Independent Labor Leaders: Don't Relax the Pressure

Monday, March 10, 2014
Statement from the Independent Trade Union Coalition of Cuba

The Independent Trade Union Coalition of Cuba (CSIC) reaffirms its commitment to democracy, collective and individual freedoms, market economy and social justice, essential requirements for equitable development and the rescue of the most cherished values of the Cuban people.

We urge the international community, and in particular the United States and the European Union, that any progress in the relations with the Castro regime should have as reference the observance of human rights, freedom of prisoners of conscience, an end to the persecution against dissent, and a full compliance with fundamental labor rights established by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The highly publicized reforms are nothing but a political and commercial gimmick. The totalitarian principles guiding the oppressive dictatorship’s logic remain intact. The only way to advance on the democratic road is to have a clear idea of the intentions, limitations and scope of these reforms. To relax the pressure to democratize the country, without taking into account the violations of fundamental rights supporting the regime, would be a serious mistake.

Cuba is a totalitarian country, where there is no labor freedom, and where workers and union leaders who organize independent unions are systematically repressed, harassed and sentenced for simply defending the freedom of association and labor rights, globally recognized.

The State maintains total control over the Cuban worker. The official trade union monopoly, the government employment agencies, the harassment and persecution of independent trade unions, the draconian disciplinary statutes in government-run enterprises, and all labor laws and decrees, are tools that prevent the establishment of democratic and cooperative labor relations, necessary for the promotion of private initiative and the welfare of workers and their families.

Cuban authorities only recognize one “union”: the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), State-controlled and led by the Communist Party –which appoints its leaders. The CTC in its own bylaws recognizes the Communist Party as the only governing body of society. The CTC is a State apparatus of social control and not an organization representative of workers.

The Government of Cuba repeatedly violates the major ILO Conventions and Recommendations of which Cuba is signatory, while prohibiting the creation and development of independent trade unions. The right to strike is not recognized.

On the hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers, expected to be absorbed by the self-employed sector (the so-called cuentapropismo), the government imposes excessive tax burdens, total control of the means for acquiring products and essential services; and, extorts them via the imposition of fines, and the denial of access to credit that would allow them to achieve the development of private enterprises and generate employment and well-being. Meanwhile, the authorization of these licenses is being portrayed as an important market opening, when in reality it is no more than a control mechanism tending to thwart the self-employment initiative. To complement the social control, these workers are forced to join one of the CTC’s official unions.

The Foreign Investment Law No. 77 of 1995 stipulates that foreign companies can only hire workers through employment agencies created by the State. Investors pay the agencies in dollars or euros, and in turn the agencies pay workers a lower figure in the devalued Cuban currency, withholding up to 98 % of their salaries. In addition, they are subjected to a rigid system of vetting covering their political background before being hired.

The Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment announced an upcoming new legislation that will “deepen” foreign investment. We are alarmed by this new legislation aimed at promoting foreign investment based on “deepening” the comparative advantages of a labor force fully controlled by the State, and about the special conditions laid down in the Mariel Special Development Zone. No new provisions on labor rights or environmental controls are being announced. On the contrary, the government is seeking to create industrial “havens” that will compete in the regional and global trade based on a social dumping that the State will enforce by blood and fire, to the detriment of workers and environmental preservation.

In essence, abusive and repressive labor practices are promoted as the engine of profit and guarantee of advantages, from which foreign companies will benefit using labor practices illegal in their own countries.

Under these conditions devised for the Mariel Special Development Zone, the government pretends to boost the presence of foreign companies on the Island, which has fallen by 50% in the last decade.

We denounce the pretense, illegal from the point of view of international human and labor rights, of a financial project that aims to establish itself on the shoulders and the sweat of the workers, and as such offered to foreign companies as bait for direct investment.

Therefore, we demand multinational companies operating or seeking to operate in Cuba not to become complicit with an oppressive State, and to impose on their negotiations with Cuban authorities clear labor practices regulations, in line with international standards and the full exercise of corporate social responsibility.

Emblematic foreign enterprises, such as Spain’s Melia and Canada’s Sherritt, have profited for decades based on the most shameful and exploitive working practices. Their violations of international labor laws and practices have been thoroughly documented, and we will continue to monitor all new investments. The democratic awakening in our country will know how to deal with these companies, in accordance with international laws.

Cuban workers and independent trade union organizations will track the behavior of these companies and their degree of complicity in the violations of human and labor rights and the individual dignity of its workers.

Companies may impose more favorable terms in negotiations if they so wish, or may fall into the easy profits derived from the oppressive complicity. In a democratic state of law and social justice, their behavior will be evaluated by those that are exploited and oppressed today.

The “comparative advantages” that the dictatorship presents as enticement to foreign capital are a shameless and manifest violation and discrimination of the Cuban salaried worker. That companies will take advantage of these exploitive benefits for a short-term profit undoubtedly constitutes a serious precedent in a democratic Cuba.

The CSIC, by ratifying its commitment to freedom, democracy and social justice, is ready to work with all organizations fighting inside and outside Cuba against the Castro-Communist oppression and for the emancipation of our country, returning its people the dignity and happiness they deserve.

La Habana, Cuba

María Elena Mir Marrero Secretary General
National Independent Confederation of Cuban Workers

Maybell Padilla Pérez
Secretary General
Unitary Council of Trade Unions of Cuba

Iván Hernández Carrillo
Secretary General
Independent Workers Confederation of Cuba