OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CUBA
RIGHT TO WORK
A. GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
A fundamental right that is universally recognized is the right to work.
In this regard, the American Declaration establishes:
Article XIV. Every person has the right to work, under proper conditions, and to follow his vocation freely, insofar as existing conditions of employment permit.
person who works has the right to receive such remuneration as will, in
proportion to his capacity and skill, assure him a standard of living suitable
for himself and for his family.
This article of the American Declaration specifies the practical forms
associated with exercise of the right to work:
this right is to be exercised under “proper conditions”, in
accordance with each person’s vocation and rewarded by appropriate
Directly related to the right to work and to the conditions under which
this right should be exercised, is the right to association “to promote,
exercise and protects ¼legitimate
interests of a ¼
labor union” (American Declaration, Article XXII).
Although theoretically the interests of the workers are completely
identified with those of their State employer due to the very nature of the
“socialist state” in Cuba, analysis of the specific function of unions is
important: protection of the
concrete rights of workers. This
involves consideration of the recourses available to labor unions to obtain
replies to their petitions: the right to strike and to collective bargaining.
However, the specific features of the Cuban political system make it
possible to use another approach to analyze how working conditions are
established and what the role of workers in that process is.
This approach refers to the participation of workers in the management of
enterprises. In effect, if “in
the Republic of Cuba all power belongs to the working people¼”
(Constitution, Article 4), the most concrete and direct manifestation of
exercise of that power must necessarily be reflected in the framework within
which labor is directly performed: the business unit.
In this section therefore, attention will be focused on the results of
policies carried out in Cuba for the purpose of observing the right to work in
practice, i.e., issues related to employment; the question of latitude to select
employment in accordance with vocation (labor mobility); matters related to
working conditions (remuneration, leisure and lawful discharge); the observance
of the rights of labor unions and finally, the practical forms taken by
participation of the workers in enterprises.
B. LEGAL FRAMEWORK AND PRACTICE
The Constitution of Cuba establishes:
Article 8. The socialist state:
As the Power of the people, and for the people guarantees that every man
and woman who is able to work be given the opportunity to have a job with which
to contribute to the good of society and to the satisfaction of individual
In addition, the Constitution stipulates:
Article 44. Work in a socialist society is a right , a duty and an honor for every citizen.
is remunerated according to its quality and quantity; when it is provided, the
demands of the economy and of society, the decision of the worker and his skill
and ability are taken into account; this is guaranteed by the socialist economic
system, that facilitates social and economic development, without crises, thus
eliminating unemployment and eradicating forever the so-called “dead
voluntary labor done for the benefit of all society in industrial, agricultural,
technical, artistic and service activities, is recognized as forger of the
communist conscience of our people.
worker has the duty to accomplish in full all the tasks corresponding to his
The open unemployment rate which was 12% of the labor force in 1958 rose
to a high of 20% at the beginning of 1960, and then declined constantly until
almost disappearing in 1970 (1.3%). This
outcome is explained by the removal from the labor market of young people in
obligatory schooling and of the elderly who are retired and on social security;
elimination of seasonal unemployment in agriculture (especially in the sugar
sector) through annual employment—over employment—guaranteed on state farms,
and migration from rural areas to the city; the enormous expansion of employment
in the social services, the armed forces and the government bureaucracy; over
employment in industry and subsidies for excess workers, which prevented
unemployment in cities; and the emigration of over 10% of the labor force.
But this policy, successful from the social viewpoint, involved a high
economic cost: a large part of
previous open unemployment translated into several forms of under employment,
thus giving rise to sharp falls in labor productivity.
Open unemployment began to rise again in the seventies, probably reaching
3.9% of the labor force in 1974 and 5.4% in 1979.
It was also estimated for that last year that there was 6.7% of the
“potential labor force” (hidden unemployment) made up of those who had
sought employment and ceased to do so, plus others who devoted their time to
homemaking but who wished to work (principally women).
The reemergence of unemployment was due to an abrupt rise in the supply
of labor and a reduction in demand. Supply
increased initially as a result of the entry into the labor market of the new
labor force arising from the marked population increase of the period from 1959
to 1965 (birth rates grew from 2.8% to 3.5% in that period and later fell to
1.1% in 1981); of the assimilation of women into the labor force and the
reduction of emigration. Demand for
labor contracted for several reasons: emphasis of the new economic policy on
labor productivity, which promotes dismissal of excess labor in state
enterprises and farms that are overstaffed;
reduction in the armed forces (at least from 1971 to 1975); slowdown or
stagnation in expansion of social services; creation of a small number of new
jobs in capital-intensive enterprises; contraction of the tobacco industry
(1980-1981) due to an epidemic which destroyed the crops and in the construction
industry due to the lack of material; and finally curtailment of growth and
investment as a result of recession in the sugar industry and the debt crisis of
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the unemployment rate in Cuba in
1979 was very low in comparison with that of other developing countries and even
when compared to unemployment in the same period in several developed market
economies. It should also be noted
that some of the Cuban unemployed are considered “available” and receive
subsidies while being retrained or transferred to other jobs.
The Government has taken other measures such as the exportation of
surplus manpower to work in socialist countries; legalization of private
practice in trades and professions, the agricultural sector, and services, as
well as work done in the home; authorization for free contracting of manpower;
and a renewed expansion of the armed forces as a result of military intervention
in Africa and increased internal defense. The
exodus in 1980 of over 1% of the population (a part of which was unemployed) has
also helped to temporarily alleviate the situation.
Despite these measures, unemployment will foreseeably be a serious
problem at least until the end of the decade, when the swelling of the labor
force as a result of the population boom comes to an end.
