Young Workers Building Solidarity Across Borders and Seas

Palm trees, white sand, blue seas, and countless hours of sun – that’s how most people see, imagine and expect Cuba to be. What most people don’t see or know about Cuba is that it is home to an inclusive and worker-friendly nation.

While resorts are designed to operate in a capitalist system, in socialist Cuba, they continue to be successful. How? A majority of resort workers are union members. As socialist fate would have it, workers not only have a say in their wages, but in the overall budget of their workplace.

Speaking with resort workers – during their workday and with their bosses’ permission – is just one of the worker-centred experiences central to the Global Youth Exchange, edition 2018.

Workers Uniting – the global union of the United Steelworkers, Unite the Union in the U.K. and Ireland, and Mineros in Mexico – and the Central de Trabajadores Cubanos (CTC, Workers Central Union of Cuba) participated in the third exchange in February.

GYE2018-GROUPYoung workers and activists from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Cuba and Mexico gathered in Matanzas, Cuba for eight full days of learning, networking and building solidarity.

Participants engaged in both classroom and practical settings that were interconnected. A diverse class called for a discussion on a wide range topics. Young workers discussed education, health care, politics, labour’s bread-and butter issues such as workplaces, union density, organizing new workplaces and the changing and developing ways of communicating with members.

Classroom sessions were followed by related activities in the afternoon. This experience allowed our members to engage in everyday Cuban life, whether in the workplace, in the community, in their unions or in politics.

A conversation about politics translated to a visit to a local constituency office in Matanzas, where participants learned about the political process. Cuba’s elected representatives are unlike the ones the visiting participants are accustomed to. A seemingly complicated political process has resulted in a strong representation of women and everyday working people being elected to represent their communities at the National Assembly.

A conversation about one-another’s trade unions translated to visiting local union offices and various workplaces in the region. Almost 3.5 out of 5 million Cuban workers are members of a union. This speaks volumes for the elected officials who are working people and who ensure that the policies and systems in place make it easy for workers to join a union.

The Cubans allowed our group unfettered access to their leaders, their facilities, their resources and their hospitality. Various labour leaders in the Matanzas region accompanied participants in excursions and activities.

An invitation to a community event hosted especially for the Global Youth Exchange members demonstrated true Cuban hospitality. Visits to community organizations, a children’s hospital and a university engaged participants with how Cubans look after one another. A social justice lens and approach has led to a society that ensures everyone has equal access to opportunities and that no one is left behind.

The overall group’s experiences and lessons proved that working people can indeed make a difference in our unions, in our communities and help shape society that benefits every citizen.

The group arrived as individual trade union activists and left as a multinational, multiunion family ready to be the change they wish to see in the world and support one another in solidarity to accomplish these goals. While companies have taken their attacks to a global level, we, as union activists have to have global alliances to fight on even playing fields. 

The Global Youth Exchange continues to provide a rich experience to young trade unionists across the globe. The exchange is building valuable, lifelong friendships, solidarity and alliances.



A Spanish version of this article can be found here/La versión en castellano de este artículo puede encontrarse aquí

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