By Mark Friedman, International Association of Machinists veteran unionist, coordinator LA Labor & Youth Activists delegation
At the invitation of the Cuban Trade Union Federation (CTC) and the Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), the Los Angeles Hands Off Cuba Committee (composed of fifty organizations, prominent individuals and eight unions) organized a delegation to Cuba April 23-May 3.
The delegation included central leaders of the Amazon Labor Union (President Chris Smalls, VP Derrick Palmer, Recording Sec’y Michelle Nieves and original NYC ALU organizers Jordan Flowers, Gerald Bryson and others. Amazon worker/organizer Ivan Baez from ONT8 in the Inland Empire also participated as did four leaders and organizers for C.A.U.S.E., organizing Amazon warehouse workers in RDU1, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Noteworthy LA labor participants included: Darwin Velasquez, representing the United Steelworkers of America Local 675, Mike Vera of the Inland Boatman’s Union- (ILWU Marine Division); activists from the Service Employees International Union, Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco workers union, International Association of Machinists, teachers, students, political and environmental activists. Also, part of the delegation of 37 was Mwezi Odom representing the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP), with their defense against FBI illegal raids on their offices and indictments of three leaders in another COINTELPRO– type operation. (COINTELPRO was the FBI/US government campaign to destroy Black, Puerto Rican, Chicano, women’s, native peoples and socialist organizations—it included colluding with or participating in the imprisonment or murder of members of the Black Panthers, Young Lords, Brown Berets, La Raza Unida Party as well as other organizations that were formed in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and, as was recently revealed, the assassination of Malcolm X.)
Mwezi Odom told this reporter that she went to Cuba “in appreciation of a long-standing history and solidarity between the revolutionary Cuban government and African nations. We understand that the primary reason Cuba suffers today is because we share a common enemy – US imperialism and colonialism; therefore, our efforts to defeat imperialism must be a united effort to forward the revolutionary struggle for total freedom and liberation of all oppressed nations and peoples.
This delegation represented the US at the CTC’s internship, or Pasantía with about 100 unionists representing 11 Latin American, Central American and Caribbean countries. For five days we discussed the state of the international labor movement and the historical importance of defending Cuban sovereignty, ending the US blockade, trade and travel bans, and forcing Washington to remove Cuba from its list of so-called “terrorist nations.”
The more than 243 sanctions imposed by Trump and maintained and expanded by Biden are illegal, inhuman, and have caused immense suffering to the people of Cuba, who hate the US government but love the people of the US. Why have these sanctions been imposed? Because Cuba has chosen the socialist road. Cuba sends tens of thousands of doctors on humanitarian missions to scores of countries. Because Cuba has given active support and solidarity to people fighting for liberation and self-determination around the world (Palestine, South Africa under apartheid, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Grenada, El Salvador, Brazil, Congo, Algeria …) and supports—politically, and thru their example—the freedom struggles in the US amongst Native peoples, Blacks, Chicanos, immigrants, women fighting to defend abortion rights, workers on strike and current union organizing drives, and the fight against police brutality.
Union leaders and activists of the delegation from the ALU, USW, IBU, IAM, BCTWU, and C.A.U.S.E. played a central role in the discussions, reaffirming their commitment to return to the US invigorated and determined to expand US labor participation through resolutions and action campaigns, and joining with the LA Hands Off Cuba Committee. A resolution was approved calling for international protests when the UN vote on ending the US blockade happens in the fall of 2023.
The delegation had special meetings with the national leadership of the Cuban trade union movement, who in thousands of workplaces, large and small, representing 15 different nationwide unions, organizes more than 90% of the Cuban workforce. Workplace committees of five (three workers, one union representative and one administrator) run the show… a country where workers, not bosses, rule.
At the meeting of the Association of Small Producers and Tobacco Workers (ANAP), Mike Vera an activist in the Inland Boatman’s Union said, “I am thankful to be invited to this day of solidarity and trade union congress and to continue to fight for the beautiful people of Cuba … I am a proud member of the LA hands-Off Cuba committee and we need to work towards effective strategies to end the unjust and inhumane embargo of Cuba and the 243 sanctions.”
The CTC is involved in EVERY decision by the Cuban government with multiple representatives on all Cuba’s highest decision-making bodies. Tens of thousands of workplace meetings discuss legislation, the Cuban Labor Code, the new Family Code (guaranteeing LGBTQ, women and families extensive rights; more than in any other country in the world).