12. Articles 42 and 43 of the Constitution of Cuba proscribe discrimination in employment on the basis of sex or race; in order to guarantee this principle, it encourages the assimilation of women into the work force by providing a number of facilities such as day-care centers, boarding schools, maternity leave, etc. Participation of women in the labor force, which had risen from 10% in 1943 to 13% in 1958, rose steeply at the end of the sixties, and reached 18% in 1972; the growth rate was emphasized even further with a rate of 24% in 1978. The current five-year plan projects that the rate of participation of women will stagnate from 1981 to 1985. Domestic service, which prior to the Revolution was the most common form of employment for women, has almost disappeared. Nevertheless, certain problems should be indicated: for example, women are more affected by unemployment than men, since in 1979, women accounted for 69% of open unemployment and 95% of hidden unemployment; women are still concentrated in traditional forms of female employment such as teaching, nursing, child care, service in restaurants, and the textile and apparel industry; the survey of 1979 reveals that only 17% of management positions were held by women and pointed out that this “might be an indication that preference based on sex still prevails.”
The Constitution has no special clauses to guarantee equal employment
with respect to race, and the official position is that racial discrimination
has been completely eradicated in Cuba. There
is no doubt that the black population has benefited from the significant
reduction in unemployment that affected them much more than the white population
prior to the revolution, and that an effort has been made to increase their
representation in the organs of the People’s power.
However, as already indicated, very few black people hold high government
positions, and they are underrepresented in management of enterprises and in the
officer corps of the army, and over represented among those who perform manual
labor and enlisted men.
Despite the progress made by the Government of Cuba with respect to
employment for the population in general, the Commission has received testimony
and denunciations stating that there are various forms of discrimination in
hiring on the basis of ideology or for related reasons.
Thus, it has been reported to the Commission that those who demonstrate
political disagreement with the regime represent the greatest proportion of
those “available”. Furthermore
the relatives of political prisoners suffer job discrimination, as do the
prisoners when they are released. The
Commission has also received denunciations that relatives of emigrés receive
similar treatment when the latter have taken a hostile position to the Cuban
political system while abroad. Job
discrimination is an easy mechanism to apply in an economy in which the State is
little less than the sole employer.
The foregoing presentation on employment indicates that important
progress has been made toward the goal of observing in practice the right to
work; there is unquestionably a situation in which economic, social and legal
mechanisms have been organized as a function of the observance in practice of
the right to work, with significant results.
Nevertheless, it should also be stated that there are still sectors that
continue to be affected by open unemployment and that the latter, apparently to
a significant degree but one difficult to specify, has been translated into
hidden unemployment, with the consequent fall in productivity and negative
impact on the functioning of the economy in general.
The Commission is aware of the difficulties involved in finding a
definitive solution to this important problem; for that reason, when directed
against individual persons, have engendered and engender discrimination on the
basis of ideology, which is incompatible from any viewpoint with the proclaimed
universality of the right to work.
The Right to Choose one’s Occupation and Labor Mobility
The American Declaration the Rights and Duties of Man establishes in
article XIV the right of every person to “follow his vocation freely”.
Freedom of job choice is closely linked to the effective observance of
The Cuban Constitution states that in providing employment, the State
takes into account “the demands of the economy and of society, the decision of
the worker and his skill and ability” (Article 44).
Therefore, priority is given in Cuba to collective or state needs over
individual choice; the preferences of workers are subordinate to “the demands
of economy and society”.
On constraint on the free choice of employment arises from the very
nature of the system, since central planning must avoid surplus labor in trades
or occupations. In this respect, Blas Roca has said: “Control will be exercised to ensure that we have as many
doctors as we need, and industrial technicians, engineers and architects in
accordance with the needs of the country, because this is a planned economy¼and
houses and factories will also be built as needed, and the number of technicians
and professionals will also be exactly that which is needed”.
the State has promoted technical degree programs (e.g., agronomy) while it has
limited enrollment in others (e.g., law, languages).
The changes instate policy have produced drastic changes in occupational
priorities; thus, while between 1971 and 1975 the importance of economics,
accounting and management was reduced, (enrollment in these major study areas in
universities and technical schools fell 94% form 1965 to 1970), at the present
time those areas have been given priority (enrollment in those areas rose 800%
between 1970 and 1976).
It is generally true that employment was always to be found in
agriculture, but employment in other activities has varied
over time. For example, in
the sixties it was easy to find employment in services, which is today more
difficult; from 1966 to 1970, during the campaigns against bureaucracy, it
was extremely difficult to find this kind of employment.
The second important constraint on the free choice of employment is
ideological and it is related to the goal of eliminating all private employment
in the long term. Already at the beginning of the Revolution, Blas Roca warned:
“The future cannot be socialism, private capitalism and small commercial
production (that which is ‘carried out by individual peasants, craftsmen, and
people who work for themselves’). The
future is for everything to become socialist”.
It has already been noted how the collectivization process has reduced
private activity to a minimum, and in the sixties graduates of professional
university programs (e.g.., medicine) took an oath that their services would be
provided only to the State. In
1968, in the course of the “revolutionary offensive”, 56,000 small
businesses were nationalized, such as small shops selling food and handicrafts,
repair shops and even street stands. Fidel
Castro declared at the time that independent work or work on one’s own, small
businesses and handicrafts were capitalist manifestations that stimulated
individualistic and selfish sentiments, and that those involved in them became
“parasites, an obstacle to socialism, and they therefore should reenter
society or be separated from it.”
The 1971 law against vagrancy even further reduced possibilities for
privately remunerated work. The
1979 national survey showed that there were only 211, 617 people working in the
private sector, 6.4% of the labor force (or nearly 94% was working for the
State) distributed as follows: 4.9% were quasi-private farmers (a reduction by
almost half since 1961), 0.8% were self employed workers (most in agriculture
and in transportation and personal services), 0.4% were salaried workers
(chiefly in agriculture) and 0.3% helped a family without remuneration (in
agriculture). Ninety-five percent of these workers were men, which
indicates that the option of working in the private sector was almost entirely
closed to women.
