-thirds of the voting membership of all the Labor Courts. Workers also elect the chair of each arbitration panel. Your arguments and statements lack credibility and border on ignorance, and also are patently disingenuous.
In answer to your question about the right to "organize outside of the official structure," no legal obstacle exists for the formation of a labor union separate from the CTC. However, since the CTC does an outstanding job of representing Cuban workers and advocating for their immediate economic demands consistent with their political interests, no reason exists that would justify efforts to create a wholly separate new labor federation parallel to and in competition with the CTC. Again, no law, regulation, or other obstacle prevents the creation of such an alternative center if the masses of Cuban workers were so inclined!
As leaders of this delegation we reject a false paradigm that some individuals want to impose on Cuba:
(1) The U.S. demands that Cuba, or any other country that it designates as not being in compliance with its world view, change its economic and political system.
(2) Then, when unions in Cuba reject the demands of the U.S., the CTC is declared a priori illegitimate, and not reflective of the work force, irrespective of any experience or evidence that would confirm the CTC’s so-called unrepresentative and ineffective nature.
(3) However, if a handful of individuals declare themselves to be the real trade unionists, they should be considered a priori as the legitimate trade union.
(4) When the ideas of this handful are rejected by the existing labor movement, the U.S. declares them to be "dissidents."
In conclusion, in our opinion you do not meet the qualifications or standards for this delegation to engage you in any kind of dialogue. Also, your letter was received as distasteful, arrogant, and full of assumed innuendos and false accusations. You are not our friends.
Please refrain from contacting us or using our e-mail addresses again.
Carl Gentile, Co-Chair
Bill Preston, Co-Chair
March 7, 2010
"Letter from the independent trade union movement"
We were extremely surprised to read your statements published by the official newspaper Trabajadores on January 17, 2010, after completing your visit to Cuba.
We have no reason to trust what was published by the official CTC newspaper, but since we haven’t seen any rebuttal from you, we have to assume you agree with it.
We, the signatories, representatives of the independent labor movement in Cuba, want nothing less than what the organized workers in the US have obtained: freedom of association, autonomy of the labor organizations from any parties or government and the respect of human and worker rights.
To visit Cuba with an agenda prepared by the Communist Party and the official CTC, with the purpose of assessing the current situation of the people on the island, is like trying to learn about the living conditions of Cuban political prisoners by only interviewing the Director of Prisons under the Ministry of the Interior.
To be a victim of the old and worn subterfuge upon which all ills are caused by "imperialism" and that the gaps and lacks in education, nutrition and health care are due to the heinous intentions of exogenous forces it is naive blunder. We would like to know if you had the opportunity of meeting with a farmer, a professional, a worker, a housewife or an artist, without the presence of a member of the official CTC.
On the other hand, have you asked yourselves how much sacrifice Cuban people have been subjected to in order for the government to maintain propaganda devices such as the School of Medicine, the Lazaro PeÃ±a trade union school, or Nico Lopez College of the Communist Party, whose primary goals are ideological and political rather than cooperation with other nations as they claim?
We ask ourselves the following: What can the CTC have in common with the US labor movement? Would the US labor movement accept to be an extension of the government or political parties to discipline and repress the workers? Would you accept if Sweeney in the past or now Trumka were appointed by George Bush or Barack Obama? We are sure the answer is no.
To state that Cuba has successfully "eliminated hunger, unemployment and illiteracy" after only receiving information from the Cuban bureaucrats, borders on ignorance. Haven’t you asked yourselves why the dissident movement cannot develop? Why are workers who want to organize outside of the official structure imposed by the government being sent to prison, threatened and harassed Â violating all conventions of the ILO? Why is there no right to strike? Why do independent unionists remain in prison? Why are artists being incarcerated? Do you think that all political prisoners and the almost 2 million Cubans living in exile are traitors or agents of the imperialism?
And one last question: Why didn’t you try to meet with somebody outside of the official circles? Just as the truth of the United States is not seen from the White House, the Capitol and its surrounding areas, the truth about Cuba is not seen at the headquarters of the Communist Party, the CTC and all the propaganda showcase institutions you stated as having visited.
The truth is that the health system is in shambles, the education is ideologized and deficient, workers are subjected to appalling conditions and miserable wages. Whoever does not follow the guidelines of the party (including the CTC) cannot grow professionally or academically, individually or collectively.
It is true that the "embargo" makes economic trade, investments and the free flow of capital and US tourists difficult, but this is not the main cause for the problems we have in our country. The guilty parties are those inept leaders and their anti-democratic leading methods. Is it them whom have imposed an economic system with deformed structures and an excess in centralization.
The embargo did not generate the lack of productivity and efficiency in our economy. Those responsible are the capricious old leaders who after 51 years in power continue blaming our powerful northern neighbor. Cubans do not need guilty parties; we need solutions and radical changes.
We are sure that the majority of the delegation made the trip in good faith and this is why we would like to invite you to see the true Cuba, where we, the signatories of this letter, suffer and truly deserve the solidarity of the well respected and admired US labor movement.
ConfederaciÃ³n de Trabajadores Independientes de Cuba:
Carmelo DÃaz FernÃ¡ndez
Minaldo Ramos Salgado
ConfederaciÃ³n Obrera Nacional Independiente de Cuba:
MarÃa Elena Mir Marrero Emilio Jerez Oliver
Centro de CapacitaciÃ³n Laboral y Sindical:
VÃctor Manuel DomÃnguez GarcÃa Agencia
Sindical de Prensa:
Reinaldo Cosano AlÃ©n