Comrade Osiris Oviedo de la Torre
(Secretariat member of World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and WFTU Permanent Representative in Geneva, who hails from Cuba.)
It is 58 years since the Cuban revolution. We’d like to know more about the conditions and role of the working class in today’s Cuba.
The Confederation of Cuban workers has about 3 million members. When Castro held out the possibility of a new society in 1953, Cuba’s working class responded enthusiastically and Trade Unions held strikes to support the Revolution.
Today, Cuban TUs have a legal right to participate in policy making at all levels, and can oppose policies proposed by the Government. For a policy relating to health, the General Secretary of the health workers’ union will meet with the Minister of Health, similarly for education, industry and so on. Any law affecting workers is analysed by general body meeting of workers themselves, and their opinions come back to Parliament, which can proceed only with workers’ assent. Recently, more than 300 policy objectives were approved after being discussed in workplaces.
However, there are still battles left to fight. Salaries are still too low, and are not easy to raise, mainly because the level of development of the economy needs to be raised. As for housing, there is no house rent in Cuba; 85% own their own homes, and the rest pay nominal amounts towards owning their own house. But the pace of construction does not match the level of demand, so you have many generations living in the same house. There’s a plan to sort this out, but it will take several years to do so.
Another problem area is transport, with shortage of petrol and spare parts. Cuba has a small amount of petrol of its own, most of the rest of our needs come from countries like Venezuela.
Food is another major challenge. We are still far from self-sufficient, and we import more than 80% of our consumption from outside. We need to increase food production – grains, potatoes, vegetables. We have a programme to encourage small farmers and cooperatives to cultivate idle lands in semi-urban areas, in usufruct.
In India, healthcare, education and food rations are huge issues for the working class and poor. What is the scene on these fronts in Cuba today?
Workers Speak 1
He says, “Most construction workers in Bangalore are migrants from other states. A major issue for them is the lack of a secure address and identity. In addition, they often face the wrath of locals. These workers live in rented homes and work for Rs 150 for 12-14 hours of work. Construction companies make them work the full 24 hours. Workers’ struggles have resulted in establishment of a Welfare Board. Our major issues of struggle today are for a benefit scheme after death; a scheme for medical treatment; and Rs 300 pension. The builders and contractors threaten the workers with dismissal if they join any union. AICCTU has united construction workers and readymix cement workers. We have around 5000 members in Bangalore, HD Kote, Harpanahalli and Gangawati.”
In Cuba, healthcare, including the treatment of expensive diseases like cancer, surgeries etc are all completely free. There is much that Cuba lacks – but we are very generous in sharing our strengths. Cuba is quick to offer medical relief in disasters all over the world. Millions from the other ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) countries have come to Cuba for eye operations and returned with their sight restored. But as we say in Cuba, we do not only give fish, we teach people how to fish. We have an International Medical School, imparting a high standard of medical education free to youth from rural areas in Latin American countries and Harlem in the USA. The only stipulation is that they should go back to practice in the deprived areas from where they come.
Education is also free, and the standard of education is very high. The workforce is highly educated. A downside is that the educated do not want to work on the land; we are trying to encourage them to do so. The ALBA places great emphasis on combating illiteracy. There is also a very high level of culture, making music lessons accessible to kids from poor communities.
Cuba has a system of universal subsidised food distributed through ration cards – including a portion of rice, meat, eggs, coffee and sugar. Now there’s a proposal to restrict these rations only to those who need it, and gradually to eliminate the ration card. There are apprehensions about these changes. But the government is resolved that even after the ration system is restricted, the same products will be available in the open market at a reasonable price, somewhat but not very much higher than the subsidised ration rate.
Are market reforms being introduced in Cuba? What’s the impact of these?
Cuba is not paving the way to capitalism or free market. Private enterprises are allowed only so far as very small scale entrepreneurs, such as small vendors etc. No private hospitals, schools are allowed; there is no privatisation in main sectors. FDI is allowed only a minority share, and contracts are reviewed every five years before renewal.
Workers Speak 2
What emerges from these accounts is that the BSP, a public sector concern and supposed to be a model employer, is now exploiting contract labour for most of its core functions, flagrantly violating labour laws and industrial democracy. More than 22,000 contract workers are employed in the BSP, through around 427 private contractors. The BSP management and the contractor work hand in hand to exploit them. They came to know of AICCTU through some other workers, but were initially fearful of associating with a union. But they became convinced that AICCTU was committed to taking up contract workers’ issues, and now they’re determined to strengthen the union.
What are the challenges that Cuba faces?