Since 1976 and especially since the beginning of the eighties, the
private practice of trades has been legalized and allowed greater latitude;
these include hairstylists, manicurists, gardeners, taxi drivers, photographers,
electricians, carpenters, mechanics, seamstresses, tailors, shoes shiners, as
well as professionals such as doctors, dentists, architects, etc..
These people must register, obtain a license and pay a tax; in
occupations where manpower is in short supply, workers must have state
employment and can only carry out activities in the private sector after work
hours or on weekends and vacations. Although
there are reports that indicate that in 1979 there were approximately 100,000
independent registered workers, this figure is three times that revealed in the
official survey of 1979.
Nevertheless, the future of such new private activity is uncertain, since
in 1982 it was harshly attacked by the Government for its profit motive and the
considerable earnings being obtained by those who worked in the sector.
President Fidel Castro gave a series of examples to illustrate his
criticism: a. engineers and architects charged 800 and up to 1,000 pesos to
design a plan for housing repair, which was labeled as “prostitution of the
concept of self employment”; b.
state administrators hired a team of skilled technicians and workers to
work on a project in their free time, which was branded as a “repugnant
violation” of the rules and an example of corruption; c.
doctors and vanguard workers who had the right to buy a new automobile
purchased them for 4,500 pesos and sold them for 20,000 pesos, while others sold
used cars for 10,000 pesos; d. quasi-private
farmers sold products for up to 50,000 or 60,000 pesos per year with earnings of
30,000 to 40,000 pesos; e. middlemen
in the peasant free-markets bought products, rented trucks, and transported the
merchandise to the cities (where they were scarce) with profits of up to 40,000
tenant farmers and sharecroppers cultivated the land without registering
with the state or being members of ANAP and sold their products in the free
market; g. in the free market of
Havana craftsmen sold their hand-made products for up to 10 times the official
price (e.g., sandals at 50 pesos, trousers for 90 pesos) which—the President
said—had to be stopped to prevent the city from being filled with small shops,
and h. “professional waiters”
who either bought and later resold articles at a profit or who rented their
services by the hour to wait in line.
Although some of these activities might be regarded as illegal, most were
not, or in any case demonstrated the need for these services.
With respect to labor mobility or the right to move freely and change
employment, apart from the limitations already described, there are the
following: in 1962 an
identification card or work paper was introduced and is still in use; that
paper, issued by the Ministry of Labor, is essential to obtain or change
employment and contains a history of the employment of its possessor.
In 1969, a law was enacted which regulates the “merits” and
“demerits” that should be included on the labor identification card; the
merits include performance of voluntary work, meeting production goals, overtime
without pay, protection of socialist property and strong political conscience;
demerits include absenteeism, negligence, failure to meet production goals and
punishments imposed by civil or military courts.
Between 1969 and 1980 no one was allowed to change jobs without
authorization from the corresponding regional office of the Ministry of labor,
but this regulation must have been changed by the 1980 law that permitted free
hiring. Another indirect
restriction that remains in place is the rationing card that assigns the person
or family nucleus to a state grocery store so that whoever changes jobs must
also obtain a transfer of the card.
Finally, opportunity to work temporarily abroad is extremely rare in Cuba
and limited to socialist countries or those with which Cuba has a contract to
provide services; permanent emigration is also limited by age and the scarcity
of the skills of the interested party.
Working Conditions: Remuneration,
Leisure and lawful Discharge
In Article 45, the Cuban Constitution establishes an 8-hour working day,
a weekly rest period and annual paid vacations, and it states that the State
supports development of vacation facilities and plans.
This latter element is the only innovation, since the above-mentioned
rights were established in the Constitution of 1940.
In fact, with the help of the labor unions the State has developed
vacation centers for workers during their annual one-month vacations, which are
usually taken in July and August.
In addition, the Constitution states (Article 44) that work is
remunerated according to its quality and quantity (socialist distribution
formula) and establishes in Article 42 the principle of equal pay for equal
work. To implement these
regulations, a standardized occupation manual has been prepared (which takes
into account skills, responsibility and effort) and there is a uniform national
system of labor standards and wage scales.
The standards, coordinated with central planning establish the output (in
quantity, volume, weight), that the worker must produce in a given time.
Wage scales are also set by the State and are connected to the standards
so that if a worker meets the standard, he receives his wages in full; if not,
his salary is reduced by an amount equal to his shortfall, and if he surpasses
the standard, he receives a bonus. The
standards are revised periodically to ensure that the standards are not too lax.
There are special wages for very hard labor or work performed in
conditions of extreme danger or which require a special effort.
In general, this system ensures national uniformity in the payment of
wages. It should be noted that the standards and wages are centrally
set by the State with no direct participation of the worker or his most
immediate representatives, the labor unions.
An important innovation of the Constitution of 1976 is the recognition of
“non-paid voluntary labor, done for the benefit of all society in industrial,
agricultural, technical, artistic, and service activities, is recognized as
forger of the communist conscience of our people” (Article 44).
Non-paid voluntary work is done during the workers’ free time, after
the workday, on weekends and during vacations.
It is a matter of debate whether this work is truly voluntary; there is
no doubt that part of the population is strongly motivated by ideology (the
so-called “vanguard workers” of the sixties) and contributes this additional
effort totally of their own will. Nevertheless,
there is sufficient evidence that a significant part of the labor force performs
this labor due to the strong social pressure brought to bear by the Government,
the party, the management of enterprises and the labor union; in addition,
voluntary work constitutes a “merit” that is recorded on one’s work
record, and is important in obtaining the option to buy the scarce consumer
durables that are allocated to the enterprises.
