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Vol. 81/No. 27      July 24, 2017


‘Every attack on our revolution destined to fail,’ Cuban unionist says on US tour

BERKELEY, Calif. — Some 60 people heard Víctor Lemagne Sánchez, secretary-general of Cuba’s Hotel and Tourism union, speak here June 29 at Communications Workers of America Local 9119 union hall. The meeting was part of a national tour, with meetings with unionists and supporters of the Cuban Revolution in Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, New York and Baltimore. This was the first time in 17 years that a Cuban union leader succeeded in getting a visa to tour the U.S.

The goal of the tour, Lemagne explained, is to develop links between workers and unions in the U.S. and Cuba. The Cuban Workers Federation (CTC) is working to make it easier for unionists from the U.S. to organize trips and meetings with their counterparts in Cuba.

Lemagne is a member of the executive committee of the CTC and a delegate to Cuba’s National Assembly from the city of Trinidad, a popular tourist destination.

Lemagne began with a slide show that documents the damage done to the Cuban people by Washington’s economic embargo. “Every attack against our revolution by the Empire is destined to fail,” he said. “Our response is to continue with the economic development of our country, our revolutionary process.”

Workers in Cuba’s tourism industry see themselves as on the front lines of the struggle, Lemagne said. The industry has expanded rapidly, including a growing sector of self-employed nonstate workers. In 2012, he said, his union had only 345 members outside the state sector. Today they have 27,000.

The situation in Cuba is different than in the U.S. and other capitalist countries because workers and farmers have political power. They don’t have to fight for contracts boss by boss, Lemagne said, because workers’ rights and job conditions — in state-owned and private companies — are written into the country’s laws. His union makes sure that nonstate workers get the same rights and protections as state workers.

A record 3.52 million people visited Cuba last year. Even though the U.S. government maintains restrictions on visits to the island, Lemagne said, travel from the United States has soared. People coming from the U.S. now make up the second largest number next to Canada.

Many of the larger hotels are joint ventures, 51 percent owned by Cuba and 49 percent by foreign companies. Managers from abroad have to abide by Cuban labor law, he said, or they’re removed.

As tourism has mushroomed, with union membership rising alongside it, the union has fought to reduce workers’ workload to protect their bodies, he said. They work to limit the number of rooms cleaners in the hotels have to work per shift, to keep hours down, and for members to monitor safety on the job.

Unions are strong in other Cuban industries, he said. Ninety-five percent of Cuba’s workers belong to a union, and membership is “voluntary and conscious.”

Lemagne noted, with a smile, that tourism workers in Cuba have guaranteed vacations, sick pay, social security and other benefits that hotel workers in the U.S. are fighting to get into their contracts.

He also said with pride that Cuban tourism workers donate whatever tips they get to cancer research and treatment, a total of $23 million to date.

Alicia Jrapko of the International Committee for Peace, Justice, and Dignity, a sponsor of the meeting, urged from the chair that participants step up efforts to demand that Washington lift its punishing embargo, as well as return the territory of Guantánamo to Cuba. The U.S. rulers occupy Cuban territory there against the will of the Cuban people, maintaining a prison notorious for its physical and legal abuses.

Clarence Thomas, retired secretary-treasurer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, joined Lemagne on the platform. “International labor solidarity is sound union policy,” Thomas said, noting Local 10’s participation in the campaign to free the Cuban Five, Cuban revolutionaries framed up by Washington and imprisoned for years in U.S. jails until a growing international campaign finally won their freedom and return to Cuba.
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