As with all other LA Hands Off Cuba delegations, we brought much needed medical and technical aid. We delivered more than $40,000 of medical aid with the help of Global Health Partners and the group Not Just Tourists; $5,000 of technical aid for the CTC and ICAP, and foodstuffs like powdered milk and high protein foods. More than 20 large suitcases stuffed with medical supplies were delivered to the Calixto Garcia trauma hospital in Havana as well as art supplies and scientific instruments to the national aquarium. Parenthetically, all medical care and education through college in Cuba is free.
Because of the large number of young activists on the delegation from the LA Tenants Union, Palestinian Youth Movement, LA Cuba cttee, students and young workers, the Federation of University Students (FEU) at the University of Havana, along with the university unions, organized a meeting of 75 to discuss world politics and expanding material aid campaigns for Cuba.
A special meeting at the Cuban National Aquarium with presentations by US delegates and Cuban aquarium staff on fighting climate change, ocean plastic pollution, invasive species, and expanding biodiversity was an environmental component of the trip. The efforts by Cuba to counter climate change are documented in the film Tarea Vida, and go way beyond the programs supported by US corporations or the government they control and run. https://flip.it/XgzRdB.
Originally, participation in massive marches planned in dozens of cities to celebrate International Workers Day, May 1, was on our itinerary, but due to extreme weather conditions the marches were rescheduled to May 5 (notwithstanding US media lies that May Day was cancelled). Instead, we, (as part of the entire US delegation of 280 activists from different organizations) were hosted at a special meeting with Cuban President Diaz-Canel, ICAP director Fernando Gonzalez Llort (and one of the Cuban Five, who were imprisoned for years in the US for defending Cuba—see the WASP Network on Netflix), CTC president Ulysses Guilarte de Nacimiento and others. Speaking at this meeting was Chris Smalls, President of the ALU “The new generations of workers and young people, we are fighting for our children, and we are fighting for Cuba because we will not be free until everyone is free. This is the perfect time for all of us to maintain our solidarity with Cuba internationally. We will not rest until this blockade is lifted.”
Representatives of the leading US delegations, National Network on Cuba (NNOC), International People’s Assembly, Building Relations with Cuban Labor and the LA Hands Off Cuba committee spoke in solidarity with Cuba’s fight for sovereignty and pledged a renewed commitment, upon their return, to redouble efforts to forge united, democratic coalitions to increase public pressure on Washington to normalize relations with Cuba.
Finally, we joined over 1,300 delegates from 58 countries in a solidarity conference May 2. This reflects the annual vote of 184 to 2 at the UN to end the US blockade (with only the US and Israel in favor). Our last stop was the new, interactive Fidel Museum, dedicated to the study of Fidel’s ideas and the gains of the Cuban revolution.
During the 10 days, Belly of the Beast, a group of independent video journalists reporting on the actual conditions in Cuba and how the blockade and US sanctions affect the Cuban people, was embedded in our delegation. This new video, and exemplary War on Cuba series, is available on their website. https://www.youtube.com/
Unfortunately, at least 15 delegates returning to the US were met with harassment and intimidation by Homeland Security at Miami, Newark and Ft. Lauderdale airports. Three members of the LA delegation, and KIWA-LA (Korean Immigrant Workers Association) plus other youthful delegations (NNOC, IPA) were detained for hours and released just in time to make connecting flights. In some cases, cell phones were taken and luggage was rifled through. This intimidation of U.S. citizens carried out by the Biden administration even though travelers complied with official US government regulations and licenses reflects a stepped-up harassment not seen in decades. Despite the broad unlimited powers of Homeland Security, protests by the National Lawyers Guild, American Civil Liberties Union and all the delegations can push back against this violation of democratic rights. Those harassed and threatened have said they will not bend to this attempt to intimidate them and will continue their educational and action campaigns.
Upcoming activities of the LA Hands Off Cuba cttee include: June 25 local and Washington protests against the blockade and for removal of Cuba from the “State Sponsors of Terrorism (SSOT) list at the Westwood Federal Building, a report back meeting with representatives of all LA delegations that were in Cuba, and a Concert for Cuba this summer with famous Cuban Jazz pianist Dayramir Gonzalez. Please join us: http://