Voluntary work began to be used in 1962 as a temporary measure to
overcome the scarcity of manpower for the sugar harvest, and was later extended
to nearly every activity for ideological and economic reasons; for example, a
substantial part of the 1970 crop was harvested by hundreds of thousands of
volunteer workers. But the failure
of the crop made it clear that the cost of mobilizing the volunteers
(transportation, food, lodging, etc.) was in most cases higher than the value of
their output. Thus, with the more
pragmatic attitude of the seventies, voluntary work was considerably reduced and
there is now more emphasis on its productivity.
It should be pointed out that voluntary work, since it is unpaid and
carried out under various forms of pressure, constitutes a violation of the
constitutional rules on remuneration and leisure.
It is interesting to note that in the thirties, regulations were enacted
to prohibit this kind of work, which declared null and void any contracts that
included it; at that time, the employers were private citizens.
Although the volume of voluntary labor has fallen, it still detracts
hours from leisure time and precludes payment for hours worked after the working
day. In this respect, the American
Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man establishes:
Article XV. Every person has the right to leisure time, to wholesome recreation, and the opportunity for advantageous use of his free time to his spiritual, cultural and physical benefit.
The Constitution of 1976 does not establish the right of workers not to
be dismissed without a proper action or prior proceedings, and in accordance
with the just grounds set forth in the law, as did the Constitution of 1940
In 1961, a law, was enacted for dismissal for “counterrevolutionary
activities” defined as those “carried out for the purpose of provoking
difficulties in work centers, paralyzing industry and posing obstacles to
implementation of revolutionary measures”.
The scope of this concept includes activities such as strikes.
In 1961 and 1962 a large number of employees in electricity, telephone,
and transportation services, etc., were dismissed under this law.
Toward the end of the sixties, however, when full employment was reached
and manpower was needed in agriculture, the problem of dismissal became
unimportant. In 1969, for example,
the Minister of Labor stated that discharge as a sanction (established in the
Labor Justice Law of 1964) was contrary to the ideological and economic
objectives of the Revolution, and recommended transfer to lower or more arduous
occupations instead. The 1971 Law
against Vagrancy rendered discharge yet more irrelevant.
Despite this, since 1963 and until the seventies, those requesting visas
to leave the country were commonly dismissed from their employment (unless the
State required their services) and sent to work in the agricultural sector until
exit was authorized, a process which sometimes takes years.
Other Characteristics of the Labor System
Following in the tradition of socialist constitutions while also
introducing a new element in Cuban law, the Constitution (Articles 44 and 63)
establishes three obligations of workers: the
duty to work, to fully carry out the tasks pertinent to their occupation and to
accept to work discipline. With
respect to the duty to work, reference should be made to forced labor, control
of absenteeism and penalties for vagrancy.
The use of forced labor in Cuba has pursued ideological-moral,
re-educational and economic objectives. In
1962, regulations were issued for the first work camp in Guanahacabibes for
rehabilitation of state functionaries “guilty of errors and transgressions
committed in the performance of their duties”.
Among the 32 punishable grounds were negligence or ignorance leading to
paralysis of a factory, obstruction of production goals and hiring of employees
without authorization. The
Guanahacabibes rehabilitation camp served as a model for others that were
established throughout the island; many political prisoners have been interned
in these camps for purposes of rehabilitation.
In the middle of the sixties, the Unidades Militares para Ayuda a la
Producción (Military units to assist Production, UMAP) were established.
Under the jurisdiction of the armed forces, the UMAPs performed (“rehavilitating”)
forced labor until 1973, especially in agriculture and in construction.
Those sentenced to the UMAPs included “deviates” (homosexuals),
“antisocial” persons (idle, maladusted to socialist society) and members of
religious groups who opposed working on Saturdays (the Seventh-Day Adventists
and Evangelical Gideon’s Band).
With respect to the latter group, it should be pointed out that the Constitution
states in Article 54 that it is illegal and punishable to oppose one’s faith
or religious belief to performance of the duty to work.
Absenteeism grew to alarming proportions in Cuba in 1961 and was harshly
criticized by the Government and the CTC. A
resolution of the Ministry of Labor in that year established penalties for
absentees (covering tardiness, leaving early or failure to appear on the job),
that ranged from public admonition to wage cuts, reduction of time counted
toward vacation, transfer and even suspension of employment and wages.
The scope of this resolution was broadened and reinforced by the 1964 Law
on labor Justice,
which regulated violations of labor discipline such as tardiness, absenteeism,
reduction of effort at work, negligence, disobedience, lack of respect or
physical offenses against superiors, damage to equipment, etc.
Penalties include: public admonition, disbarment from holding certain position,
withholding of wages, postponement of vacation, transfer to a lower position,
suspension of employment and dismissal. Managers
of enterprises were authorized to apply the minor penalties, while the more
severe ones cam e under the jurisdiction of the Consejos de Trabajo (Labor
In 1969, however, the Ministry of Labor observed that the penalties had
not produced the expected impact and an increase in absenteeism and negligence,
as well as reduced diligence on the job were reported.
Toward the end of 1970, it was reported that some 400,000 workers, 20% of
the labor force, were absentees, which created a serious crises.
To deal with this situation, a law against vagrancy was enacted in 1971,
which establishes the obligation of all citizens to work and a presumption that
all men from age 17 to 60 and women from age 17 to 55 are physically and
mentally fit to work. The law
introduced two kinds of criminal actions: 1.
The “pre-criminal state of loafing” which covered those absent for more than
15 days and those who have been subject to disciplinary measures at least twice
for such absence; and 2. The
“crime of loafing” which is incurred by all males who are not students and
who are not associated with a State labor Center, including those who are
sporadically associated with one to “disguise their parasitic lives”.