The US has tried every means to destabilise and destroy revolutionary Cuba – biological war, economic war, propaganda war, fomenting subversion, and so on. Cuban ‘refugees’ in the US are given all sorts of facilities (bribes) – facilities which, naturally, migrants from countries like, say, Mexico, are never offered!
We know the road ahead is not easy. But we’re confident that we’ll achieve a better future. And above all, that Cuban will shape that future – not the US or anybody else!
From the Speech by Comrade Osiris Oviedo de la Torre at Bhilai, on behalf of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU):
“On behalf of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and its General Secretary, comrade George Mavrikos, I would like to express our deepest gratitude for your invitation to attend the 8th National Conference of AICCTU and to convey warm and fraternal greetings.
We are very proud of our Indian trade unions affiliates and their active role at national, regional, sectoral and international level in the fight against capitalism, neoliberalism, multinationals and imperialism. We are very happy to have you in the WFTU family....
On behalf of the Cuban people, I would like to thank the Indian people, workers and trade unions who for many years have expressed their solidarity towards the Cuban Revolution, towards the resistance of the Cuban people against U.S. hegemony and more recently towards the support to the cause of the Cuban Five, the 5 antiterrorist fighters who have been unfairly imprisoned in the United States. René González, one of the five, has been released last October 7 under unjust conditions not allowed to return to Cuba, not allowed to see his wife. The struggle for the unconditional release of all the five has to be further strengthened. We ask you to send letters to the U.S. President Obama requesting their freedom.”
From Speech of Comrade Ram Naresh Singh, GEFONT, Nepal:
“Workers need to unite across the borders of sectors, across the borders of nations. GEFONT is ready to march hand in hand with the workers of India for workers’ rights, social security of unorganised sector workers and social transformation.”
From Speech of Comrade Om Prakash Wagle, ANTUF, Nepal:
Workers Speak 3
How do women workers cope with the pressures of the home? Velankani says, “Husbands of the women workers also work. Some of the husbands are also in sanitation work and in our union; many others are in other jobs. They don’t mind sharing housework, which they do quite cheerfully. But they tend discourage and disapprove of women becoming active in the union and the hartals! Working for wages outside the home is one thing, but doing union work? That’s quite another, in their eyes! But we persuade them, speak to them, and they do change their attitude. I have six children, between 18 years and 7 years of age. My husband works in Raipur and can come home only once a week. I just know that I cannot live without the union work, and will do it come what may.”
“Workers toil to create economic ‘growth.’ But who appropriates the fruits of their labour? Workers must struggle not only for economic benefits but for political emancipation. We have demanded that the constitution of Nepal must guarantee rights and political representation for workers. Our party, CPN (Maoist) and our trade union will always be beside the Indian working class in its struggles.”
From Speech of Comrade Mahbubul Alam, Bangladesh Trade Union Centre:
“The TU I represent came into being since the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. In Bangladesh, workers do not enjoy Trade Union rights and many other rights. 13 Trade Union federations under a united front, SKOP, are struggling now to ensure that the Government elected in 2009 passes pro-worker measures. We strive for a united TU movement throughout the world, and will unite with the progressive working class of India for workers’ assertion in the sub-continent.”
Workers Speak 4
Another demand was that relatives of those who had died in service should be employed, as they had received no gratuity or pension after putting in years of service. Just before the 2010 state assembly elections, the ruling CPI(M) in order to present a worker friendly face, recruited 490 new workers who were made permanent immediately. The newly elected TMC government declared in November 2011 that workers would receive salaries on the first day of the month, but delays continue to be the norm. The CTC remains resolute in continuing the drivers’ struggle to its logical end.
Japan Confederation of Railway Workers’ Unions (JRU)
On behalf of 70,000 members of the Japan Confederation of Railway Workers’ Unions (JRU), I’d like to offer my congratulations on the 8th National Conference of the AICCTU to be held on 11-13 November 2011. And I want to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt thanks for your encouragement and solidarity given to us immediately after the 3.11 disaster of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.
Nearly 20,000 people lost their lives or have still remained missing as of today, and most of the deaths resulted from drowning in the devastating tsunami. Among the disaster victims, there are five members of the JRU. After the earthquake and tsunami, the JRU started relief activities, and delivered relief goods to the stricken members and many volunteers went to the devastated areas from the union.
What is worse is an accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Due to its explosion, broad areas of Japan were contaminated by radioactive materials. However, the full picture hasn’t been given to us yet. Even the TEPCO (the utility) doesn’t have an accurate grasp of the facts concerning the reactor internal. No one knows when the residents’ lives return to normal.
Workers Speak 5
It is a measure of the popularity and trust that the Party enjoys among the villagers that land has been given to the Party voluntarily to open an office by the villagers themselves.
