Antonio Betancourt’s speaking tour - Ten days that shook Sweden

A very successful ten-day speaking tour by Antonio Betancourt of FRETECO in Venezuela was recently organised by the Hands Off Venezuela campaign in Sweden. He travelled the length and breadth of the country, raising the profile of HOV within the Swedish labour movement.

For ten days Antonio Betancourt from Venezuela travelled the length and breadth of Sweden - from Luleå in the north to Malmö in the south. Antonio works at Inveval, a small company that produce valves for the oil industry. What is special about Inveval is that it is a company under workers' control. Antonio was invited by Hands off Venezuela (HOV) in Sweden and his tour has created a great deal of interest and enthusiasm for the HOV campaign.

Antonio Betancourt Beginning in December 2002 there was a two-month lockout of many workers in Venezuela. The bosses tried to sabotage the economy so that the people would put the blame on the government and force President Chavez out of office. This attempt to sabotage the economy failed because the people and especially the working class managed to keep production running. After the defeat of the lockout several companies continued to be closed. One of them was Inveval where the workers decided to occupy the factory. After a long struggle the company was nationalized under workers' control.

Antonio spoke about how the leadership of the old trade union federation, CTV, supported the military coup against Chavez and the bosses' lockout. Because they betrayed the working class a new trade union federation, UNT, was created. But unfortunately it is paralysed by internal feuding. Sectarian leaders like Orlando Chirino are in conflict with reformists like Marcela Maspero. The UNT thus lacks a revolutionary leadership.

Antonio Betancourt Because the working class is not getting get a lead from its trade union leaders, Antonio and his comrades have founded FRETECO (the revolutionary front for factory occupations and workers' control). Through FRETECO those companies that are either occupied or are running under the control of workers work together. Their goal is a socialist Venezuela where workers' control will not be an exception but the norm. All big companies should be nationalized and run under workers' control.

The members of FRETECO believe that because the working class produces everything in society they should rule and plan the economy. In FRETECO they fight not only against the capitalists and the right wing, but also against reformists and bureaucrats within the Bolivarian movement who stand in the way of a truly socialist Venezuela. The idea of launching FRETECO did not fall from the sky but was put forward by the Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria, which is a part of an international Marxist tendency (the International Marxist Tendency, IMT) and to which Antonio also belongs.

Antonio Betancourt The tour was made possible thanks to the economic contribution from a variety of organizations, mainly in the labour movement. We want to thank the Social Democratic PALME project group in Borlänge, the Left Party in Dalarna, Falun and Göteborg, the Left Students' Union in Stockholm, the Social Democratic Students' Union Demos, the Young Left in Stockholm and Malmö, the Social Democratic Youth League in Gävleborg, Skåne, and the Social Democratic Youth League Facken (Stockholm) and Centrum (Malmö), the Embassy of Venezuela in Sweden, the Latin America committee in Luleå, and Kvarnby people's high school. Many more organizations have been active in the organization of the meetings.

Antonio spoke at public meetings in Luleå, Sandviken, Borlänge, Göteborg, Lund, Malmö, Växjö and Stockholm. Antonio also visited the Social Democratic Youth Leagues Gävleborg's Vantorp campsite, the Metalworkers' trade-union branch at SSAB (a big steel mill in Borlänge), he spoke at a meeting with over seventy nurses on strike in Gothenburg, visited Kvarnby people's high school in Malmö, spoke at the Left Party's First of May rally in Stockholm, and visited a warehouse in Jordbro. Antonio also visited the Young Left's Stockholm office, and had meetings with Eva Björklund, who is responsible for international affairs for the Left Party's executive committee, and Venezuelan ambassador Horacio Arteaga.

Antonio Betancourt
Antonio Betancourt speaking at the Left Party’s
First of May rally in Stockholm

In total we raised almost 3300 Euros (30,000 SEK) through contributions from organizations and collections at meetings. Our target was that Antionio should return to Venezuela with 5000 SEK after expenses. We managed to beat out target, Antonio could return with 11,700 SEK including a donation of 500 SEK from the Social Democratic Youth League in Sandviken and 2000 SEK from the Commercial Workers trade union branch at the Lagena warehouse.

Throughout the whole tour Antonio gave the same message to whoever he met: the working class can run the factories, the working class should not only run the companies but the whole of society, not only in Venezuela but in the whole world, including Sweden. Antonio did not only speak about the revolution in Venezuela but also about the need for world revolution and an international planned economy. Some people who came and listened at the meetings were surprised to hear this message. At the same time for many it became clear that the ideas of socialism are alive and that a fundamental transformation of society is possible.

Antonio Betancourt Around seventy people have said that they are now interested in the campaign. We will now use the success of the speaking tour to strengthen the Hands off Venezuela campaign in Sweden. We will invite all those that are interested to join study groups about the Venezuelan revolution. We want to form a network of representatives of the campaign in more cities around the country.

At the Left Party congress in June an amendment has been tabled that the Left Party should support the HOV campaign's appeal to the Swedish labour movement. The Party leadership says that it agrees with the demands of the appeal, but that it doesn't want to support a campaign that has been launched by the IMT! Comrades active in the HOV campaign will go to the congress to explain what the campaign is really about, and what the IMT is.

At the European Social Forum in Malmö in September we will try to have a workshop about solidarity with Venezuela to gather everybody that is active in the campaign and people that want to become active. In November we plan to have our second national solidarity congress, but this time we aim to have double the number of participants.

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