In the first case, penalties may be up to one year of house arrest or
detention in a rehabilitation center for forced labor; in the second case, the
penalty is increased from six months to two years.
One of the purpos4es of the law was to make those who were not working
productive, but indirectly it was also to reduce the number of paid workers
employed in the private sector, particularly in agriculture.
The law urged citizens and the mass organizations to denounce the idle
(or part-time or private workers) and in the course of a three-month campaign
that preceded its implementation, agencies such as the CTC and the ANAP
denounced potential violators of the law; 100,000 men were thus forcibly
recruited into employment. The
regulations of this law have become somewhat more flexible in the eighties due
to the pressures of unemployment and authorization of employment in the private
Collective Labor Rights
Among collective labor rights, reference will be made to labor union
freedoms, the right to strike and to collective bargaining.
In addition,, participation of the workers in management of enterprises
will be considered.
a. Labor union freedoms
Article 53 of the Constitution establishes the right to assembly and
association of workers, and declares that social organizations “have full
freedom of speech and opinion, based on the unlimited right of initiative and
criticism”. These rights, as is
the case of all freedoms recognized by the Constitution, are limited by the
above-mentioned Article 61, according to which these rights may not be
exercised, “contrary to the existence and objectives of the socialist state,
or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and
The first union organization law approved in 1961 established the sole
union, vertically structured, and prohibited formation of workers’ groups
outside the single union system. Although
the law recognized the rights to assembly, association and freedom of
expression, it subjected them to “the interests of production and the general
administration of the State”.
labor union statues approved in 1966 established that the union movement was
directed and guided by the Communist Party and that it should contribute to the
mobilization of the masses to carry out the tasks set out by the revolution and
to strengthen Marxist-Leninist ideology; union leaders should be in the vanguard
of the masses in the effort required of them for the revolution.
According to an official publication, from 1959 to 1970 the union
movement underwent a period of crisis that “nearly ended in its total
disintegration” due to allegations of “total identity between the government
and the interest of the workers”¼
“Many believed that the unions could be eliminated without any loss to the
nation, because the government, the administration and the Party were apparently
capable of performing the unions’ functions”.
It was recognized in 1970 that the union movement had been neglected and
that it should be strengthened and made more democratic, and the holding of free
union elections was announced with the promise that unions would perform their
natural role, i.e., the defense of labor’s interests. The
elections were held in 1970 and three-fourths of the leaders elected were new to
their positions, but it has been pointed out that the government used both
pressure and manipulation to ensure selection of candidates it trusted, and
those elected who loyalty was suspect were promptly subjected to official
In 1971, the Ministry of Labor reaffirmed the vanguard role of the Party
in the union movement. In 1973, the
positions of the XIII Congress of the CTC had returned to the old principle that
there is no conflict but only cooperation between state administration, the
Party and the unions because they all share the same goal:
“always producing more and better”.
The new statutes of the CTC, approved at the Congress, accepted the
position that the unions are directed and guided by the Party and that they must
follow its policy.
According to the statutes, the general objectives of the unions are to
support the revolutionary government, participate in national vigilance and
defense activities, cooperate for better executive management, strengthen labor
discipline and struggle against any violation thereof, as well as to raise the
political conscience of their members. Other
more concrete objectives are to promote daily and punctual job attendance;
maximum use of the working day; increase in production, productivity and
quality; economizing raw materials and energy; proper maintenance of equipment;
promotion of inventions to improve production; and the holding of cultural,
recreational and athletic activities. The
statutes also set forth, in general, that the unions should protect the rights
of workers, verify implementation of labor legislation and of security measures,
and respond to members who submit complaints.
In 1975 a survey was taken among union leaders and workers in the 15 most
important enterprises of the country. To
the question “What is the most important function of the local union?
They replied: output (60%), education (44%),
production and defense of the interests of the workers (14%) and defense
of the interests of the workers (4%).
At the CTC Congress held in 1978, its Secretary General declared that all
workers have not only their immediate particular interests, but they also have,
“above all, the supreme objective of ¼
consolidating and defending socialism”. Among
the tasks that the unions should carry out, the Secretary General mentioned the
following: to endeavor to counter
point out and criticize those who produce defective products, to prevent
disobedience of the rules, and to struggle against any manifestation of
incorrect or deviant behavior.
The official justification for this is that the interests of workers are
protected in general by the Government through the enterprises’ management,
which transforms the union into “transmission channels” of management.
Raúl Castro has provided a good summary of this theory:
capitalism) the unions are the instruments to organize and lead the working
masses in the struggle for their just claims¼Nevertheless,
when the working class is in power, the role of the unions changes ¼
there is no antagonism between the working class and the revolutionary power
of the principal functions of unions under socialism is to serve as a vehicle
for the guidelines, directives and objectives that the revolutionary power
should transmit to the working masses¼The
unions are (also) the most powerful link between the party and the working
masses. This is one of the
the efforts of the unions assist and support that of management¼ The principal tasks (in which the unions should participate)
are those bearing on productivity and labor discipline; more efficient use of
the working day; regulations and organization; the quality, conservation and
more efficient and rational use of both material and human resources.
The praxis of socialism indicates, however, that the interests of workers
do not always coincide with those of the leadership and that the former are
often left unprotected vis-à-vis the State and the enterprise’s management,
as neither the party nor the unions provide for their protection.
In Cuba, at the beginning of the seventies, there was a brief period of
self criticism during which the Ministry of Labor declared:
Theoretically, the administrator represents the interests of the worker/peasant State, the interests of all people. The theory is one thing and the practice another¼The worker can have a right established by the Revolution (which is not observed or a complaint against management), and there is no one to defend him. He does not know where to turn. He turns to the Party, which does not uphold it (the right of the worker) or is busy mobilizing people for production¼The party is so absorbed in management that in many cases it has ceased to play its own role, and has become insensitive to the problems of the masses. If the Party and Management are the same thing, then there is nowhere for the worker to take his problem. The union either does not exist or has become the office of the vanguard workers.
