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The Most Expensive Port in the World: Dock Workers and the Cuban Revolution 1948-1959

Citation: Cushion, Stephen (2010) The Most Expensive Port in the World: Dock Workers and the Cuban Revolution 1948-1959. Society for Caribbean Studies Annual Conference Papers, 11 . ISSN 1471-2024

At the beginning of the 1950s, the Cuban economy was in severe difficulties and a report for the World Bank recommended wage cuts and mechanisation as part of a package to increase productivity. It was unlikely that such a productivity drive, which would have resulted in increased unemployment and lower standards of living for Cuban workers, could have been implemented by a democratic regime and can be seen as one of the reasons why big business in Cuba was initially such a strong supporter of the de facto regime established by the 1952 coup d'état. A crucial productivity battleground was the dispute over the bulk loading of sugar in Cuban ports. Sugar represented 80% of Cuba's exports and, given the fall in the world price following the end of the Korean War, the sugar industry employers needed to make as many savings as possible if they were to remain profitable. However, unemployment was also very high and bulk loading would have drastically cut the numbers of workers employed on the docks. This paper will trace the history of the Cuban port workers from the 1948 murder of the legendary dockers' leader, Aracelio Iglesias, through to the triumph of the revolution ten years later. In this period, despite the early acceptance of bulk loading by a corrupt trade union bureaucracy and the use of the army as strike breakers, Cuban dockers, with the solidarity of railwaymen, sugar workers and students, managed not only to delay the introduction of mechanisation, but also to play a full part in the organised resistance to the Batista dictatorship. Based on recent archival research in Havana, Manzanillo and Guantánamo, the paper, using the history of the Cuban dockworkers as an example, will argue that economic factors played a greater role in the insurrectionary phase of the Cuban revolution than the standard historiography admits and that the contribution of the organised working class to the revolutionary process should be reassessed.

Creators: Cushion, Stephen and
Official URL:
Subjects: History
Latin American Studies
Keywords: Cuba, organised labour, trade
Divisions: Institute of Latin American Studies
  • 2010 (published)


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