- A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas' Victory Steve Cushion
New York: Monthly Review, 2016
272 pp., $89.00 (cloth); $27.00 (paper); $23.00 (e-book)
Steve Cushion's detailed study explores how segments of Cuba's organized workers, particularly in the eastern cities of Santiago and Guantánamo, assisted in the overthrow of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959. Employing documents from local and provincial archives, oral histories of the leaders and of rank-and-file members of the labor and revolutionary organizations, and clandestine and public publications, Cushion's monograph shows how labor activism supplemented the MR-26–7 movement led by Fidel Castro along with the Communist Party. Cushion argues that because of the corrupt nature of the Confederación de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC) and its close relationship with the Batista government, between 1953 and 1959 organized labor in the eastern provinces not only sought to guard and enhance the rights and conditions of industrial and commercial workers, they distanced themselves from the CTC leadership, produced their own agenda and militant worker ideology, and set out to assist Castro's revolution movement. Cushion's work centers the labor movement of the eastern provinces within the struggle to overthrow Batista, an endeavor that scholars such as Hugh Thomas and Marifeli Pérez-Stable had failed to do in detail because of the belief that although the CTC leadership operated in Havana, its influence reached throughout the island. Cushion shows that this was not the case by the latter part of the 1950s.
Before Cushion discusses the activities and ideologies that organized labor in the eastern provinces adopted to contribute to the revolutionary movement, he first examines the island's socioeconomic and political policies as well as its culture during the late 1940s and the early 1950s. He underlines the impact that the Cold War, government repression of a number of communist labor leaders, and sociopolitical factors had on labor, resulting in compromised and corrupted CTC leadership, dominated by Eusebio Mujal. In exchange for his complicity in controlling labor, Mujal insisted that workers remain apolitical and trust him, since he had a "friendly relationship with Batista" (27).
Nonetheless, socioeconomic forces worked against the ideology and objectives of the Mujalistas. Cuban nationalism, and the republic's economic dependency on sugar cane and tobacco for its development and prosperity, encouraged the rank and file of these two industries to challenge their subjugation and exploitation. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the price of sugar declined and remained suppressed for much of the decade, worsening the condition of workers. When the London Sugar Agreement failed to increase the price of sugar, North American sugar companies demanded that their farmers and workers produce more cane. The level of exploitation that accompanied this decision radicalized sugar workers in the central and eastern provinces, according to Cushion. These workers employed work stoppages to protect and enhance [End Page 97] their conditions. Laborers from Havana, Matanzas, and Camaguey who worked in the textile, commerce, banking, and railroad industries supported their cause by striking as well.
Between 1955 and 1956, such activism failed. Describing the aftermath of their defeat as "interludes between battles," Cushion shows how, after these acts of resistance, workers in the eastern provinces reconsidered their options (105). In brief, their leaders called for the democratization of the CTC. They also decided to work with the Communist Party and the Fidelistas. After Castro's departure to Mexico in 1955, his agent in Santiago de Cuba, Frank Pais, began to organize and obtain the support of workers for the revolutionary movement. By 1957, the eastern workers in nearly every sector of the economy had become mobilized. They combined their demands for wage increases with clandestine activities to help overthrow Batista. Their commitment grew as the government responded with state terrorism. "Death squads can be seen developing in early 1957," says Cushion (140).
The last quarter of the book examines how the strikes in April and May of 1958 influenced the revolution. Cushion argues that...