IER Book Launch: Workers in Cuba: Unions and Labour Relations 2011 Update

11 Mar 2011| News

11 March 2011
By Carolyn Jones, IER Director

As workers in the UK struggle to resist ConDem cuts to jobs, pay and services, thousands of workers in Wisconsin Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan are protesting against the Republican bid to remove their right to bargain.In the the ‘land of the free’,workers are having their collective voice at work silenced. Not so in Cuba.

US and UK Workers Fighting for Equality With Cuban Workers

Where the USA goes, Britain follows. Threats to remove collective bargaining structures in education and health services are already being voiced here in the UK.

But its a very different story in Cuba. According to a timely new report from the Institute of Employment Rights called “Workers in Cuba: unions and labour relations. A 2011 update”: – the current restructuring of the Cuban economy and Cuban labour market has the trade union voice at the very heart of the consultation process. That factor is recognised in the Foreword from Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the largest UK union, UNITE who welcomed the reportfor _”its contribution to understanding the underpinning of the left advance in Latin America, a participatory democracy from the grassroots up”_.

So what’s been happening? In 2010, following the impact of the global economic crisis, a devastating hurricane and the ongoing illegal US embargo, Cuba introduced major labour market reforms into its economy. It announced a programme to redeploy 500,000 workers out of the state sector, a step widely interpreted in the international media as a crisis measure by a government beating a rapid retreat from socialism. In Britain the Financial Times remarked that the labour market changes made Margaret Thatcher look like a leftist.

The truth of course is very different and Steve Ludlam , a Senior Lecturer in politics at the University of Sheffield and the author of the IER’s report, notes …

_the key judgement must be about who benefits from the changes and who has power in the process. The changes (in Cuba) of the past decade….have been characterised by an extension of genuine participation by unions in employment policy development, by mass policy consultations with workers and by serious union efforts to strengthen worker participation in workplaces_

According to Ludlam, the changes implemented in 2010 came about _as a consequence of debate and negotiation …and not in a Thatcherite war on organised labour conducted by criminalising solidarity and defeating strikes_

Similarly, in contrast to the anti-union legislation here and the current attacks on collective bargaining in the USA, in Cuba, the implementation of all key aspects of labour relations legislation has been incorporated into the workplace collective bargaining agreement. The law requires union and worker participation at all stages of development, stating that without workers’ agreement _the system cannot be applied_

Ludlam goes on to provide examples of union influence over labour market policy including – Union proposals relating to health and safety procedures that led to fatal accidents falling by half and workplace accidents by a quarter; proposals securing salary protection for those losing their jobs; consultations involving 1,500,000 individual trade unionists that lead to higher pensions and retirement at 60 for women and 65 for men.

The truth is that once again Cuba shines a progressive light and reminds us that another world is possible.

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