Although later in the seventies reforms were introduced to revitalize the
union movement and to allow for certain representation of the masses in
management, these changes have not transformed the essential nature of relations
between workers and State management in Cuba.
Despite the fact that the Constitution establishes broad freedoms for the
unions, the concentration of state power has not been possible without
infringement on union freedoms. The
right to association, on the one hand, cannot be exercised against the existence
and purposes of the socialist state; the unions therefore are not truly
autonomous since they are subordinate to the interest of the State and guided by
the Party. In addition, the
principal objectives of the unions are related to production and productivity
and less to protection of the interests of workers.
These limits on union activity have been clearly demonstrated by recent
information with respect to the arrest of workers seeking independent union
action in order to protect their labor interests.
Right to strike and to collective bargaining
The right to strike and to collective bargaining, although not
specifically set forth in the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of
man, are closely linked to fundamental labor rights.
In addition, the Charter of the Organization of American States declares
in Article 43 that:
Employers and workers, both rural and urban, have the right to free association to defend and promote their interests, including the right of collective bargaining and the right to strike of workers¼
In view of this, the Commission considers that the right to strike and to
collective bargaining should be considered, implicitly, as basic collective
The right to strike, established in the Constitution of 1940 (Article 71)
was maintained in the Basic Law of 1959 and was regulated, with significant
limitations, in the first Labor Procedure Law enacted in 1960.
In the second Law on Labor Procedure and Social Security, issued in 1961,
the article that regulated the right to strike was deleted.
It has already been pointed Out that the dismissal law of 1961
categorized paralysis of production units as a counter revolutionary activity.
No other legal instrument (including the Constitution of 1976)
establishes or refers to strikes. The
official explanation is that the workers are the owners of the means of
production and therefore cannot declare a strike against themselves, the working
class, represented by the Government. Ernesto
Guevara said in this respect, in 1961: “Cuban
workers must become accustomed to living in a regime of collectivism and in no
case may declare a strike”. And
Blas Roca declared the following year: “One sector used to be able to call a
these procedures are not, of course, tolerable.
Now the problem is not one of a strike, but rather now everything depends
In 1982 Cuba issued a law on foreign investment that introduced “joint
ventures” of national and foreign capital.
At a meeting with journalists and potential investors, the Director of
the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, Antonio Villaverde, emphasized the favorable
environment for foreign investment and stated that “there is no danger of
strikes in Cuba”.
Collective bargaining was legally recognized in Cuba in 1934 and in 1940
was included as a labor right in the Constitution (Article 72).
In the first year of the Revolution, the number of collective agreements
signed was very high and the International Labor Organization (ILO) placed Cuba
at the forefront of the countries of Latin America with respect to collective
bargaining. Nevertheless, in
December 1959 collective bargaining was temporarily suspended, but in practice
was eliminated. Between 1960 and
1962 three organic laws of the Ministry of Labor and three labor procedure laws
were enacted. Each was more
restrictive than the last in direct regulation of working conditions between the
management of production units and the workers, rather reinforcing the power of
the Ministry of Labor to directly and unilaterally regulate working conditions.
In 1962, in the course of a meeting of the national Council of the CTC,
the Ministry of Labor introduced a new socialist model of collective agreements,
explaining its scope as follows:
there is a Socialist Revolution ¼
collective contracts acquire a new significance and meaning¼
both union organizations and the management of state organs (enterprises) have
the same interests and pursue the same objectives¼
achievement of collective agreements (then) becomes an extremely important
measure aimed at guaranteeing the fulfillment and surpassing of production
plans, the increase in labor productivity¼
The Ministry of Labor has prepared a Draft Model for collective contracts; on
the basis of this model a mass campaign will be undertaken throughout the
this discussion must be supported with the revolutionary enthusiasm of our
workers, who will demand that the unions and enterprises assume obligations
aimed at surpassing the economic plans.
60. In the 1970s, the collective agreement became
a “collective labor commitment”. The
XIII Congress of the CTC approved these “collective commitments” according
to which the workers undertook to meet and surpass labor standards, save raw
materials and energy, contribute voluntary labor and prevent absenteeism,
tardiness or commit any other violation of labor discipline.
The union should employ “persuasion to lead the workers to make
commitments with respect to all possible aspects”. Management and the union work together to maintain careful
supervision over the commitments. In
monthly and annual assemblies, fulfillment of the worker’s commitment is
discussed in the presence of his
working companions and the results are placed in a visible space in the labor
It can be seen that the fundamental purpose of these collective
commitments is to obligate workers to meet production goals and to obey labor
discipline, and only secondarily to defend their interests.
From the above, it can be concluded that the right to strike is not
recognized in Cuba and that, in practice, that right is proscribed and
punishable. In addition, workers do
not negotiate with management on labor conditions through collective agreements,
but rather undertake commitments in which they basically agree to meet
Participation of workers in management of production units
Article 14 of the Constitution establishes that in Cuba “rules the
socialist system of economy based on the people’s socialist ownership of the
means production¼”. Article 4 of the Constitution stipulates that in Cuba “all
the power belongs to the working people¼” If power and ownership belong to the working people, it
entails exercise of inherent responsibilities; with respect to the economy, it
implies adoption of decisions with respect to what is produced, how it is
produced and how the output of production is distributed.
At the level of the production unit, the adoption of these decisions
constitutes the very essence of management; in a socialist regime, workers
theoretically exercise a preponderant role in the decision-making process in
their capacity as owners of the means of production and holders of power in the
theoretical postulates of contemporary Cuban society.
