‘If Cuba can offer its people so much with so little, why can we not do the same?’

Two young UNISON Eastern activists have just returned from a ‘life-changing’ trip to Cuba, witnessing first-hand the socialist island’s struggle to survive and its huge May Day celebrations

Every year, Britain’s Cuba Solidarity Campaign organises a May Day Brigade to Cuba, giving young trade unionists the chance to celebrate International Workers Day in Havana.

For the first time, UNISON Eastern sent two delegates this year, giving them a chance to meet Cuban workers and trade unionists, gain an insight into the achievements of the Cuban Revolution and examine the challenges posed by the illegal US blockade.

Amber and Charlotte came back invigorated by the trip, eager to build solidarity with Cuba in this country and get more stuck into trade union activities.

Charlotte was nervous about going and shocked when she got there at the conditions Cubans live in. “Seeing the dilapidated but still inhabited buildings, the food options available and the hardship the Cuban people face on a daily basis made me recognise my privilege in a way I never had before,” she said.

The country’s growth has been held back by the blockade, a set of US laws restricting Cuba’s ability to have normal relations and trade with other countries around the world. Havana estimates it’s cost the country well over £600 billion since it was introduced in the 1960s. The United Nations general assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the blockade for the 30th time last year. Only the US and Israel voted against, with Brazil and Ukraine abstaining.

Members of the brigade visit a hospital where they hold a UNISON flag with a doctor

Despite being held back, Cuba supports its public services to a level that should make most of the world blush. Amber noted: “Our brigade visited a kids club and a SEN school – both of these showed the real commitment to education in Cuba and how much happier and fulfilled the young people seemed.

“In the UK the arts in education aren’t deemed as beneficial and are not fully promoted, this difference in Cuba where the arts are valued and deemed as important as other subjects was amazing to see.”

Indeed, Cuba spends a massive 12.9% of its GDP on education, more than any other country in the world and twice the 6% spent here in the UK.

Revolutionary Cuba also has a globally renowned health system, with the highest ratio of doctors to patients in the world (6.7 per 1,000 people). It sends thousands of doctors to disaster zones overseas.

And this collective spirit extends beyond the government. Charlotte recalls a conversation at a May Day street party: “My favourite quote was from a lady who said: ‘We share everything, but most importantly, we share joy.’ This is evident in almost all aspects of Cuban life.”

Charlotte and Amber in front of the Tren Blindado memorial

Both thought the UK had a lot to learn from Cuba. Charlotte asked: “If Cuba can offer its people so much with so little, why can we not do the same?”

Amber was impressed by the huge May Day march. “Seeing so many people come together to celebrate workers was mesmerising and something I wish we did in the UK. Viva Cuba!”

Would the pair encourage others to go on the brigade? We’ll leave that to Charlotte: Cuba was a fantastic experience, that truly changed my life. I have made great friends and connections that I know will benefit my activism in UNISON. I would recommend visiting Cuba to anyone.”

The Eastern region young members group meets four times a year and makes sure that young workers have a voice across the union. To get more involved or to find out about future evens email John Lawrence.

Cuba Solidarity Campaign