Celebrations of International Workers Day throughout Latin America testified to working class determination, especially in Cuba where millions marched. Honoring workers’ struggles and achievements, many observances centered on specific national challenges.

In Caracas, over 300,000 workers and families gathered to applaud labor unity, steel nationalization and a 30 percent minimum wage hike announced that day. In Colombian cities, tens of thousands demonstrated against killings of unionists and against the U.S. free trade pact with Colombia. In Mexico workers marched in support of collective bargaining and against oil privatization, while in Paraguay demonstrations centered on worker unemployment approaching 50 percent.

In Havana, Salvador Valdes, secretary general of the Cuban Workers Federation, addressed 500,000 Cubans gathered in the Plaza of the Revolution. He echoed themes explored two days earlier by President Raul Castro before the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. Evidently the two, both relatively new in their jobs, are as one in advocating the necessity of melding socialist ideals with resourcefulness in dealing with a host of pressing issues.

Valdes cited our “own dissatisfactions” as stimuli for change, stressing equitable distribution of benefits and rational use of energy, raw materials and financial resources. He called for discipline and organization under Communist Party leadership while condemning “violations of the established order” and criminal and corrupt behaviors directed against “the ethical and moral integrity of our collective labors.”

“It is fundamental,” he declared, “to concentrate efforts in building production, above all of food,” and in the process reduce Cuba’s dependency on imported goods. Like President Castro, Valdes alluded to dangers poised over all humanity, specifically climate change, rising food and fuel prices, and wars over resources.

Castro described food production as “a matter of national security” and emphasized that “the greater the difficulties, the more order and discipline are required, and for that, it is vitally necessary to reinforce the country’s institutions.” He announced that the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party would be held in late 2009 and said pending death sentences will be commuted.

Castro led the Workers Day celebration, but did not speak. Over ten thousand students were at the head of the parade entering the Plaza. Almost 1,500 delegates from 61 countries and 175 organizations throughout the world joined with Cubans in observing the day.

atwhit@ roadrunner.com