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Date: Fri, 26 Jun 98 16:51:51 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: ICFTU Report On Cuban Unions
Article: 37696
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.22194.19980627121633@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** labr.global: 528.0 **/
** Topic: ICFTU Report On Cuban Unions **
** Written 5:45 AM Jun 25, 1998 by labornews@labornet.org in cdp:labr.global **
Date: 06/25 12:13 PM
From: Press, press@icftu.org
To: ++Online English, EnglishOnline@icftu.org


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 unions.

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 shortage.

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 official press.

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