Free Trade Unions..? Don't Make Me Laugh!

The “red” wedding of the year took place recently in the unlikely surroundings of a Catholic Church in Glasgow. That fist-clenching ‘fighter for socialism’ Tommy Sheridan bit the bullet, along with his principles, and married his trophy wife, Gail, an air stewardess. As can be seen from the picture of the “handsome couple”, it was a jolly affair, with Tommy sporting the MacLean tartan which he picked in honour of one of his recently acquired revolutionary ‘heroes’, the Scottish socialist republican, John MacLean.

More curious than the ceremony itself is the honeymoon destination picked by this “man of principle”. Cuba. Then again, Tommy and his Scottish Socialist Party colleagues believe that Cuba is a model of ‘socialist’ democracy that the people of Scotland should look to for inspiration.

This isn’t an uninformed personal attack upon Sheridan either, because he is on record and in print as identifying Cuba as his prime example of ‘socialism’. Indeed, while honeymooning in this “socialist” utopia, he even managed to devote his weekly Daily Record column (circulation 1.2 million) to a propaganda piece on behalf of the Cuban regime. Describing it as an. “Island where socialism is at its best,” this is the Sheridan vision of what a “socialist” Scotland might look like.

Tommy’s dispatch from Cuba was awash with references to his meeting with two Cuban government officials, as well as some quite hypocritical references to the genuinely revolutionary figure of Che Guevara, who himself fell foul of the regime, and was politically isolated by the very people who still run Cuba today. Instead of promoting the revolutionary legacy of Che, Tommy Sheridan’s article was actually promoting the current leadership in Cuba who are light years removed from the politics and actions of Guevara, despite the murals of him that adorn many buildings, including the tourist hotels.

Tommy reminds us in the same newspaper column that the Cubans are ‘justifiably proud’ of the advances that they have made in education and health care since the revolution and he rails against the US led economic embargo of the island. A member of the Cuban National Assembly tells Tommy that ‘socialism’ has indeed provided plenty for his people: “I guarantee that every Cuban eats every day. Not as much as I would like, but every day, three times a day... Every Cuban has free health care cover, from the cradle to the grave. Every Cuban is educated free... Can you say the same for your country, or Europe, or America?”

The 1.7 million visitors to Cuba last year are hailed as virtual revolutionary heroes because consciously or unconsciously, they broke the US embargo to bring much needed foreign currency to the country. Sheridan recommends that his fellow Scots should do likewise and take a holiday to this ‘socialist’ fantasy island. The Cuban government must have been very appreciative of Tommy’s efforts on behalf of their burgeoning tourist industry.

No mention of Gary Glitter or the fact that Cuba, along with Thailand and the Philippines is now regarded as one of the prime “sex tourist” economics of the Third World. No mention either of the lack of free trade unions, political parties, free elections, or the repression by the regime of minorities such as gays.

The latter a somewhat strange omission from the leader of a party that saw itself as the champion of gay rights during the recent debate on the proposed repeal of Section 28 in Scotland. But the SSP’s flirtation with the Cuban regime is not only confined to their leader.

At their national conference earlier this year, it was the mother of the bridegroom who proposed a motion of support for “socialist” Cuba. Coincidentally, a representative of the Cuban Government happened to be present when she did so. Besides condemning the US blockade against Cuba, the motion referred to the country as “socialist” and saluted its “tremendous social advances” If this were not questionable enough, comrade Sheridan - substituting for her son - defended the lack of trade union and other freedoms in Cuba on the basis of their claimed absence in Britain.

Ma Sheridan then cut loose: “Perhaps the Cuban people don’t want pluralism! Perhaps they don’t want free trade unions” she chuntered.

Evidently appaled, a Weekly Worker reporter commented: “The wording of the motion and the enthu­siasm of comrade Sheridan, certainly had me wondering whether or not the SSP leadership, or key sections of it, had entered into some secret diplomatic internationalist pact with the Cuban government.” As this “truly awful speech” was straight out of the mother of the horse’s mouth, it is certainly one explanation. Another is that “socialism” and, presumably, “socialists” know exactly what is good for the working class, even if they are sometimes too stupid to understand the benefits of ‘socialism’ for themselves. As Tommy himself boldly puts its:

“Cuba remains a burning flame of inspiration to socialists around the world.”

How much would - or did - the Cuban government have to pay for propaganda like this? Certainly more than the cost of a free honeymoon, I’d guess.

Reproduced from RA Volume 4, Issue 8, September/October '00