Labour & Trade Union News

Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez announced the expropriation of the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas (CNV) in a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in the capital Caracas, yesterday. CNV makes valves used in the oil industry and was a long-time associate of the state oil company PDVSA until it closed in 2003.  Labor minister Maria Christina Iglesias and a group of former-CNV workers were also present at the announcement, where Chávez signed a decree expropriating CNV. The National Assembly had previously declared it to be of ‘public utility,’ a legal prerequisite to expropriation.

CNV is only the second company to be expropriated by the Venezuelan government and is to be run under a system of shared worker-state co-management.  Venezuela’s first expropriation, last January,—of the paper factory Venepal—was announced as part of a nation-wide endogenous development campaign called “made in Venezuela.”  The campaign seeks to promote national industrial and agricultural development in an attempt at diversifying Venezuela’s oil-dominated exports, and reducing dependency on imports.

In December 2002, the then main labor federation, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) and chamber of commerce federation Fedecamaras jointly declared a nation-wide “general strike” aimed at ousting President Chávez.  The most destructive aspect was the near-total shutdown of the oil industry, accompanied by sabotage resulting in billions of dollars in damage and losses.  In many cases, including both Venepal and CNV, employers locked workers out and shut down production for the entire 2 month strike.

As reported by Jorge Martin, writing for the Hands Off Venezuela campaign, the closure of CNV for the duration of the strike left over 100 workers without income.  With the end of the strike/lock-out CNV owner Andrés Sosa Pietri refused pay promised back-wages to workers, provoking a group of workers to begin agitating for radical change at the factory.  In May 2003 workers decided to occupy the entrance to the factory in an attempt to prevent Pietri from moving machinery out and closing down the factory.  The occupation was declared illegal by the Venezuelan courts, and workers were eventually convinced to abandon the occupation.

But the expropriation of Venepal—now the Endogenous Paper Industry of Venezuela (Invepal)—earlier this year inspired workers around the country to renew their efforts at their own factories in the hope that they would be the next Invepal.  On February 17, 2005, 63 former-CNV workers re-occupied CNV, this time taking over the entire factory, rather than just the entrance.

Back in January, at the signing of the decree to expropriate Venepal, Chávez sent a warning to the Venezuelan land-owning class: “Today’s expropriation of Venezuela is an exception, not a political measure.  We aren’t going to steal your land; if it’s yours, it’s yours.  But to the factories that are closed, and abandoned—we’re coming for you. For all of you. For the rescue of the industrial fabric.”

Speaking to workers at yesterday’s expropriation of CNV—now the Endogenous Valve Industry of Venezuela (Inveval)—Chávez reiterated this statement, warning that other companies that abandon their factories should be taken over and turned into “Inve-no-se-que-cosa” (Inve-whatever).

Pioneering Venezuelan Co-Management

The expropriation of Venepal and CNV, and the advancement of co-management in state run enterprises such as the electrical company Cadafe and the Aluminum factory Alcasa are not only a product of the government’s ‘Made in Venezuela’ strategy—they also represent hard-fought battles by workers all over the country.  But the business of worker-management is complex, and as a Venezuelan trailblazer, the pressure on Invepal to feed the hopes of workers at factories throughout the country is high.  While it remains unclear exactly what is going on at Invepal, recent developments suggest a deviation from workers’ earlier goals.

At a recent forum on co-management, a former member of the executive of Venepal’s now defunct union and current member of the directorate of Invepal, Alexix Ornevo, noted that since they no longer had any bosses, they longer needed a union, as workers were now grouped into a cooperative (Covimpa) to run the company.  And as a cooperative, Ornevo was quick to point out, they got several benefits including Constitutional relief from paying taxes.  Also thanks to the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution, Covimpa—currently owners of a 49 percent share in Invepal—were legally entitled to increase that share up to 95 percent.

Ornevo’s presentation caused serious concern among many in the audience, who worried that the model of co-management and worker agency in the country was setting the stage to become a model for capitalist cooperatives.  “As we saw in [the] presentation on Invepal,” said Federation of Electrical Workers (Fetraelec) president Angel Navas in an interview, “they are having some serious problems, they seem to be thinking as managers.”  “Eight-hundred workers will be sole owners of the company.  And if it becomes profitable, are these workers are going to get rich?  This is a company that is supposed to belong to the entire country; my company can’t only belong to the workers, if we make profits they belong to the entire population. This is a responsibility that we all have,” said Navas.

