Cuba and Venezuela Use Labor Unions to Bolster Regime Support

Cuba and Venezuela Use Labor Unions to Bolster Regime Support
There is no freedom in a society without freedom of association. (Flickr)

EspañolMillions marched around the world yesterday for International Labor Day.

Radical left parties promoted many of those marches. In countries like Cuba, thousands were forced to march in support of a dictatorial regime. Despite rhetoric defending workers, freedom of association was largely restricted. Let’s take a look at how that played out in Cuba and Venezuela specifically.


The Cuban regime claims it defends the rights of workers. However, the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba is the only labor union allowed in the country, and it has strong ties to the island’s Communist Party. The Secretary General of that union is also part of the regime’s Council of Ministers. There are rarely differences between the leaders of the party and the union.

In 1992, the regime modified the constitution to, theoretically, accept freedom of association. But unions such as the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers and the National Confederation of Independent Workers of Cuba were not recognized by Cuban law. Those who have tried to create independent unions on the island have been persecuted. The dictatorship has sent multiple activists to prison for exercising freedom of association. Leader Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos was exiled to Spain. Ernesto Herrera Viel, Justo Javier, Alexis Gomez, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo and Emilio Jerez have been arrested by the dictatorship.

Right to strike on the island

The Cuban regime also bans strikes. For the Castro dictatorship, unions don’t need to resort to strikes because unions are always heard by the regime. The Cuban Trade Union Confederation is an ally of the Castro regime. Therefore, when the dictatorship listens to the union, it argues it is also hearing all legitimate voices.

Human rights organizations complain about other violations against Cuban workers’ rights. According to one annual report, the dictatorship violates labor protection and hygiene standards and extorts labor security inspectors.

Freedom of association in Venezuela

The trade union situation is better in Venezuela, though far from positive. In articles 92 and 97, the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela allows both freedom of association and the right to strike. However, President Nicolás Maduro’s regime has demonized independent unions in seizing power.

The Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) is the most important trade union in the country. After coming to power in 1999, Chavez was a critic of the CTV. According to a report from the German Social-Democrat Friedrich-Ebert think tank, Chavez’s administration even expropriated the headquarters of one of the CTV’s affiliates and seized their bank accounts.

Both Maduro and Chavez have referred to unions that do not endorse their regimes as “fascists,” “instigators” and “bourgeois.” Some union leaders opposed to the Chavez regime have fled the country, such as union leader Carlos Ortega. During Chavez and Maduro’s administrations, many trade unionists have been killed. In 2012 alone, at least 77 union leaders were killed in Venezuela.

Chavez’s legacy has led to the creation of its own unions. One of the main organizations of workers loyal to Chavez in Venezuela is the National Union of Workers of Venezuela. This workers’ organization operates more like a political branch of workers who support the regime rather than as an association preserving worker rights.

Academics agree that without freedom of association there is no freedom. Though the methods and objectives of many trade union organizations is up for criticism, citizens should be free to form the associations they choose. Similarly, an open, free society should allow its citizens to exercise the right to strike. In totalitarian regimes, unions only serve the interests of the ruling elite.

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