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Are British Trade Unions Really Committed To Amnesty International?

This is a guest post by Hubert Gieschen, PCS Members Trustee (personal capacity)

On 13 February 2012 the British TUC, the umbrella organisation of British trade unions, wrote to the Mexican ambassador about lack of freedom of association in Mexico to call for an end to the use of protection contracts in Mexico, which are in violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association. And to implement ILO case 2694.

Never ever has the TUC or any of its main affiliated unions like the PCS (Public and Commercial Services union) of which I am a members trustee, written to the Cuban ambassador asking for freedom of association for trade unionists or human rights activists. There is the case of Amnesty international, which is not permitted to organise or be active in Cuba. Amnesty International is prevented from free access to Cuban prisons.

In February 2009 the TUC and Amnesty International British Section signed a cooperation agreement. On 1 May 2009 TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber quoted in Havana Amnesty Internationalist’s criticism of the detention of five Cuban agents in US prisons. Not with one word did he mention that Amnesty International is being obstructed in Cuba.

The TUC often supports Amnesty International on Iranian cases. However, when Ahmadinejad visited Fidel Castro in January 2012 he could be sure that the Cuban government had kept their citizens ignorant of the violation of trade union rights and the execution of homosexuals and teenagers in Iran. Cubans are unable to join Amnesty International or the TUC in protesting against Iran.

Worse, never ever has the TUC or my union PCS supported Amnesty International calls for the release of prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

For the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 my PCS branch had motions against my union being affiliated to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, which year on year is organising the PCS conference social with free rum from the Cuban embassy.

In 2011 a motion criticising the public sector cuts and mass lay-offs in Cuba went to remission as the NEC (national executive committee) was clearly concerned that conference could carry the motion. After all Raul Castro and David Cameron both justify their respective cuts agendas with the need to save money. The branch delegate was being the subject of abuse by supporters of the Castros.

Castro apologists always refer to the 50 years of US trade embargo imposed on 7 February 1962. What they do not wish to discuss is the fact that long before the embargo Fidel Castro had alrerady managed to subjugate the Cuban trade union at the first post-Batista congress in 1959. he insisted on the election of Stalinists and former Batista collaborators. That process was finalised in 1961 when Lázaro Peña, a Stalinist and Batista collaborator in the 1940s returned to the helm of the CTC with a brief to take away the strike weapon from Cuban workers once and for all.
For more details read Sam Farber ‘Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959′ .

This year my branch decided not to submit a Cuba motion for fear of more abuse awaiting the branch delegate. Meanwhile PCS claims to have dealt with last year’s remission by having spoken to Cuban sister unions again making reference to the US embargo.

Knowing that Fidel Castro had killed stone dead right at the beginning of his reign an independent workers representation, knowing that in Cuba the official labour organisation CTC is a management tool and where senior managers sit in at trade union meetings, it is obvious that the TUC has learned nothing from events in Eastern Europe.

Senior TUC officers refer to Cuban embassy staff as comrades. When the London and South East regional TUC supported a demonstration by sex workers in 2011, I tried to find out if they would support Cuban sex workers against frequent police harassment in Cuba. It emerged they first wanted to check with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. All Cuba solidarity campaigns that want to be able to work in Cuba need to go through ICAP (Cuban Institute for the Friendship of the Peoples) which is 100% government-controlled. They become mouthpieces of a foreign government.

The TUC and many of its member unions seem to have forgotten that Cubans deserve to be treated better than as mere pawns in an ideological battle. They have the same right to freedom of association as British trade unionists and human rights activists. Unfortunately they do not have a government sharing that view.