Friday, 26 May 2017

Record-breaking 47 young trade unionists participate May Day brigade in Cuba


The British and Irish 2017 May Day brigade delegation
A record-breaking 47 young trade unionists and activists from Britain and Ireland pariticpated in the 12th annual Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) young trade unionists’ May Day brigade to Cuba.
The largest ever CSC delegation - representing millions of workers from across the British and Irish trade union movement including delegates from Unite, UNISON, TSSA, GMB, RMT and CWU - took part in a full programme of solidarity and agricultural work, conferences, meetings, visits and exchanges with the Cuban people.
A total of 286 brigadistas from 29 countries – demonstrating the excellent range of international solidarity with Cuba – attended the brigade where they took part in solidarity work and learned how they could support Cuba’s ongoing struggle to end the illegal US blockade of the island.
The brigade was mostly spent at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp (CIJAM) in rural Cuba,near Caimito, Artemisia province, 40km away from Havana. Conditions on the camp were basic, with shared dormitory accommodation, basic meals and cold water showers, but the delegates fully embraced the inspirational atmosphere on the camp of internationalism and solidarity.
Performing agricultural work
All continents were represented at CIJAM, with brigadistas attending from countries including Chile, Brazil, Congo, Zambia, Switzerland, Korea, Australia, Ukraine and many more. For the first time ever, a United States delegation took part in the brigade, with 50 activists representing the US, including Black Lives Matter activists from Chicago alongside solidarity activists from Chicago, LA, Philadelphia and New York.
In addition to the opportunity to speak to Cubans about their lives and experiences under US blockade, the international camp was an excellent environment for the young members to share ideas and exchanges with trade unionists and activists from all around the world.
Delegates took part in agricultural work based locally to the camp included weeding, cutting crass, cleaning and clearing rocks and sticks. Grass was cut by hand using machetes, giving the young members a brief insight into the difficulties of agricultural work under the blockade in Cuba, as many resources are difficult to obtain.

Brick making at a co-operative in Artemisa
The brigade visited local co-operatives in Artemisia, which are playing an increasingly significant role in Cuba’s economy. Agriculture is the largest sector in Artemisia province, and the co-operatives visited produced a variety of fruits such as coconuts and mangoes, vegetables, sugar, cattle, milk and beans. The co-ops also produced non-agricultural products, such as brick making. Over 330 workers were employed at the cooperative the brigade visited, where the workers were paid a monthly salary plus shares of the profits.
May Day
Havana May Day march
The highlight of the brigade for many of the young workers was the spectacular May Day rally in Havana, under the banner of “Unity is our Strength”. Over 800,000 Cubans from the Havana province marched through the capital - and other huge marches took part in each of Cuba’s 16 provinces.
May Day 2017 in Havana
Half of the delegation joined the huge rally, where they marched alongside the Cuban workers in Havana, and the other half watched from the tribune at Revolution Square alongside hundreds of international guests and trade unionists, where they stood near to the Cuban President Raul Castro, Ulises Guilarte CTC (Cuban TUC) General Secretary and four of the Miami Five Cuban heroes.
This was the first May Day since the passing of the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro. The event featured many tributes, images and banners celebrating the leader, and chants of ‘Viva Fidel!’ and ‘Yo Soy Fidel!’ erupted from the crowd.
International Solidarity with Cuba Conference
On May 2 the brigade participated in the International Solidarity with Cuba Conference at the Palace of Conventions in Havana. This unique opportunity, as official guests of the CTC, allowed young members to participate in a conference in a prestigious venue where Cuba’s parliamentarians meet and state visits are held.

