Background to Labor Rights in Cuba
Movement for Democracy.
unions, workers' rights to collective bargaining, and the right to strike are
not recognized by the Cuban government. Individuals associated with independent
unions are often fired, harassed, arrested, threatened with sanctions, physically
attacked, and imprisoned for long periods of time. According to the International
Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU), "Anyone who engages in independent
trade union activity runs the risk of being persecuted and losing their job. Workers
are required to keep an eye on their colleagues and report any 'dissident' activity."
groups have had their property and belongings confiscated, and the state security
has infiltrated the movement with state agents. In March 2003, 75 human rights
activists, including seven leaders of independent trade unions, suffered harassment
and imprisonment and were charged with "treason and conspiracy." The
recent crackdown represented a violation of these workers' universal rights to
freedom of expression and association.
Cuban government only recognizes one official governmental trade union, the Central
de Trabajadores Cubanos (Cuban Worker's Confederation- CTC). During recent years,
several labor leaders have broken with the CTC and formed independent unions.
In February 2001, one of these groups, in alliance with several other individual
independent labor leaders, formed the Confederacion Obrera Nacional Independeiente
de Cuba (International Confederation of Free Labor Organizations- CONIC), which
is represented in exile by Federacion de Plantas Eléctricas, Gas y Agua
en Exilio (Federation of Electric, Gas and Water Plants in Exile)and composed
of representatives from various sectors of society. Federacion is an example of
a group working in exile that focuses on raising awareness of Cuban labor rights
violations in the international community. Federacion recently produced the Violations
of Social and Labor Rights in Cuba report and presented it to the International
Labor Organization (ILO).
would like thank Joel Brito, Project Director of Federacion, for answering the
following interview questions. Mr. Brito is a World Movement for Democracy participant.
How would you best define the relationship between workers rights and democracy?
between workers' rights and democracy is complementary; if workers have rights,
democracy can prosper and be consolidated. In countries where labor rights are
often violated, the basic principles of democracy are also violated, thus hurting
civil society groups.
What are the most successful strategies and tactics that Federacion uses to promote
labor rights? Are there particular contexts in which some of these tactics (such
as civil disobedience, public protest, letter writing campaigns, etc.) are more
successful than others?
is an authoritarian country, where freedom of expression does not exist, and neither
does the freedom of association. Independent trade unions are persecuted and penalized
by the Cuban state. In our case, promoting labor rights is very difficult. The
various organizations in the labor movement in Cuba have been gaining space little
by little. We use strategies that pressure the government to enforce the International
Labor Organization conventions that Cuba has signed. We use international forums
to conduct international campaigns demanding the release of imprisoned labor unionists
and to denounce the labor and union violations committed by the government. Given
the extreme repression in Cuba, it is difficult, but not impossible, to conduct
public protests, civil disobedience, and other peaceful ways of demanding workers
important part of the labor movement, Federation focuses on establishing solidarity
for Cuban workers, and creating manuals and labor training courses to raise awareness
of labor rights and how to defend them. We have also worked on disseminating news
and information on labor movements and unions. For example, we have success publicizing
the imprisonment of seven prominent unionists, who were also political leaders.
Do you collaborate with other civil society groups in Cuba to fight for labor
rights, such as women's organizations, civic education groups, youth movements,
Independent National Worker's Confederation is an umbrella organization that includes
92 unions and maintains working relationships with various groups that form the
Cuban civil society. We see the Confederation's work as complementary to our work.
Youth, women, Afro-Cubans, and other marginalized groups are also workers, and
their rights as workers are affected by the repressive nature of the government.
In a country where only one central union is controlled by the Communist Party
and directed by the state, opposition organizations must consider other links
for cooperation to make their work more effective.
Do you engage in cross border collaboration with labor movements in other countries?
international labor organizations have shown solidarity with the Cuban Labor Movement.
One such example is how the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICTFU)
and the World Confederation of Labor (WCL) have filed complaints before the ILO's
Committee of Free Labor. The ICFTU and the WCL have filed complaints against the
Cuban government for labor violations, such as not allowing independent unions;
threats, detentions and pressure against independent unions; exclusive labor legislation;
not accepting a mission of ILO contacts, and for infiltrating independent labor
organizations with state agents.
the wave of repression in 2003 when 75 dissidents were sentenced to prison, seven
of whom were labor rights activists, we felt solidarity with labor organizations
like the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, the Workers Commission
of Spain, CTV of Venezuela, the Italian General Labor Confederation, and Dutch
labor unions, all of whom actively condemned the unjust incarceration of the labor
activists and demanded respect for labor freedom.
How can the international community work together to improve labor rights? What
outside tools (international organizations, etc.) help the inside struggle?
organizations like the ILO, which has defended worker and union rights since its
foundation, work with us. In 1998, the ILO adopted the "Declaration on Fundamental
Principles and Rights at Work," which highlights the extreme importance of
governments, employers and workers organizations committing themselves to respect
and defend fundamental human rights and values, which include freedom of association
and the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced and compulsory
labor, the abolition of child labor, and the elimination of discrimination at
the work place. If the governments practiced the correct form of these basic rights,
many of these problems would be resolved.
Can you provide insight on some of the common mistakes that are made in labor
my opinion, mistakes are made because of:
and the lack of work ethics effects the credibility and the level of power that
unions have in society and results in low membership rates.
parties have tried to create labor unions with partisan goals and interests.
Lack of training of labor leaders to confront complicated issues and processes,
such as globalization and free trade agreements, causes workers to be unprepared
to negotiate agreements for their countries and members.
a doubt, poverty, low wages, and high unemployment rates are factors that directly
influence the role played by unionists. On the other hand, we are concerned that
in recent years trade unions have been weakened in most countries. This crisis
hurts union members and their organizations, but we are optimistic that the principal
international labor organizations have a vision on how to confront this situation.
What are the greatest current-day challenges that the labor movement faces in
illegitimate government that has been oppressing its country and generating forced
exiles for 45 years, imposing executions, imprisonment, and separation of Cuban
families is a great challenge. It is vital to the labor movement to disclose the
lack of freedom of trade unions and the government's economic failures that directly
affect the low levels of quality of life and work. It is important that unionists
take advantage of international courts and continue denouncing the Cuban regime
as the most responsible player in our nation's tragedy.
www.cubasindical.org. Joel Brito can
be reached at email@example.com.
Movement for Democracy || National Endowment for Democracy
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