Cubans rally on May Day to defend their revolution

By Nick Everett, in Havana

On May 1, international workers’ day, at least half a million Cubans marched cheerfully and defiantly through Havana from the Plaza of the Revolution to the US Interests Section. Hundreds of thousands more rallied in other cities throughout the Caribbean island. This was a special day for all Cubans, being the 50th May Day celebrated since the triumph of Cuba’s workers’ and peasants’ revolution, which overthrew the US-backed Batista dictatorship on January 1, 1959.

Participants began to stream into the Plaza of the Revolution at dawn, assembling in 16 massive contingents. At the front of the rally were workers from the healthcare and education sectors, whose work has contributed enormously to Cuba’s standing throughout Latin America and in other underdeveloped countries (Cuba currently has more than 30,000 volunteer doctors working abroad). The final bloc to arrive at the rally was composed of young workers and students, mobilised by the Union of Young Communists (UJC).

As the march began, some 2000 international visitors from 80 countries assembled on the hill adjacent to the plaza, underneath a giant stature of Cuba’s national hero, Jose Marti. These visitors included the 233 participants of the fourth international solidarity brigade to Cuba, organised by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). Delegations from the Australian Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (Construction Division), the Maritime Union of Australia and the Electrical Trades Union (Queensland branch) were also among the participants.

Cuban President Raul Castro and Salvador Valdes, general secretary of the confederation of Cuban trade unions (CTC), were joined at the rally podium by special guests Miguel D’Escoto, president of the UN General Assembly (who was foreign minister of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990) and George Mavrikos, general secretary of the World Federation of Trade Unions. Valdes urged the participants to celebrate “how much we have built through the sacrifice of several generations of Cubans”. He noted the substantial damage caused by three hurricanes that swept Cuba last year and “the extraordinary effort displayed by workers and the entire people, who have shown their solidarity, sacrifice and will to move forward once again”. He said that “at a time when humanity is immersed in a global economic crisis … from which no country can escape”, Cuba’s situation is further compounded by the effects of “an ironclad economic blockade that the US government has maintained for almost half a century, with the obsessive and failed object of destroying the revolution”.

However, Valdes also noted that the international situation today is becoming more favourable for the Cuban Revolution, as a result of the combined efforts of the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutionary socialist governments to spearhead a process of Latin American integration through the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Many rally participants carried portraits of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as well as Venezuelan flags, symbolising the new-found confidence that has been generated in Cuba by the alliance and growing integration between the two countries.

Valdes expressed the CTC’s gratitude to workers and solidarity organisations around the world “who are organising events and supporting the release of the five Cuban heroes who are locked away in US prisons”. Solidarity with the Cuban Five — imprisoned by the US authorities on trumped up espionage charges 10 years ago for their role in gathering information on Cuban-American terrorist groups — was also a key theme of the International Meeting of Solidarity with Cuba, held at the International Convention Centre in Havana the following day. This was attended by 1300 delegates, representing 236 trade unions from around the world.

At the meeting, Brendan Barber, general secretary of the United Kingdom Trade Union Congress (TUC), saluted the huge social achievements of the Cuban Revolution, which, he said, had delivered “levels of literacy, numeracy, public health and access to clean water that would shame many richer nations”. Barber, the first TUC general secretary ever to visit Cuba, described the US economic blockade of Cuba as “illegitimate” and “unjustifiable”. He said it had “failed to do anything but blight the reputation of the US and harm the people of Cuba”, adding: “The British trade union movement [is] also absolutely committed to ending another terrible injustice: the imprisonment of the Miami Five. We share Amnesty International’s condemnation of the inadequate appeal process and the denial of basic human rights to family visits”. Barber said the TUC supports “the call for an immediate retrial; and working with colleagues in the American trade union movement to put pressure on the US government”. Twenty-four British unions affiliated to the TUC are also affiliated to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (UK), which sent a delegation of 18 young trade unionists to participate in the May Day international solidarity brigade.

Following contributions from union and solidarity organisation representatives, a declaration was adopted unanimously by the meeting. The meeting also resolved to organise an international day of solidarity with the Cuban Five on September 12. After the meeting, awards were presented to 50 trade union leaders and solidarity organisations from around the world in recognition of their solidarity work with Cuban workers.

[Nick Everett, a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, was a participant in the May Day international solidarity brigade to Cuba, April 26 to May 10.]