International Solidarity with Cuba Conference
The conference featured many high level Cuban politicians and trade unionists and was attended by over 1,000 international solidarity activists and trade unionists from around the world.
Esteemed guests and speakers included Salvador Valdés Mesa, a vice president of the Council of State, Ana Teresita González Fraga, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Raymundo Navarro, International Secretary CTC (Cuban TUC), Teresa Amarelle Boué, General Secretary of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, member of the Secretariat of the PCC Central Committee and head of its International Relations Department, Fernando González Llort, President of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with Peoples (ICAP), and the General Secretary and Vice President of the World Federation of Trade Unions, George Mavrikos and Valentin Pachu.
Ana Teresita González gave a detailed update on Cuban foreign policy and the island's relations across the globe. The Vice Minister stressed that despite the 2015 re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, the US blockade of the island remains in place and Guantanamo Bay continues to be illegally occupied by the US.
Furthermore, Miami Five hero Fernando González said; “When we hear in the media that the U.S. government is improving its relations with Cuba, it does not mean that the blockade has been eliminated, the blockade against the Cuban people continues.”
Highlighting the importance of international solidarity - which he said played a key role in the successful struggle for his and all the Miami Five’s freedom - Fernando called on those present to continue their support for the end of the blockade and the closure of the Guantánamo Naval Base and the return of this illegally occupied territory to the Cuban people.
UNISON Scotland delegate Jenni Gunn was interviewed by the national Cuban paper Granma International at the Conference. “You hear a lot about the politics of the Revolution but it really transcends into the social aspect of Cuba as well… the people of Cuba are just some of the warmest people I’ve ever met,” Jenni said in the interview. Unite Ireland delegate Conor McGuinness also gave an interview to Cuban television during the conference.
Cienfuegos
Doctor at the Cienfuegos Hospital
A three day trip to Cienfuegos was included in the programme to visit hospitals, universities and communities in the region. The delegation stayed at Hotel Pasacaballo, a hotel which recently was used to accommodate patients as part of Operation Miracle, a joint Cuban-Venezuelan initiative which restored the eyesight of 4 million people across Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.
Before visiting Cienfuegos, the brigade the visited Che Guevara Memorial and the Armoured train in Santa Clara - the site of the Battle of Santa Clara, where Che’s battalion attacked a train carrying weapons for Batista, a defining moment which ultimately led to the triumph Cuban Revolution.
Medical students from Western Sahara
Visits in Cienfuegos included the Dr Gustavo Alderguia Lima University General Hospital, where the delegates were given a presentation from a doctor at the hospital and later met with medical students from Cuba and overseas.
In addition to free university and medical school education that Cuba provides for its own citizens, the socialist island also offers free medical scholarships to young people from across the developing world. At the University Hospital in the delegation met with students from a wide range of countries including South Africa, Venezuela, Bolivia and Western Sahara.
At a welcome event in Cienfuegos, featuring performances by local musicians and artists, Unite Ireland delegate Conor McGuinness spoke on behalf of the delegation, calling on the US to end the blockade of Cuba and sending solidarity greetings on behalf of the British and Irish trade union movement.
Conor McGuinness speaks on behalf of our delegation
A local CDR (Committees for the Defence of the Revolution) in Cienfuegos welcomed the entire 286-strong brigade to their community with welcome songs, dancing, speeches and food for their international guests.
The event provided a great opportunity to speak to the Cuban people about their lives, politics and society, with some brigadistas welcomed into the homes of the community, including one with a plaque that was visited by Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan President. The community’s houses visited were built as part of a joint Cuba-Venezuela project to host international delegates at the 2007 Petrocaribe Summit in Cienfuegos. The newly built houses were then provided to the local community following the end of the conference.
Many trade unions had raised material aid for their delegates to take over with them to the island, as due to the blockade Cuba struggles to obtain many essential items. The material aid included sanitary products, condoms, pens, paper and notebooks. Some of the material aid was presented to the Co-ordinator of the CDR, and more material aid was re-distributed by ICAP in Artemisa.
Amongst a packed schedule there was also free time to explore, visit museums, historical sites and practice speaking Spanish in Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
International Solidarity with Cuba
The brigade saw first-hand the achievements of the Cuban Revolution; world class hospitals, universities training Cuban and international medicine students for free; hundreds of thousands of proud Cubans marching in unity and celebrating their achievements; and trade unions and mass organisations directly involved in the running and legislation of their country. Yet if the blockade was to be lifted, Cuba could achieve so much more.
With the recent election of US President Donald Trump, who has appointed some key pro-blockade lobbyists into leading roles in his administration, the Cuban people made clear that international solidarity with the island is now more important than ever.
TSSA delegate Gary Kilroy spoke on behalf of the delegation at a concluding meeting at CIJAM. He spoke of the delegation’s inspiration that they had got from the brigade and their commitment to campaigning in their trade union and in CSC on their return home to end the US blockade and return the Guantanamo Bay area to the Cuban people.

For more brigade photos, visit the CSC Flickr page

For more information on Cuba Solidarity Campaign, visit the CSC Website
If you are interested in attending the 2018 May Day brigade, please get in touch with Ollie Hopkins, CSC Campaigns Officer

Gwen Cross, Unite South East delegate on May Day
UNISON delegates march on May Day


GMB Delegates Rebecca Mitchell and Joe Spicer on May Day

Friday, 13 May 2016

Young Trade Unionists' 2016 May Day Brigade to Cuba

28 Young Trade Unionists from across the British trade union movement visited Cuba to take part in the May Day celebrations in Havana and to offer their solidarity to the Cuban people on the 2016 Young Trade Unionists May Day Brigade, organised by Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC).

