In 1933 the bloody regime of Gerardo Machado came to an end when a general strike paralysed the economy. A last minute deal with the Cuban Communist Party failed to save the regime and Machado fled into exile.
Cubans general strike to overthrow president, 1933
For two years prior to this campaign there was a violent struggle to oust dictator Gerardo Machado: running gun battles, bombings, political assassinations. The leading violent group agreed to a ceasefire in July 1933 to allow for mediation, but smaller groups continued with some attacks.
On July 27 Havana bus drivers went on strike for their own demands, and two days later intercity drivers struck in solidarity. Soldiers fired on demonstrators in Havana on August 1, killing two, and on the same day in Santa Clara, shops and theaters closed. When police attacked a group of striking teachers, more transportation workers went on strike. In Pinar del Rio drivers, tobacco workers, and journalists also went on strike. In the meantime, the sugar workers’ union organized demonstrations and hunger marches throughout the country.
In the following days more groups joined the campaign. In Havana, many storekeepers closed and garages refused to sell gas. Typographers and journalists struck and the longshoremen/dockers walked out. The Cuban Communist party not only supported workers’ demands but also called for an end to the Machado regime. There were reports of many strikes in the interior of the country, and a central strike committee was organized. The Cuban Confederation of Labor (CNOC) called for a general strike to begin August 5.
The regime responded by arresting more than one hundred labor leaders and other campaign supporters, and tried to round up telegraph operators to force them to go to work. Police fired on a crowd, killing twenty and wounding over one hundred. Leaders of the campaign broadcast appeals to the people to stay off the streets to reduce the chance of escalating repressive violence.
By August 6 more groups joined the strike: railway workers, hotel and restaurant workers, physicians, bakers, cigarmakers.
The campaign escalated when government employees went on strike in Sanitation, Communications, and the Treasury Department. Electric and telephone utilities even locked their employees inside to prevent them from striking.
At that point the U.S. ambassador pressured Machado to leave office; the dictator took to the radio to announce his determination to resist U.S. intervention. Machado also tried to divide the opposition by making a separate deal with labor. Recognizing, the severity of the threat to his regime, Machado called a meeting with the CNOC and offered them legal recognition as well as official government support if they ended the strike. CNOC leaders were in favor of the agreement as was the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Cuba. The workers, however, rejected their leaders’ agreement and remained on strike.
Soon after the failed agreement with CNOC, an underground radio station controlled by the ABC, a staunch anti-Machado resistance group, falsely claimed that Machado had resigned and called for a huge public demonstration. Despite frantic retractions by other radio stations, a mob still emerged and began to march on the presidential palace. Police began to fire on the crowd before the marchers could reach the palace, killing twenty protestors.
Nonetheless, seeing the campaign’s broad support, the military decided to switch to the side of the people and placed Havana under military control on August 9. Without even the army to support him, Machado resigned on August 11 and left the country.
The organizational methods of this general strike influenced the general strike for democracy in Cuba two years later (see "Cubans General Strike to Overthrow President, 1935") (2).
Farber, Samuel. Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1976. Print.
Aguilar, Luis. Cuba 1933: Prologue to Revolution. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972. Print.
Brown, Jonathan . Workers' Control In Latin America, 1930-1979. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Print.
Chomsky, Aviva, Barry Carr, and Pamela Smorkaloff. The Cuba Reader. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003. Print.
Gott, Richard. Cuba: A new History. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004. Print.
Parkman, Patricia. Insurrectionary Civic Strikes in Latin America 1931-1961. Cambridge, MA: The Albert Einstein Institution, 1990, Monograph Series Number 1.
Suchlicki, Jaime. Cuba: From Colombus to Castro. New York City: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974. Print.
Smith, Robert. Background to Revolution. New York City: University of Rhode Island, 1966. Print.
This was another case in which nonviolent action was tried after violence failed to oust the dictator, and the nonviolent action succeeded. (See also El Salvador 1944, and Serbia 2000.)
The ouster of Machado created a power vacuum that was eventually filled by an army officer, Batista, who became the effective ruler of Cuba until Castro.
Edited by Max Rennebohm (15/06/2011)
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy:
George Lakey, 01/09/2008, and Olivia Ensign, 21/02/2010
Published on the Global Nonviolent Action Database