“Your support and solidarity really does make a difference” UNISON President tells conference

Rob Miller, Lissette Rubio Mederos, Kevan Nelson, Tracy Delaney, Andrea Egan and Teresa Connally

Report back from UNISON Conference June 2023

Removing Cuba from the US government’s state sponsors of terrorism list will be a priority for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign over the coming months, CSC Director Rob Miller told attendees at our fringe meeting at UNISON NDC in June. UNISON North West Regional Secretary and Assistant General Secretary Kevan Nelson chaired the meeting, which featured report backs from a recent UNISON North West delegation, the Young Trade Unionists’ May Day Brigade, as well as Lissette Rubio Mederos, a Cuban education specialist and member of the Cuban Federation of Women.

Earlier in the week, the example that Cuba offers the world was highlighted on the conference floor by two of our fringe speakers. President Andrea Egan, who was on the North West delegation to Matanzas, spoke about her experiences in Cuba during her opening address and Ruben Brett, from the South East, provided examples of Cuba’s approach to social care when speaking on a social care motion.

Opening the fringe discussion, Andrea explained the immediate impact that the country had on her. “Driving to the hotel in Matanzas from the airport, I could see that Cuba was a poor country”, she said. “But during our visits to polyclinics, schools and education centres, we saw how education and solidarity are prioritised and how the little they do have is shared.”

Andrea highlighted how important expressions of international solidarity are with Cubans. “When you are in Cuba, you really get to see how much it means to Cubans to know that they are not alone and that they have friends around the world who continue to fight against the US blockade.” She called on all branches to get affiliated to CSC and get involved in the work of the campaign. “Your support and solidarity really does make a difference” she told attendees.

Speaking passionately about the Federation of Cuban Women (Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas, FMC) Teresa Connally described the progress that Cuba has made with regards to Cuban women, gender equality and LGBT+ equality. “The majority of doctors, lawyers and judges in Cuba are women, women make up over 50% of health workers on international medical brigades, and women scientists were the majority of those working on Cuba’s successful COVID-19 vaccines”, she explained. Teresa celebrated the new Family Code, passed in September 2022, which experts have described as one of the most progressive in the world and which, amongst other things, legalises same-sex marriage and adoption.

However, she said that representatives at the FMC, like all other organisations they met in Cuba, explained that the blockade was the biggest challenge they faced and made the material conditions faced by Cuban women even harder. The North West Regional Women’s Committee will now be producing a statement of intent to work in partnership with the FMC and were invited to attend the 4th Summit of the National Conference of Women in Cuba.

Tracy Delaney then spoke about upcoming plans to renew the historic links between UNISON North West and Matanzas and the launch of a new material aid campaign to send much needed medical equipment to the region.

The fringe then heard from three young UNISON members who visited the country on CSC’s Young Trade Unionists’ May Day Brigade. Ruben Brett noted that despite the “crushing effects” of the blockade, “to see the achievements of the Cuban Revolution in clinics, schools, community centres and cooperatives was truly eye-opening.” In contrast to the actions of the United States, “Cuba shows love and solidarity to all countries”, Ruben said.

Unison cuba fringe june 2023

Amber McDonald, from the Eastern region, compared her experiences as a youth worker in the UK with what she saw when visiting a youth project in Havana. “The first thing I noticed was the importance placed on the arts – young people are encouraged to sing, dance, act and create things”, whereas in the UK “they aren’t deemed as important as other subjects, and they’re not as encouraged.” Cuba, Amber said, “allows education to fit the person, rather than the person having to fit the standard.”

Charlotte Pybus, Amber’s colleague from the Eastern region, told the fringe about the delegation’s visit to La Castellana, a centre for children, young people and adults with special educational needs and disabilities. The visit “demonstrated in practice Cuba’s constitutional commitment to ensuring every person has a right to work, to be part of society and to form human relationships.” If Cuba can offer its people so much with so little” she asked, “why can we not do the same here in the UK?”

The fringe was sponsored by our friends at Thompsons Solicitors and Fred Gallucci, another delegate from the May Day Brigade, said a few words about his firm’s long history of support for Cuba and CSC. Fred noted that his time in Cuba inspired and energised him to organise back in the UK.

Our keynote speaker, Cuban educationalist Lissette Rubio Mederos, outlined the damage that the blockade inflicts on Cuba’s educational system. “Prices for any equipment we need are three times higher because of the blockade on Cuba and we have to restructure classroom lessons due to fuel shortages”, she explained. Lissette thanked the British trade union movement for their solidarity, typified by the recent Viva la Educacion appeal, which recently raised over £100,000 to send vital educational aid to Cuba. Lissette told attendees that, despite the difficulties caused by the blockade, Cuba remains committed to its values and providing for its people. “We will keep going and, with your support, we will never give up”.

Rob Miller concluded the meeting, detailing the ways in which the extra-territorial impact of the blockade is felt in this country, as well as many others. “Our number one campaigning priority this year is to get Cuba taken off the ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ list”, he set out.

Later that evening, Teresa, Lissette and Glen Williams, Chair of UNISON’s Local Government Service Group, spoke at a North West Latin America fringe and social, alongside speakers from the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign and Justice for Colombia. The region’s shared struggles against imperialism were discussed and celebrated, including a special birthday toast for Che Guevara, on what would have been his 95th birthday.

Lissette visiting the CSC stall


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