Delegates from Unite, UNISON, GMB, CWU, RMT and USDAW – representing several million of workers in Britain and Ireland - joined trade unionists and political activists from around the world in a programme of solidarity work, political, educational and cultural visits. The delegates were also international guests at the May Day rally in Havana and the International Solidarity with Cuba Conference on May 2.

240 activists from 34 countries filled the Julio Antonio Mella camp in Caimito, Artemisa province, 25 miles away from Havana, where brigadistas completed programme of early morning agricultural and manual work.

The Julio Antonio Mella camp
















The 28 young members made up the largest delegation on the camp - a testament to strength of international solidarity with Cuba within the British trade union movement. Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Palestine, Canada and South Africa also sent large delegations and many more countries from across Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe were represented on the camp.


Ross Holden, GMB North West & Ireland Region delegate, carrying out agricultural work
The agricultural work, which included clearing land, cutting grass, weeding, lifting and cleaning, gave a first-hand insight the struggle of life in Cuba under the ongoing US blockade, which denies the Cubans access to basic machinery and goods. Transport to the farms was in the back of open-top trucks or trailers on tractors and cutting grass was done by hand with machetes; manifestations of a lack of access of resources due to the blockade.


Unite young members’ returning to the camp by truck after agricultural work
Before departing for Cuba, many of the young members reported how, following Barack Obama’s recent visit to Cuba and improving US-Cuba relations, there is a perception amongst colleagues and friends that the blockade is now over. The delegation saw first-hand that the ongoing blockade remains in place and Obama’s words of wanting to end the blockade are a long way from reality as US Congress appears unwilling to end the over 50 year old policy of aggression towards Cuba.


Political discussions on topics including the role of trade unions in Cuba, analysis of the Cuban political system, the ongoing blockade and US intervention in Cuba took place on the camp.

The brigadistas were esteemed international guests at the May Day Rally Celebration in Havana, where they enjoyed prime position, a short distance from the podium where Cuban President Rául Castro and CTC (Cuban TUC) General Secretary Ulises Guilarte greeted the huge crowds.

Teachers carry giant pencils on Havana’s May Day Rally
Up to a million Cuban workers celebrated International Workers' Day under the slogan: “For Cuba: Unity and Commitment” in Havana. The huge crowds gave the impression of a national rally – yet Havana’s rally represented just Havana province - May Day rallies took place in each of the 15 provinces of the island, including hundreds of thousands of Cubans marching in Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara.

The 28 young trade unionists’ at Havana’s May Day Rally
A carnival atmosphere surrounded Havana’s Revolution Square, where the images of   revolutionary heroes Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos provided the backdrop to a rally which celebrated the achievements of the Cuban Revolution. Trade unionists, teachers, doctors, artists and students contributed to the wide range of colours, flags and banners on display and many in the crowd carried pictures of Cuba’s revolutionary heroes during the rally. A live band and dancers added to the celebratory atmosphere, performing a range of Cuban music styles, with a grand finale of a sing along to the Internationale.

The brigadistas had free time in Havana following the rally, where they had the opportunity to visit Old Havana, the iconic Malecón, the Museum of the Revolution, the Committees of the Defence of the Revolution (CDR) Museum and the opportunity to soak up the sounds and sights of the lively capital city.

On May 2 the brigade attended the International Meeting of Solidarity with Cuba conference at the Conventions Palace in Havana, the prestigious venue where Cuba’s parliament meets. The international conference, broadcast on Cuban television, gave the young activists a valuable insight into Cuban trade unionism and its crucial role in the government and economic management of the country. The experience of live translation through earpieces was a first-experience of its kind for many of the young members.

The Conference included distinguished guest speakers Salvador Valdes, Cuban Vice-President, Ulises Guilarte, CTC General Secretary, Ana Teresita Gonzalez, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and two of the Miami Five heroes, Gerardo Hernandez and Fernando González were in attendance.

The Miami Five’s Gerardo Hernandez, front left, at the International Solidarity Conference
Over 1,000 international trade unionists attended, with speakers including Maggie Ryan from the Unite the Union EC and international speakers from trade unions in Nigeria, Palestine, United States, Honduras, Brazil, Venezuela and many more contributed to the discussion.

The importance of international solidarity with Cuba to help end the blockade at this crucial time was the main theme of the event. Trade unionists from Brazil gave a timely update to the right-wing coup attempts taking place in their country. Other speakers highlighted how progressive governments across Latin America are currently under many threats from US intervention, regional oligarchs and right-wing destabislation attempts; all of which pose great threats to Latin America and progressives all over the world.

Ana Teresita Gonzalez gave an update into the impact of the blockade and highlighted the extensive international solidarity with Cuba that exists over the world. The Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs reported how the latest United Nations resolution on the blockade resulted in 191 – 2 in favour of ending the blockade; with just the United States and Israel supporting the policy; a credit to international solidarity and Cuba’s diplomacy.

There were many political, cultural and historical visits included on the brigade including the Martyrs Mausoleum in Artemisa. The Mausoleum pays tribute to the revolutionaries who lost their lives during the attacks on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes army barracks in Santiago de Cuba on 26 July 1953 – the beginning of the July 26 Movement – which led to the successful Cuban Revolution and the ousting of the US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista on 1 January 1959.

Here the brigadistas had the honour of meeting Artemisa resident Ramon Pez Ferro, a veteran from the 26 July Movement, a guerrilla in the Cuban Revolution and an internationalist fighter for Angola’s independence, who greeted the young activists on arrival to the mausoleum.  

In Santa Clara, the brigade the visited Che Guevara Memorial, the burial site of the revolutionary hero. They visited the nearby armoured train - the scene of the Battle of Santa Clara, where Che’s battalion attacked a train carrying weapons for Batista - a defining moment for the success of the Cuban Revolution.

The brigade learned how co-operatives are playing an increasingly important role in Cuba, running many agricultural projects with profits being shared between the co-ops and the state. They visited co-operatives and met with their workers who produce a range of products using a variety of skills; including brick making, organic sugar cane and vegetable farming; rearing cattle and producing honey. The brigade had the unique opportunity to taste honey through a straw - direct from the hive - and to taste fresh sugar cane juice, metres away from where the cane was grown.

Making bricks at a co-operative in Artemisa
The brigade offered experiences far beyond that of an average tourist in Cuba, with meetings with the leaders of trade unions and mass organisations, the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR), invitations to conferences, co-operative visits, and the opportunity to ask questions to both Cuban and international trade unionists. The brigade visited the Santci Spiritus province during the programme, where a local CDR organised a street party to get to know their international guests and demonstrate to the delegation the organising and community work carried out by the CDR.

Amongst the packed itinerary there was free time where the young members had time for fun and relaxation. Many walked to the local village near the camp where they could practice their Spanish with locals by ordering food and drinks and talk politics - and football – and other visits including trips to the local beaches and the legendary Tropicana club in Havana.

Conditions on the camp were basic, with accommodation in bunk bed dormitories, cold water showers and basic food provided. The delegation bonded over Cuban beers and Havana Club rum in the evenings, and the camp’s Cultural Night gave a unique opportunity for the delegation to perform in front of camp in a performance to represent their culture.

The delegation’s performance went down well with the international crowd, with a performance featuring Welsh, Scottish and Irish songs, with a grand finale of The Beatles’ Hey Jude for a well known sing along for the crowd. The stall featured whiskey, beers, biscuits, tea, and trade union branded merchandise which went down a storm amongst the international camp - particularly the whiskey!

In addition to the unique opportunity of spending 12 days alongside Cubans, the international element on the camp allowed the young activists to make friends, contacts and networks with other activists from all around the world.

Group farewell photo on the camp, in front of pictures of Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara

The brigadistas ended the delegation with a renewed enthusiasm to become increasingly active in their trade unions and to work alongside CSC to campaign to end the US blockade of Cuba once and for all, to return the illegally occupied Guantanamo Bay area to Cuba and to stop US intervention on the island.

The brigade saw first-hand the achievements of the Revolution; world-class schools and hospitals despite being under blockade for over five decades, inspiring organic co-operatives, and proud communities determined to defend their independence from US intervention.

The Cubans made clear that Cuba needs international solidarity now more than ever, with the US changing its tactics rather than their goals. The support and solidarity from the British trade union movement is invaluable as we work together to end the blockade once and for all at this crucial time. The support of young members within the movement is crucial for future solidarity with the island, as Cuba continues to show that another world - where peoples’ needs are put before profit - is truly possible.

Viva Cuba!


If you are interested in the 2017 brigade, please get in touch with Ollie Hopkins, CSC Campaigns Officer on campaigns@cuba-solidarity.org.uk 

Brigadista’s Feedback:

“… a once in a lifetime experience. I've campaigned in solidarity for Cuba for many years and found it very special. Standing with Cubans as they marched through Havana, worked in the fields or sat with a glass of rum in their houses. I've been to Cuba many times on holiday but have never encountered such real experiences of Cuban society. The Cuban people struggle with pride and dignity as the revolution overcomes inevitable contradictions and obstacles placed in its path. We learnt from strong women who led a local committee for the defence of the revolution and workers on cooperative farms. Cubans are proud of their revolution and fighting to continue its successes into the 21st century. Delegates can take home a sense of inspiration at what can be done and apply it to our workplaces. It was an honour to represent my union on the best delegation I've ever had the pleasure to participate in.”

George Waterhouse, RMT

“ Seeing how communities work together, care for strangers and their own with no question of their economic standing. Yes there are things that aren't great but it's how the society knows that and put plans in place to try to improve them that makes the state so different from anywhere else… there are no homeless people, the elderly, children and disabled are all priorities in communities. The education and health system is second to none! (Had to use it myself). I can proudly say these two weeks have been the most emotional, political, amazing, uplifting time of my life. The best saying I heard while I was there was that Cuba is like an ant sleeping with an elephant (America). They have to be aware at every point. U.S. goal has stayed the same, just not their strategy!”

Mary Hackwood, Unite London and Eastern Region

“A once in a lifetime opportunity that I feel so grateful to have experienced. From learning about the struggles imposed on Cuba from the illegal US blockade to meeting with workers and families on how they maintain their values and community priorities in spite of the great difficulties they face. My affirmation to socialism and trade union values is even more strengthened… The fight goes on!”

Lexy Davies-Jones, Unite Wales

“Travelling to Cuba as part of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign delegation was life-changing. It allowed me to see there is a different, fairer way of life and I intend to campaign hard for that here now that I am home”

Jack England, CWU

“Going to Cuba with CSC shows you the Cuba away from the tourist trail. Here I met ordinary and often rural communities, who with their hospitality and generosity treated me as a friend rather than a visitor. These communities have their own intimate connection to Cuban socialism and were more than happy to answer questions on Cuba today and their opinions on current issues such as relations with the U.S. in light of Obama's recent visit. The brigade taught me a great deal about the island, the resilience of the Cuban people and their socialism against global challenges, and it has also inspired me. For me, this trip is only just the beginning. I will be going back to my GMB branch, Young Members Network and the UK trade union movement as a whole with everything I have learnt from this trip, working with them to show full solidarity with Cuba and to campaign with CSC.”

Ross Holden, GMB North West and Ireland Region

“Visiting Cuba with the CSC has been the most amazing experience of my life. It is inspiring to see how strong the Cuban people are and how they get by with the limitations from the blockade. The most important thing that I have taken from this trip is that the people of Cuba still need our help and solidarity to end the blockade as people think that since Obama visited this meant it was over. The blockade is unfair and unjust and has to stop! The people of Cuba need our help and I plan to do all that I can to do so! VIVA CUBA!”

Bernadette Lafferty, UNISON Scotland

Monday, 24 August 2015

Cuban Futures Conference 2015

Want to know what’s happening in Cuba and the reality behind the headlines on US-Cuba relations? Then you need to come to the Cuban Futures Conference for a Cuban perspective on what’s really happening in the country.


Cuban Futures 2015, Saturday 3 October, 9.30am-5pm
Council Chamber, TUC Congress House, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3LS 


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Escape the grey British weather this winter with the Cycle Cuba Challenge

Relax by mountain lakes and on palm fringed beaches
If you would like a truly unique and memorable experience of Cuba in 2015 then join Cuba Solidarity Campaign on the Cycle Cuba Challenge this November and see the country as you never have before.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Young Trade Unionists May Day Brigade 2015 Report

Young Trade Unionists at the Julio Antonio Mella Camp

Twenty-six young activists from across the British trade union movement visited Cuba to enjoy the May Day celebrations and offer their solidarity to the Cuban people as part of the Young Trade Unionists May Day Brigade, organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC).


Delegates from four trade unions; Unite, UNISON, UCATT and GMB participated in the brigade, representing millions of workers in Britain, who joined trade unionists and political activists from around the world in a programme of cultural activities, visits, entertainment and political discussion.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Miami Five discuss their release and return to Cuba


During the first of a series of interviews with protagonists of Cuban history on the “Roundtable” television program to be aired monthly, the anti-terrorist fighters Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino recalled the moment of their release from U.S. prisons and their return to Cuba.


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Cuban Health Worker in Africa to Fight Ebola Dies of Malaria

HAVANA (AP) — A Cuban health worker sent to Sierra Leone as part of a team to help fight Ebola has died of malaria.