64. At the
beginning of the Revolution, the possibility of implementing a system of
enterprise self-management similar to the Yugoslav system was briefly discussed,
but this idea was promptly dismissed. Later,
at the XIII Congress of the CTC in 1973, participation of the unions in
management of enterprises through the old “production assemblies’ and the
proposed “management councils” was instituted.
Nevertheless, the objective of these assemblies (in operation since the
sixties) is to ensure compliance with production plans, strengthen labor
discipline, etc. and not to negotiate working conditions.
The function of the proposed management councils would be to approve or
make suggestions for the amendment of the production plans prepared by the
enterprise administrator, following state directives.
The Congress approved a resolution that requested the government to enact
a law regulating the production assemblies (which has not been enacted) and
remained silent with respect to the management councils.
In 1975, a resolution of the First Congress of the Communist Party of
Cuba stated that managers “were the highest authority” in state enterprises
and “they had the highest responsibility” both for the functioning of the
enterprise and for the consequences of their decisions.
The resolution recommended that management be advised by a Board, on
which the unions would be represented, although their participation would be
limited to studying compliance with the production plan, use of the fund for
incentives and organization of the socialist model.
In 1976, the law on organization of the central administration of the
state instituted two new kinds of councils in enterprises and state agencies:
the “executive councils” that study and make decisions on most important
matters, and which exclude workers, and the “technical advisory councils”,
composed of chief administrators, distinguished specialists and highly-skilled
technicians, and which, therefore, also exclude the large majority of workers.
66. Workers are also excluded from decision with respect to the national plan; when production goals and other key aspects of the centrally formulated plan are broken down at the level of the production unit, workers have an opportunity to discuss implementation of the plan. But in 1966, the Secretary General of the CTC stated that at those assemblies, management simply presented the figures of the plan with no active participation or spontaneous discussion by the workers, and that bureaucrats assumed that they have the right to think for the masses. Four year later, a declaration signed by the leadership of the CTC and the Minister of Labor stated that production goals in the production units were arbitrarily set without the real participation of the workers, and that the production assemblies performed no serious analysis of the necessary requisites for meeting those goals. At the XIV Congress of the CTC, the Secretary General described the “true” functions of the production assemblies:
those in which workers take note of the progress of the plan, its difficulties
and contribute ideas for overcoming them; analyze quality and promote measures
to improve it; ¼
suggest ways of effecting savings; adopt measures to ¼
strengthen labor discipline; ¼
help workers acquire an owners’ awareness (of the goods of production),
interested in the best use of the work day and an increase in productivity.
It can be seen from the above that at this time there is no genuine
participation of Cuban workers in the management of production units, even
though since the beginning of the prevailing government trends have emerged that
aim at bringing about such participation and thus the observance, in practice,
--currently lacking—of the postulates of the Constitution.
Analysis of the concrete manifestations of the exercise of the right to
work in the Republic of Cuba indicates that significant progress has been made
with respect to employment, both in comparative and absolute terms, through the
organization of an economic system that provides the populace with the real
opportunity to work; this is a positive and therefore, noteworthy, achievement. Nevertheless, it should also be stated that unemployment
persists as a practical reality in limited sectors of the labor force of Cuba,
and in certain cases arises from political discrimination against persons
opposed to the government. Likewise,
it should be pointed out that there is hidden unemployment, the extent of which
is difficult to determine, and which entails high economic costs; a realistic
response that would promote economic activities capable of productively
absorbing the underemployed groups is incompatible with the dogmatic rigidity of
the approach to solving this problem.
Labor mobility, or allowing individuals to follow the vocation of their
choice, is restricted by the limitations of the economy itself which still
suffers from serious structural deficiencies (preponderance of single-crop
farming, limited industrial development, low productivity , etc.).
Contributing to the restrictions on employment options are the various
forms of social control set up by the government, with the consequent chain of
necessary bureaucratic procedures to obtain the stipulated authorization in
order to change jobs; the modus operandi characteristic of a highly
centralized economic system, which has consistently discouraged private
initiative, has the same impact.
70. With respect to
working conditions, the positive results of efforts aimed at eliminating the
unequal distribution of income should be noted, which have been possible due to
wage policy and the simultaneous adoption of other measures such as massive
extension of social services. There
are indications, nevertheless, that practices that violate such long-standing
achievements of labor, as the eight-hour work day and leisure, have become
generalized through an extension of the work day and through “voluntary”
work obtained in large measure by bringing various forms of pressure to bear on
It is in the area of collective labor rights that the Commission finds
the greatest contradiction between the system’s ideological postulates and its
operation in practice. The right of
association for union purposes is neither recognized nor observed in practice;
on the contrary, only official unions are authorized.
The very function of unions has been distorted, and rather than
protecting the concrete interests of workers they have become an instrument of
control. In this framework, the
right to strike is denied in practice, and now constitutes a punishable act,
while collective bargaining is practically nonexistent. At the level of production units, a vertical structure has
been instituted in which there are no institutional channels for the
participation of workers in management, even though in theory they are the
owners of the means of production.
[ Table of Contents | Previous | Next ]
The data used in this section is
fundamentally based on: Mesa-Lago,
Carmelo. “The Economy: Caution, frugality and Resilient Ideology”, in Cuba:
Internal and International Affairs, Jorge Domínguez, ed.
(Beverly Hills: Sage, 1982),
The open unemployment rate of 5.4% is the
estimate of Carmelo Mesa-Lgo, based on official statistics which
nevertheless gave no figure for the “unemployed population”.