Under such circumstances, the JRU is still making its efforts to recover and reconstruct the stricken area. At present, the distance of damaged and suspended JR lines are 350km. Not only the rail restoration process but also disaster examination has not yet begun especially because of no-go zone around the crippled nuclear plant. Many workers who used to work in this area were forced to move to other worksites. Despite the trying situation, we in the JRU dedicate all our strength in order to ensure that all our members can return to work without any fear. It has become clear that nuclear plants and nuclear technology are far from what the human beings can take responsibility. We would like no one to have the same experience as we did. The JRU is heading for the path of “No Nuke.”
As you know, the JRU has experienced attack from the government. It has also continued after the disaster. The trial of the JR Urawa Train Depot Case has now reached the final stage. Thanks to solidarity from workers across the world including you, members of the AICCTU, we will overcome difficulties and keep our fight moving forward. We wish your Conference great success.
In global unity and solidarity,
Masaharu Takei, President, JRU
Workers Speak 6
Nima Nagakoti of Uttarakhand asserted that through sustained struggle they have managed to acquire separate room, furniture and drinking water for the ASHA workers in the hospital. However, they continue to suffer from lack of security and transport while carrying the pregnant mothers to the hospitals particularly at night time. She also shared how she asserted against the hardships created by her in-laws to continue with the profession.
P.A.M.E. - All Workers Militant Front, Greece
Unfortunately, because of the political developments in Greece, we cannot send a delegation to attend your Conference.
On behalf of PAME and the class-oriented trade union movement in Greece we wish you every success in your conference. We express our class–oriented solidarity to class struggles of the working class of India. Our struggle is common with yours against the monopolies and imperialism, for a society without exploitation of man by man.
Long Live International Solidarity! The Executive Secretariat, P.A.M.E
General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU-Pakistan)
The General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU-Pakistan) sends its warmest fraternal greetings to the 8th National Conference of the AICCTU India. Only socialism can solve the problems of the peoples of the world. Only socialism can emancipate the working class. Only socialism can end all war. We face the future with confidence. This will be the century of the working class!
In Unity & Friendship,
Greetings from the RMT trade union, representing railway and transport workers across Britain. We continue to resist attacks on our wages, jobs and living standards and to support all resistance to the employers’ offensive.
International solidarity has never been more important as the crisis of international finance capitalism unfolds. Even though the responsibility for the world economic crisis openly lies at the door of the financial imperialists, our politicians and the mass media continue to demand that workers and ordinary people suffer for it. Worse, than that, they try to convince the workers of each country that peoples of other countries deserve to shoulder the burden. We therefore fully support the heroic resistance of the Greek people against the attempt to punish them for the crimes of the bankers, as well as the battles of all the workers across the world. Here in the UK, on 30th November, there will be the biggest strike for many years to protest against attacks on pensions and jobs.
We therefore send solidarity greetings to the 8th National Conference of AICCTU and look forward to increasing our links and comradeship in the future.
President, RMT Piccadilly and District West Branch, VP, London Transport Regional Council
Ealing Trades Union Council
Solidarity greetings from Ealing Trades Union Council. With a historic crisis of the capitalist system, it is an auspicious time for your national conference. Here in London we are privileged to have many migrant workers from all around the world especially from India. We are proud to support all of the struggles here and abroad and send our salutations to the conference of the AICCTU.
Eve Turner, Secretary, Ealing Trades Union Council, London
All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions (APFUTU)
Capitalism is facing deep crisis, spreading and reaching more and more regions of the world. It will surely be more serious than previous local ones. In such time capitalists seek ways to cut the costs and to shift the burden of the crisis onto the workers. Governments are trying to push forward their reforms that are nothing else than attack on social rights and protecting capitalists incomes. For the working class it means unemployment, worse work conditions and poverty, unless it is able to organise and defend its rights.
We believe that your Conference will help us to consolidate our cooperation and conduct common struggles against capitalism, and for socialism. Long Live Unity and Friendship!
Pirzada Syed Imtiaz Ali,
General Secretary, All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions (APFUTU)
Solidarity messages were also sent by the Secretary General of GEFONT, Com. Umesh Upadhyaya; CONEP, Nepal; KASBI (Indonesia); South Asia Solidarity Group, U.K; IWAGB (Indian Workers’ Association, Great Britain) General Secretary A. S. Jouhal; ZENROREN—Japan; GUPW (General Union of Palestine Workers); SWTUF (Sudan Workers Trade Union Federation); Jatio Shromik Jote (Bangladesh); All Ceylon Trade Union Federation; and CGT, France.