Date: Fri, 26 Jun 98 16:51:51 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: ICFTU Report On Cuban Unions
/** labr.global: 528.0 **/
** Topic: ICFTU Report On Cuban Unions **
** Written 5:45 AM Jun 25, 1998 by email@example.com in cdp:labr.global **
Date: 06/25 12:13 PM
From: Press, firstname.lastname@example.org
To: ++Online English, EnglishOnline@icftu.org
INTERNATIONAL CONFEDERATION OF FREE TRADE UNIONS (ICFTU)
Down on the Farm: Trade Unions in Cuba
By André Linard, Info Sud,
ICFTU OnLine..., 154/980624/AL, 25 June 1998
Brussels, 24 June 1998 (ICFTU OnLine): Cuba - United States, communist
revolution v. capitalist "imperialism". This stark polarisation is no
longer an accurate depiction of the Cuban problem. New actors, although
less visible, are making their presence felt. They include the trade
The first congress of the National Alliance of Independent Farmers of
Cuba (ANAIC) was due to take place on May 5. They were preparing to
discuss the living conditions of farmers, as well as the transport and
marketing of their produce.
Despite the authorities' stern disapproval, the peasants' cooperatives
that make up this union do not hide their existence. They even invited
Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and likely successor, as well as the
president of the National Assembly, the official press, representatives
of the official Communist Party, etc. to attend. On the morning of May
5 however, according to the Free Eastern (Cuban) Press Agency, "all
those who tried to go to the meeting were arrested and taken to a police
station", including the Agency's journalists. On March 31 and May 3,
Reynaldo Hernandez, president of the ANAIC, was called in for
questioning by the State Security Services. He was told that "the
government would not tolerate independent peasants freely discussing
issues related to agriculture". "I replied that our purpose was
strictly economic and was aimed at finding a solution to the serious
food crisis hitting the country."
On the eve of the congress, several of the cooperatives' leaders were
harassed by the police, and received summonses for the following day.
After the abortive congress, other leaders were fined for failing to
take proper care of their land.
Transition and Progress
There are three independent cooperatives in Cuba, in three different
provinces. The first, called Transicion, was created in 1997. It says
it now has 37 members. With the other two, Progreso I and Progress II,
it notes in its founding statement that "the collectivisation of
agriculture has led to two phenomena: a massive exodus to the towns and
apathy among demobilised peasants."
Cuba's agrarian reform converted 73 per cent of agricultural land into
State property. The rest is divided into cooperatives supervised by the
State and into individual small holdings. According to official
figures, there are 120,000 small holdings (less than 5 Cuban
caballer¨as, or 6,715 ares (1 are 00 m2) ) left.
For Antonio Alonso Perez, vice-President of Transicin, " the land is
not considered anyone's property, so there is no incentive to cultivate
it properly, or to protect the environment". The peasants on the
collectivised land are not motivated to make it productive. As for the
independent owners, they would like to, but as they are unable to sell
their produce freely, they limit their cultivation to self-sufficiency
levels, even though their production could help solve the country's food
The Association maintains that the assistance given to Cuba does not
reach the peasants. Which is why the independent cooperatives want to
apply for and receive external aid as a non-governmental organisation,
as is already the case elsewhere. The cooperatives are simply asking
that the peasants be able to join an autonomous organisation and set up
projects - their own projects - to compensate for the lack of fuel,
fertilisers, insecticides, etc.
Contrary to the embryonic dissident political parties, this nascent
peasant-based trade union movement does not define itself in terms of
its opposition to the communist regime. Its demands are not directly
political. In a speech she was due to deliver on May 5 on women peasant
farmers, Oria Hernandez Perez thanked the revolution "which gave our
children an education and which took such good care of our health".
A simple demand: The right to sell
The peasant farmers are simply asking for the right to create their own,
autonomous organisation, outside the ANAP (national small peasant
farmers' association). In their eyes, the ANAP and other mass
organisations affiliated to the Communist Party are simply transmission
belts for the authorities, and do not voice the interests of the sector.
One notable feature of the speeches prepared for the congress was that
they set out solutions to the problems raised. Oria Hernandez Perez
proposed that animal breeding could be made more productive "simply by
allowing those who rear the animals to slaughter them and sell them at
the market price".
The president of the National Association of Independent Farmers
commented that after the congress, the authorities changed tactics.
They promised the peasants that their working conditions would be
improved, but refused to allow them to freely choose and sell their
produce. Which is where, even though they don't have a directly
political agenda, the cooperatives are touching on one of the principles
of the revolution. By proposing to expand the scope of the free market,
they are effectively proposing a reduction in the State's control over
the economy and society. Which explains the silence of the local press
and the stern reaction of the authorities, who may fear the re-emergence
of a non-egalitarian social hierarchy in the rural world.
ANAP does seem to have learnt a lesson from this however, judging by its
decision to revitalise the service and loans cooperatives. It proves
that civil society does have the capacity to influence the regime.
In search of autonomy
Civil society? Pope Jean-Paul II's visit to Cuba revealed the growing
importance of the Catholic Church and its social role in the country.
At the same time, independent Cuban journalists send the outside world
information that differs from - and is very critical of - that of the
In June 1996, Cuban educators set up an association, or college, which
claims a membership of 200. There is also an independent trade union,
the Democratic Workers' Confederation of Cuba, which is demanding the
recognition of trade union rights: the right to freely form and join
trade unions, the right to strike, recruitment free of political
discrimination...Finally, small initiatives are emerging at the local
level, such as private libraries, in response to the short supply and
limited scope of official Cuban culture.
The common denominator among these organisations is that they all
challenge the monopoly exercised by those linked to the Communist Party:
the CTC for the workers, the ANAP for the peasants...Some of them have
links with the skeletal opposition parties.
The representativeness of these organisations may be questionable in
numerical terms. Qualitatively however, their very existence shows that
something is changing in Cuban society. The authorities aren't happy
about it, but they have not reacted with the violent repression that has
been seen in other countries. For perhaps the first time since 1959,
they are faced with organisations which, while not seeking to overthrow
the regime, are clearly saying that the State should not control
everything. It remains to be seen whether State ready to allow these
organisations a certain level of autonomy.
Contact: ICFTU-Press at: ++32-2 224.02.12 (Brussels). For more
information, visit our website at: http://www.icftu.org