In Cuba, International Workers’ Day has a different tone, as a consequence of the political empowerment of the workers in the island nation. In Cuba, the mass demonstration is a festive celebration of the socialist revolution and its achievements in defense of the workers and other popular sectors. Protests are directed not to the government, but in support of the government in opposition to the imperialist policies of the global powers, especially Cuba’s powerful neighbor to the north.
The political empowerment of Cuban workers was attained through a historic struggle that had its gains and setbacks. In the 1920s and early 1930s, workers organizations were in the vanguard of the struggle against the Machado dictatorship, with the first Communist Party of Cuba as the leadings force, educating and organizing the workers. But during the 1940s and 1950s, the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC for its initials in Spanish) had become an instrument for forcing the workers to submit to capital. During the dictatorship of 1952 to 1959, a corrupt union oligarchy benefitted from obligatory membership dues, and it collaborated with Batista in the repression of workers. However, in the early 1960s, with the support of the Revolutionary Government, CTC took definitive form as a revolutionary organization, casting aside the corrupt union oligarchy. Along with other mass organizations of peasants, agricultural cooperativists, students, and women, CTC played a central role in the mass assemblies of the 1960s.
Since the Constitution of 1976, the political empowerment of workers is integral to Cuban structures of popular democracy. CTC representatives, along with those of the other mass organizations, form candidacy commissions, which present to the delegates of the 169 municipal assemblies the names of candidates to the National Assembly of Popular Power. (The municipal assemblies are elected by the people in 12,515 voting districts in secret elections in which voters choose from two or more candidates nominated by the people in a series of neighborhood nomination assemblies). Elected by the municipal assemblies on the basis of the recommendations of the candidacy commissions formed by representatives of CTC and other mass organizations, the National Assembly of Popular Power is the highest authority in nation; it elects the highest members of the executive and judicial branches of the state, and it enacts legislation. By constitutional requirement, representatives of CTC and other mass organizations are included in the legislative committees of the National Assembly.
CTC members are workers of all categories: industrial workers, agricultural workers, service workers, professionals, educators, doctors, nurses, and self-employed workers. They generally are organized by place of work, united regardless of occupation, such that the medical staff and the janitorial staff of a hospital are in the same local union. More than 90% of Cuban workers are members of the CTC.
This year, May Day occurs in the aftermath of the declaration of a new Constitution, which was developed on the basis of an extensive and vibrant popular consultation, and which was approved in referendum by 86% of the voters, with a voter participation of 90%. The 2019 Constitution, like the 1976 Constitution, affirms: the socialist character of the nation; the National Assembly of Popular Power as the highest constitutional and legal authority; the role of the Communist Party of Cuba as the educating and guiding vanguard of the revolution; and a foreign policy that emphasizes the right of Cuba and all nations to be sovereign and the right of peoples to self-determination, and that calls the Third World to unity in opposition to imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism. (See various posts from January 9 to February 26, 2019 on the new Cuban Constitution in this category Cuba Today).
At the same time, this year’s May Day occurs in the context of the strengthening of the U.S. economic, commercial, and financial blockade of Cuba, which intends to nullify Cuban popular democracy and impose structures of representative democracy, inasmuch as representative democracy is far more susceptible to manipulation by moneyed particular interests. Accordingly, the 2019 May Day celebration of Cuban socialism and the Cuban Revolution was accompanied by frequent denunciations of the U.S. blockade and of the announced implementation of Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Law. Said law, fully implemented for the first time of May 2, authorizes demands against companies of any nation that have any kind of commercial relation with companies that were nationalized or confiscated by the Cuban Revolutionary Government in 1959 and 1960.
In the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, a multi-generational wall of people, nearly a million people, marched by the José Martí Memorial, where they were saluted by Raúl Castro, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba; Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of the Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba; and Ulisés Guilarte, General Secretary of the Federation of Cuban Workers. Numerous were the slogans on their placards: “Unity, Commitment, and Victory”; “Down with the Blockade”; “Down with the Helms-Burton Law;” “Title III? Disapproved”; “Hands off Venezuela”; “Free Lula Now”; and “We are continuity.” I liked the placard carried by a ten-year old girl: “Mr. Trump: With what right to you stomp on my future?” Images of Fidel, Raúl, Martí, and Che were in abundance. Similar celebrations were held throughout the nation; more than 350,000 marched in Santiago de Cuba, and nearly a million Cubans in the thirteen provinces outside Havana marched in defense of their nation and their socialist revolution.
The Cuban Revolution has experienced a revitalization in recent years, as a consequence of a politically intelligent adjustment in the revolutionary project by the Party, formulated in response to the inquietudes of the people with respect to the material standard of living. The social and economic model of 2012 seeks to improve the productive capacity of the nation through the expansion of self-employment and small-scale capitalist enterprises, the expansion of cooperatives to non-agricultural sectors, greater efficiency in state companies, and more flexible rules with respect to foreign investment. The new Constitution of 2019 provides a statutory foundation to these steps, while it maintains the role of the state as the formulator of the development plan, the regulator of the economy, and the principal proprietor of economic enterprises. At the same time, the new Constitution points toward a more inclusive Revolution, more clearly affirming the rights of persons regardless of religious beliefs, and affirming for the first time the rights of persons regardless of gender orientation or gender identity. With these formulations of a more economically pragmatic and socially inclusive socialist project, the Party has recaptured the people, bringing them back on board in full support and active participation in the revolution and in the construction of socialism, which includes full and enthusiastic affirmation of the teachings and example of Fidel, defined as the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution.
The aggressive and disrespectful language of Trump and his team only reinforces and strengthens the revitalization of the Cuban revolutionary project. One could hardly expect otherwise. Universally, people identify with their nation or ethnic group, and an external foreign threat will provoke the closing of ranks, as occurred in Cuba in the early 1960s and is occurring in Venezuela today. The Cuban people will not be intimated by aggression; they are prepared to sacrifice, in the future as in the past, in defense of their socialist revolution.