WINDSOR, Ontario – About 200 U.S., Canadian and Cuban workers, retirees, and other labor activists met here for a three-day Cuba Labor Conference July 26-28 to build ties among workers of the three countries.

The sponsors, the US/Cuba Labor Exchange, Worker to Worker, and Canada/Cuba Labor Solidarity Committee, had intended the event to be held in New York but had to move it to Canada when the U.S. government denied visas to its guests from the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC).

Meeting at a Canadian Auto Workers hall, the conferees heard presentations by CTC General Secretary Pedro Ross Leal, Diana Maria Garcia, General Secretary of Cuba’s Public Administrative Workers Union, Manuel Montero, head of the CTC Foreign Relations Americas Section, and Leonel Gonzalez, CTC foreign relations director.

Although the U.S. embargo against Cuba has cost the island over $100 billion, Montero told a panel, the greatest cost is the pain and suffering that Cuban families have experienced “in their own flesh and bone” from Cuba’s inability to import needed medical supplies.

In a conference highlight Ross described the role of labor in Cuba and its electoral process, in which elected local representatives elect representatives to regional governments, who in turn elect the National Assembly. Canadian participant Dave Thomas, who observed the election process in Cuba in 1997-98, said the Cuban electoral system is “more democratic than what we have in Canada. I was a provincial candidate and I can tell you it is a very corrupt process that we have.”

Even more important is the popular participation in Cuba’s policy-making, Ross said. In contrast to the U.S., where “fast track” is taking away Congress’ role in debating important trade policies, Ross said in Cuba major economic policies are presented to the workers for approval. To evaluate proposed reforms, he said, workers recently “held 78,900 meetings throughout Cuba.” As a result, some proposals to weaken social protections were scrapped.

A recurring theme was “free trade” agreements’ impact on workers, including lost jobs and weakened wages and labor protections, and the crises caused by “Washington consensus” economic “reforms” imposed on developing countries. Noting the devastating impact of unemployment on U.S. families, Ross said that in Cuba, which has lost 100,000 sugar-related jobs because of U.S. policies, all displaced workers will receive full wages while attending school starting Sept. 1.

A panel on human rights in Cuba noted that the Revolution’s program closely paralleled the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Martha Grevatt, former national secretary of Pride At Work-AFL-CIO, said the rights of gays are respected in Cuba. “There are no Matthew Shepards in Cuba,” she said. “An open and aggressive campaign has kept AIDS deaths to a minimum in Cuba. I believe prejudice will be eradicated in Cuba before it is eradicated in the United States.”

Gloria La Riva reported on national efforts to free the Cuban Five, including a video, a campaign to collect 20,000 petition signatures, and a website,

U.S. and Cuban participants expressed disappointment that the AFL-CIO has not taken a stand opposing the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Ross said the CTC is interested in discussions with the AFL-CIO but so far has not gotten a positive response.

Participants pledged actions including union resolutions against the embargo, publicity about the Cuban Five, and plans for a CTC tour of the US or Canada in 2004.

At the meeting’s close, Ross said on behalf of the Cuban guests, “We’re leaving today with a renewed spirit to continue the struggle. Unity is the essence of strength, and this has been demonstrated here at this conference.”

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Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries