|The British and Irish 2017 May Day brigade delegation|
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.
|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.
|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
|GMB Delegates Rebecca Mitchell and Joe Spicer on May Day|