University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Cuba, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.61, Doc. 29 rev. 1 (1983).






1. 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.

Every 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.

2. 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 remuneration.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.


1. Employment

6. The Constitution of Cuba establishes:

Article 8. The socialist state:

b. 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 needs.

7. In addition, the Constitution stipulates:

Article 44. Work in a socialist society is a right , a duty and an honor for every citizen.

Work 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 season”.

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.

Every worker has the duty to accomplish in full all the tasks corresponding to his job.

8. 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.[1]

9. 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).[2]

10. 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 1981-1982.

11. 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.[3] 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.”[4]

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

2. The Right to Choose one’s Occupation and Labor Mobility

16. 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 this right.

17. 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”.

18. 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”.[5]

Thus, 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).[6]

19. 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.

20. 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”.[7] 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.”[8]

21. 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.[9]

22. 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.[10]

23. 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 pesos; f. 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.[11]

24. Although some of these activities might be regarded as illegal, most were not, or in any case demonstrated the need for these services.

25. 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.[12]

26. 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.[13] 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.

3. Working Conditions: Remuneration, Leisure and lawful Discharge

27. 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.

28. 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.

29. 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.

30. 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.

31. 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.[14]

32. 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.[15] 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.

33. 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 (Article 77).[16] 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.[17] 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.

4. Other Characteristics of the Labor System

34. 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.

35. 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.

36. 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).[18] 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.

37. 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.[19] The scope of this resolution was broadened and reinforced by the 1964 Law on labor Justice,[20] 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 Councils).

38. 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,[21] 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.

39. 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 sector.

5. Collective Labor Rights

40. 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

41. 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 communism”.

42. 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”.[22]

The 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.[23] 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”.[24]

43. 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 criticism.[25]

44. 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.

45. 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.[26]

46. 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%).[27]

47. 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.[28]

48. 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:

(Under 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 (the Government)¼One 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 principal missions¼Furthermore, 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.[29]

49. 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.[30]

50. 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.

51. 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.

b. Right to strike and to collective bargaining

52. 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

53. In view of this, the Commission considers that the right to strike and to collective bargaining should be considered, implicitly, as basic collective rights.

54. 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.

55. In the second Law on Labor Procedure and Social Security, issued in 1961, the article that regulated the right to strike was deleted.[31] It has already been pointed Out that the dismissal law of 1961 categorized paralysis of production units as a counter revolutionary activity.

56. 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 strike¼Now these procedures are not, of course, tolerable. Now the problem is not one of a strike, but rather now everything depends on production”.[32]

57. 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”.[33]

58. 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.[34]

59. 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:

When 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 country¼ 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.[35]

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 centers.[36]

61. 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.

62. 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 production goals.

c. Participation of workers in management of production units

63. 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.

65. 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.[37]

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.[38] At the XIV Congress of the CTC, the Secretary General described the “true” functions of the production assemblies:

¼ 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.[39]

67. 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.

68. 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.

69. 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 the workers.

71. 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.


[1] 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), chap. 6.

[2] 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”. (Comité Estatal de Estadísticas, Principales características laborales de la población de Cuba: Encuesta demográfica nacional de 1979, Havana, 1981, pages 1, 3 and 13). Based 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).

[3] 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.

[4] Principales características ¼ op. Cit., pp. 52-56.

[5] Blas Roca, Médico Cubano, ¿Cuál es tu porvenir? (Havana Imprenta nacional, 1961), pp. 58-59.

[6] Mesa-Lago “The Economy¼”, op. Cit., pp. 24, 25 and 29.

[7] Blas Roca, Medico Cubano¼ op. Cit., pp. 46-48.

[8] Fidel Castro, “Discurso en el onceon aniversario de la acción de 13 de marzo”, Granma Resumen Semanal, March 24, 1968, pp. 6-7

[9] Principales características ¼op. Cit., pp. 32, 35 and 67.

[10] Mesa-Lago, “The Economy¼” op. Cit., pp. 130-131.

[11] 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.

[12] 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, 1970.

[13] Grupo Cubano de Investigaciones Económicas, Investigación sobre las Condiciones de Trabajo: La experiencia cubana. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Marymar, 1967, pp. 18-22.

[14] Mesa-Lago, “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., p. 89.

[15] Decree276 and Decree 798 of 1938.

[16] 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).

[17] Law 924, January 4, 1961. See Grupo Cubano de Investigaciones Económicas, Investigación op. Cit., pp. 129-138.

[18] 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.

[19] Resolution of the Ministry of Labor, 5798, August 27, 1962. See Grupo Cubano de Investigaciones Económicas, pp. 69-72.

[20] Law 1166, September 23, 1964.

[21] 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.

[22] Law 962, August 1, 1961. See Grupo Cubano de Investigaciones Económicas, pp. 140-174.

[23] Statement of principles and statues of the CTC, July 5, 1966.

[24] Martín Lionel, “Reestructuración sindical en Cuba”, Cuba Internacional, (April, 1971): 28-30.

[25] See the detailed analysis of this process in Mesa-Lago, C., Dialéctica ¼ op. Cit., pp.131-135.

[26] Statutes of the CTC and “Declaration of Principles and Bases”, XIII CTC Congress, Havana, 1973, pp. 1-10.

[27] Pérez-Stable, Marifeli, “Institutionalization and Workers’ Response”, Cuban Studies/Estudios Cubanos, 6:2 (July 1976): 31:54.

[28] Veiga, roberto, “Informe Central al XIV Congreso de la CTC”, November 30, 1978, p. 3

[29] Castro, Raúl, “Discurso en la clausura del Congreso Nacional de Trabajadores Civiles de la FAR” Granma Resumen Semanal, September 26, 1972, p. 5.

[30] Risquet, Jorge, “Comparecencia sobre problemas de fuerza de trabajo y productividad”, Granma, August 1, 1970, pp. 5-6.

[31] Law 759, March 11, 1960, and Law 938, February 28, 1961.

[32] Guevara, Ernesto, Revollución, February 2, 1961, and Blas Roca, Ocho Conferencias Revolucionarias (Havana, 1962), pp. 18-19.

[33] Villaverde, A., Miami Herald, August 23, 1982. See also William Chislett, Financial Times, June 2, 1982.

[34] See Grupo Cubano de investigaciones Económicas, pp. 203-213.

[35] Martínez Sánchez, Augusto, La Tarde, September 3, 1962.

[36] “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.

[37] Mesa-Lago, C., Dialéctica ¼ op. Cit, pp. 142-144.

[38] 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.

[39] Vega R., “Informe Central al XIV Congreso de la CTC”, Granma, December 1, 1978, p. 4.


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