Estatal de Estadísticas, Principales características laborales de la
población de Cuba: Encuesta
demográfica nacional de 1979, Havana, 1981, pages 1, 3 and 13).
on the concepts set forth in that document, the above-cited expert has
estimated the unemployment rate in two ways, with identical results:
187,745 unemployed. The
potential labor force of 231,851 is given by the above-mentioned document as
“total inactive population” minus the “net inactive population”
(ibid, p. 25).
The 24% rate is based on the figure of
760,794 employed women given in December, 1978, by Roberto Veiga in his
“Informe Central al XIV Congreso de la CTC”, Granma, December 2,
1978, p. 5. But the national
survey held in march 1979 produced a much higher figure of 945,966 women, a
rate of 27% (Principales características, op. Cit., p. 13).
Since it is impossible for almost 200,000 women to have joined the
labor force in four months, one of the two figures must be incorrect.
The provisional figures of the 1981 census do not include information
on this point.
Blas Roca, Médico Cubano,
¿Cuál es tu porvenir? (Havana Imprenta nacional, 1961), pp.
Mesa-Lago “The Economy¼”,
op. Cit., pp. 24, 25 and 29.
Blas Roca, Medico Cubano¼
op. Cit., pp. 46-48.
Fidel Castro, “Discurso en el onceon
aniversario de la acción de 13 de marzo”, Granma Resumen Semanal,
March 24, 1968, pp. 6-7
 Principales características ¼op. Cit., pp. 32, 35 and 67.
Mesa-Lago, “The Economy¼”
op. Cit., pp. 130-131.
Fidel Castro, “Speech at the closing
session at the 4th Congress of the young Communist League”, Granma
Weekly Review, April 18, 1982, p. 4, and “Speech at the closing
session of the 6th Congress of ANAP”, pp. 3-4.
Law 1225, August 29, 1969; “Work
Evaluation Bill:”, “Granma, July 8, 1970; “Bill on Labor Merits
and Demerits”, ibid, September 12, 1970, p. 3; Resolution 425, October 15,
Grupo Cubano de Investigaciones Económicas,
Investigación sobre las Condiciones de Trabajo:
La experiencia cubana. Buenos
Aires: Ediciones Marymar, 1967, pp. 18-22.
“Tipología y Valor Económico del Trabajo no Remunerado en
Cuba”, El Trimestre Económico, 40 (July-September 1973): 679-711;
of the same author, Diaéctica, op. Cit.,
Decree276 and Decree 798 of 1938.
The decrees cited in the above footnote
established grounds and regulated procedures for dismissal; only nonsugar
agricultural workers and domestic servants were excluded.
The World Bank Mission that visited Cuba in 1950 pointed to the
extreme difficulty of dismissing workers as an obstacle to development.
See International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Report
on Cuba (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1952).
Law 924, January 4, 1961.
See Grupo Cubano de Investigaciones Económicas, Investigación
Grupo Cubano de Investigaciones Económicas,
pp. 23-26; Mesa-Lago, “Tipología y Valor Económico¼”,
pp. 679-711; and Mateo Jover Marimón, “The Church” in Revolutionary
Change, p. 413. Se
also Chapter VIII of this Report.
Resolution of the Ministry of Labor,
5798, August 27, 1962. See
Grupo Cubano de Investigaciones Económicas, pp. 69-72.
Law 1166, September 23, 1964.
Law 1231, March 16, 1971, Granma
Resumen Semanal, March 28, 1971. For
detailed analysis see ian McColl Kennedy, “Cuba’s ley contra la Vagancia-The
Law on Loafing”, UCLA Law
Review, 20:6 (August 1973): 1177-1268.
962, August 1, 1961. See Grupo
Cubano de Investigaciones Económicas, pp. 140-174.
 Statement of principles and statues of the CTC, July 5, 1966.
Lionel, “Reestructuración sindical en Cuba”, Cuba Internacional,
(April, 1971): 28-30.
See the detailed analysis of this process
in Mesa-Lago, C., Dialéctica ¼
op. Cit., pp.131-135.
Statutes of the CTC and “Declaration of
Principles and Bases”, XIII CTC Congress, Havana, 1973, pp. 1-10.
“Institutionalization and Workers’ Response”, Cuban Studies/Estudios
Cubanos, 6:2 (July 1976): 31:54.
Veiga, roberto, “Informe Central al XIV
Congreso de la CTC”, November 30, 1978, p. 3
Castro, Raúl, “Discurso en la clausura del Congreso Nacional de
Trabajadores Civiles de la FAR” Granma Resumen Semanal, September
26, 1972, p. 5.
Risquet, Jorge, “Comparecencia sobre
problemas de fuerza de trabajo y productividad”, Granma, August 1,
1970, pp. 5-6.
 Law 759, March 11, 1960, and Law 938, February 28, 1961.
Ernesto, Revollución, February 2, 1961, and Blas Roca, Ocho
Conferencias Revolucionarias (Havana, 1962), pp. 18-19.
 Villaverde, A., Miami Herald, August 23, 1982. See also William Chislett, Financial Times, June 2, 1982.
See Grupo Cubano de investigaciones Económicas,
Sánchez, Augusto, La Tarde, September 3, 1962.
“Tesis del XIII Congreso de la CTC”, Granma
Resumen Semanal, September 2, 1973, p. 9 and “Proyecto de Resolución
sobre la emulación socialista,”, XIII Congress of the CTC, Havana,
November 11-15, 1973.
C., Dialéctica ¼
op. Cit, pp. 142-144.
Martín, Miguel A., “Informe Central al
XII Congreso de la CTC”, El Mundo, August 26, 1966, p. 6; and
“Decidida la clase obrera a convertir el revés en victoria”, Granma,
June 29, 1970, p.1.
Vega R., “Informe Central al XIV Congreso de la CTC”, Granma,
December 1, 1978, p. 4.