After two years of online meetings, it was wonderful to finally welcome Niurka González, General Secretary of Cuba’s National Union of Education, Science and Sports Workers (SNTECD) to the UK. Niuka had a successful and active week at the National Education Union (NEU) conference in Bournemouth from 11-14 April where she was able to launch the Viva La Educación appeal in person, address conference and have exchanges with many British teachers.
Speaking that the CSC fringe meeting on 12 April, Niurka González thanked the NEU and CSC for the Viva La Educación project which she said would help students and teachers in the face of shortages caused by the blockade.
“We need your support to fight the criminal blockade which has the aim of starving us, something which they will never achieve,” she said.
She told delegates that “Cuba is the only country that is being blockaded, and despite this, it is the only country in the world that has been able to vaccinate all of its 2-18 year olds with its own vaccines.”
She finished her speech by inviting NEU members to visit Cuba and to “see our reality for yourselves.”
Sue Piper from Tameside was an NEU member who had done just that by taking part in an education delegation to Cuba in 2016. The delegation and exchanges with the Cuban people in their workplaces and communities had been fantastic she said. Seeing the impact of the blockade in schools had also inspired her to get involved in the ‘Play for Cuba’ appeal which sent 8,000 musical instruments to Cuba in 2019.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU asked the fringe why it was that Cuba had faced US sanctions for over 60 years” “Just ask yourselves why?” he said. “Why would you maintain a blockade during a world wide pandemic that stopped syringes being delivered? Why would you do something so barbaric? Why would you stop Cuba getting ventilators? Because Cuba is an example of what can be done when you prioritise education, just 90 miles from the US. That’s why.”
Daniel Kebede also took time out of his busy presidential schedule to pop by to the meeting to give his greetings, and pledge his support to the appeal. I am proud that my union stands in solidarity with Cuba against the US blockade and I am proud that we are supporting this great appeal to send educational aid to Cuban students and teachers,” he said.
CSC National Secretary Bernard Regan, concluded the speeches by explaining why Viva La Educación was so important now, after all the extra sanctions that had been imposed by Trump and maintained by Biden, and the hardship that Cuba faced recovering from two years without tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was clear to point out that “this appeal is about solidarity not charity, and showing it practically. Raising funds for this appeal provides an opportunity to talk about the blockade,” he said and gave practical examples of what the funds raised would be able to purchase, and fundraising activities that people could get involved in.
Chairing the meeting, Gawain Little, Chair of the NEU International Committee thanked Niurka and Cuba for the positive example they gave, and reaffirmed that “no blockade can stop the solidarity of the NEU” with the island.
Later that evening, CSC organised a social event with live salsa music from Omar Puente and Cubania with a fundraising raffle which raised more than £500 for the appeal.
Niurka also attended a fringe hosted by Justice for Colombia on Monday 11 April where she was moved to address the meeting during the questions and answers to send solidarity to sister unions in Colombia who were facing a different but important fight she said.
On Thursday 14 April Niurka addressed the whole NEU conference. She described Cuba’s advances in education since the Revolution and how the US blockade prevented the country from moving forward.
“Every year the Cuban government allocates a considerable amount of financial, material and human resources to guarantee the right to education” she explained, but “services it provides are seriously affected by the economic, commercial and financial blockade. These are translated into daily shortages as a result of the fact that Cuba remains without access to the US market and the means to obtain the material basis for study and life, the materials and equipment essential to carry out the educational and teaching process with high quality.
“In the field of Early Childhood, this blockade has a negative impact, since the printing of workbooks for the teaching and learning process in Pre-school is limited due to the impossibility of acquiring raw materials such as paper. The allocation of toys and teaching materials for kindergartens has also been limited by having to buy them abroad from distant markets.”
She went on to give other examples including the blockade’s impact on special, primary and secondary, higher and arts education, as well as the difficulties that members of her union had carrying out their work.
“It cannot be right that the education of children is so affected by the decisions and actions being taken by the United States Government,” she said.
Following her speech she presented the union’s joint general secretaries (Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney) and president Daniel Kebede with the anniversary medal of the CTC (Cuba’s equivalent to the TUC) which celebrated it’s 80th year in 2019.
The medal is to all members of the union she said, “in recognition of your wonderful work of solidarity with my country.”
During the week, Alpha Kane, NEU activist and a member of the CSC executive also received two awards for his solidarity work: the NEU presented him with the Steve Sinnott Award for International Solidarity 2022, and Niurka Gonzalez also gave him the CTC 80th anniversary medal on behalf of the Cuban trade union movement.