Ernesto Freire Cazañas, head of the International Relations Department of El Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, and a member of the CTC National Council is looking for new opportunities to create ties with labor unions in the U.S.
The CTC is eager to establish fraternal labor relations in the United States. They have had limited opportunities, but Freire Cazañas highlighted the instances to date: a Cuban trade union delegation travelled to the opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C. in July of 2015; and two thousand union leaders from the US who have journeyed to Cuba for May 1st celebrations and labor education exchanges. A representative from the CTC would be open to opportunities to visit different U.S. states if permission to travel here on a visa could be obtained.
The CTC is the Cuban equivalent to the AFL-CIO. The labor federation is 78 years old; its existence pre-dates the Revolution.
Unions in Cuba are organized wall-to-wall within industries: The Transportation Union, for example, organizes all workers in transit, from airline pilots all the way to pedicab drivers.
The Cuban trade union movement is not affiliated with the Cuban Communist Party—the federation is independent and self-financed. A trade union member is not required to be a member of the Communist Party.
Prospective union members can organize a union with as few as ten colleagues who also wish to form a union in their workplace.
Affiliation with a trade union is voluntary. Freire Cazañas described a shared experience of trade union organizers all over the world: that there are always a few workers who think that they do not need a union until they really need their union. Despite this, Cuba enjoys a 98 percent union membership rate. (The U.S. rate of unionization among all workers is 11.3 percent.)
The 2011 reorganization of the state-run economic sector, as part of the economic revitalization program planned in the Sixth Congress, has produced a new workforce of 500,000 self-employed workers. These self-employed workers, whether co-op workers, artists, small scale hotel operators, or craft-persons, all have the right to join a trade union.
Private businesses like small hotels and restaurants are also affiliated with the hospitality union. The unionization rate is not as high in the self-employed sector as it is in the traditional trade unions, but the labor movement is working to raise the rate of organization.
The right to be employed is a hallmark of Cuban worker rights. Along with this right, workers have a number of rights legally mandated in 2014:
- Right to a written contract
- Social security
- Eight-hour workday
- One day of rest a week
- Seven days of vacation
- One year of paid parental leave, which can be granted to either parent
Grandparents are also now allowed a stipend for childcare if they are caregivers while parents work. Furthermore, in order to encourage higher birth rates, the tax rate for women has been decreased if they have a child.
Even with what he termed the “genocidal blockade,” from the United States, Freire Cazañas made clear that Cuba’s priority remains human beings.