BY JOHN STEELE
TORONTO - Cuba, Canada, and the United States were hot topics of discussion among my co-workers during the week when U.S. president William Clinton authorized implementation of Title III of the so-called "Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act" July 16. The legislation, which the media refers to as the Helms-Burton law, tightens Washington's 37-year trade embargo against Cuba. My T-shirt with the slogan "Hands off Cuba, Worker to Worker, Canada, Cuba Labour Solidarity" helped get the discussion going.
During the week there was a lot of patriotic flag waving by the Canadian government and the media, presenting Ottawa as the leader in an international fight against Washington's legislation. This was coupled with nationalist hoopla around Canadian athletes going to the Olympics in Atlanta, and the release of the United Nations Human Development Report declaring Canada the number one country to live in for the third year in a row.
A number of co-workers asked me my opinion and expressed their views on Title III of the anti-Cuba law. This section allows U.S. citizens whose property was taken over by Cuban workers and farmers in the 1959-61 socialist revolution to sue Canadian, European, Mexican, and other non-U.S. companies currently doing business in Cuba by what the law says is "trafficking" in these confiscated properties. Clinton said this section would be implemented, but he declared a six-month moratorium on actually filing such lawsuits.
Workers in my plant were also concerned about another section of the law - already in effect - that bans the officers of Sherritt International Corp., a Toronto-based mining company, from entering the United States. Sherritt operates a state-owned nickel mine jointly with Cuba. The mine was expropriated from a New Orleans company shortly after the 1959 revolution.
The Canadian government is opposed to the sections of the law that penalize Canadian companies that do business in Cuba. A coalition of organizations that includes OXFAM, churches, some unions, and Cuba solidarity groups is calling for a boycott of Florida.
A statement that is being circulated says: "This winter you may want to think twice about a visit to Florida. The United States government is interfering in the internal matters of the Canadian people. The Helms-Burton legislation punishes Canadian companies and workers by dictating who we may or may not trade with.... The arrogance demonstrated by this legislation is remarkable. Canadians should spend their money where they are respected and appreciated. And not in Florida."
Here are a sampling of opinions expressed by different coworkers on these events:
"Canada is really standing up to the U.S."
"[Prime Minister Jean] Chretien is really supporting your friend Castro."
"My mother was in Florida and she said the people were rude to her and she won't go back until this whole thing blows over."
"The U.S. just wants to take over Cuba and everyone else."
"[Senator] Jesse Helms [one of the authors of the law] is a nut case. The Americans are the most ignorant people in the world."
Most comments were tinged with anti-Americanism. Only a couple of co-workers who emigrated from Columbia and Argentina, who are supporters of the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro, talked about the right of the Cuban people to defend their sovereignty and socialist system.
I didn't agree with the anti-American comments or the idea that working people should support the government by organizing a boycott of Florida, and said so.
The day after President Clinton ratified the legislation one lunch room discussion got to the heart of the matter.
"What does this mean for Canada," one worker asked.
"That's not what we should be concerned about," I argued. "The issue is Cuba's right to trade with any country it wants to without interference from the U.S. or any other country."
"Do you like Cuba? Isn't it a communist dictatorship," asked another person.
"Yes, I support Cuba," I said. "It's a country where working people not only make the country run, they run the country. Here, parliament is run by and in the interest of a few billionaire and multi-millionaire families that own the big corporations and banks."
I pointed out how the UN report ranking Canada as the number one country describes the growing inequalities in the world and reports that the assets of the world's 358 billionaires (there are about six in Canada) exceeds the total annual income of 2.3 billion people or 45 percent of the world's population.
These statistics are what capitalism is all about. When Cuba's workers and farmers took power in 1959 and then started to build socialism, they got rid of these kinds of monstrous inequalities, which condemn workers and farmers to poverty, sickness, illiteracy, and other horrors. Today, Cuba shows there is an alternative to capitalism. That's why capitalists everywhere and the governments that defend their interests hate the revolution and want to destroy it one way or another.
Stick with working-class interests
The Canadian government and the class of ruling rich it represents are not concerned about our problems, or the problems of working people anywhere in the world, as the racist murders of Somalis by Canadian "peace-keeping" troops shows. Ottawa's opposition to the Helm's-Burton law has nothing to do with defense of the rights of Cuba's workers and farmers and everything to do with growing trade competition with U.S. capitalists as the world capitalist depression unfolds. Ottawa has repeatedly stated that it shares Washington's aims in Cuba.
Stick with working-class interests
Canadian Ambassador to Washington Raymond Chretien recently stated that Ottawa agreed with Washington on the need to establish "democracy, a free market, and human rights" in Cuba - their code words for a return to capitalist exploitation. Their only disagreement was over how to achieve those objectives.
On September 14 the Canadian Auto Workers union contracts with the GM, Ford, and Chrysler auto assembly plants expire. As a Ford employee and member of the Machinists union in Ford's electronics division, it would make no sense to line up with the Ford's owners in their competitive drive against GM and Chrysler. As a worker I can only defend my class interests by helping to build solidarity with auto workers around the world in their fight with the bosses.
For exactly the same reason, we should not line up with Ottawa's trade war against Washington around the Helms-Burton law or nationalist anti-American campaigns to boycott Florida. That would just tie our class and our unions to the interests of our class enemies.
Instead, through conferences, organizing visits to Cuba, tours of Cubans to Canada, demonstrations, sales of Pathfinder books on Cuba and other means, we need to support the fight of Cuba's revolutionary workers and farmers to end the U.S. trade embargo, defend Cuba's sovereignty and build the socialist alternative to capitalism.
John Steele is a member of Local Lodge 2113 of the
International Association of Machinists.
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