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Steve Cushion

was born in Havana on 29 May 1911. His family struggled financially, forcing him to begin working at the age of 12. Although apprenticed as a cigar roller, he worked sporadically because the depressed nature of the tobacco industry left him frequently unemployed. He was involved in trade union politics from an early age, and in 1929 he joined the Communist Party, where he was elected to the Central Committee in 1934. During the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado (1925–1933), he spent seventy days in prison for his role in a tobacco workers’ strike in 1932. Peña quickly rose to prominence, and he gave the closing address at the clandestine Second National Sugar Workers’ Congress in Camagüey in June 1933.

Peña was a union activist across the trades, and following the fall of the Machado regime in 1933 he was elected general secretary of ...