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After two long years of struggle at long last the expropriation of the CNV was put into practice. The CNV had been taken over by the workers throughout this time.

The Constructora Nacional de Valvulas is a factory which was owned by the coup plotter Andres Sosa Pietri, a former president of PDVSA. After the coup he refused to restart the operations and the workers decided to take over the installations.

Jorge Paredes, one of the main leaders of the factory said: "this is a new experience for the workers, a new model of development which will be at the service of the workers and the community. This process of co-management that we now start must be taken to other companies and other workers."

The company at one point supplied 22% of the national market for valves. It is calculated that this year PDVSA has to invest 148 million Bolivars in valves.

The workers estimate that in three months they will have the company ready to start producing. 

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We publish a translation of a leaflet produced by the CNV workers in Venezuela calling for a rally today in support of public ownership of the company.

We, the workers of the CNV, have not received a single Bolivar for two years and four months from the coup plotter employer Andres Sosa Pietri, member of the famous “Democratic Coordination”, who has his own party supporting neoliberal doctrine, forerunner of the privatisation of PDVSA, who collaborated in the financing of the failed coup on April 11, exploiter of the workers for more than 20 years in our country, and one time president of PDVSA. This is the curriculum vitae of the said director, who studied in the best US universities.

This employer left more than 120 workers on the streets on December 2002, during the oil stoppage. We, the 62 workers who did not want him to get away with it, kept the struggle going against Andres Sosa Pietri. We knew who we were facing, a big oligarch with a prestigious family name who has been trampling the Venezuelans underfoot. We knew that he was the “Goliath” of Venezuela, but as always, history remains and one learns from that history for the different struggles one is faced with in life.

The workers united and created a big “David” who is going to defeat this “Big Goliath”.

Throughout this period (2 years and 4 months, plus the current year so far) we have always been clear that our aim was to save our jobs, with the difference that we do not want to be exploited by anybody!!!! We are prepared to die, if necessary, to achieve our aim which is to restart production of valves under workers’ control, without being exploited from anyone, with social justice towards our comrades, communities and Venezuela in general. We want to restart not just for the common well-being of 62 workers, but for the well-being of the Country, to build a socialist Venezuela. We are conscious that we are currently trapped under a capitalist system. But it is not impossible to overthrow it if the working class of our country unites. It is important to stress that we the workers as a whole are the source, the engine which propels the country forward. If we unite, we become the great David that Venezuela longs for. Please, wake up, so that we can deepen the workers’ revolution!

We invite all workers and all the people of Venezuela to support our struggle which is the struggle of everybody, to join us in the rally to the National Assembly to give the President of the Assembly a document asking for the company to be declared of Public Interest, since the problem is a social one.

Let’s gather on Tuesday, April 26, 2005, at 8 am at the CNE building, and from there we will march united to the National Assembly!

We expect your valuable support!!!!!

Yes, for the building of a fair and socialist Venezuela!!!!!!!!

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During the workshop on "Workers' participation in the management of companies" at the 3rd International Gathering in Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, which took place in Valencia (Carabobo state), Alan Woods interviewed Orlando Chirinos, National Coordinator of the Venezuelan trade union confederation, UNT (National Workers Union).

Alan Woods: In a very short space of time the UNT has become the most important trade union confederation in Venezuela, completely pushing the old bureaucratic CTV to one side. How many members do you have right now?

Orlando Chirinos: There are some 600,000 members, though I do not have the latest figures and we are still growing. In any case, this figure does not give a precise picture of the strength of the UNT within the Venezuelan working class. There are millions of workers who think they are part of the UNT, though they are not formally registered as such.

Alan Woods, Orlando Chirinos
and Ricardo Galindez

AW: And the CTV?

OCh: We have documents that show that the CTV does not even have 300,000 members right now. In an attempt to justify their collapse they say that President Chavez has smashed them. But this is not the case. They are the victims of their own behaviour and their inability to represent the interests of the working class.

AW: Some of their leaders even supported the coup three years ago.

OCh: That is true. What we have to realise is that in Venezuela there is a process of change and this has its reflection in the trade union movement. There is a real trade union revolution, a revolution from below, and the clearest expression of this is the UNT. Here is a significant fact: here in Carabobo [one of the main industrial and workers' centres of the country] there were 27 referenda on collective bargaining agreements, and the UNT won 22 of them.

AW: However, the CTV still has a certain base. How do you explain that?

OCh: They count above all on the support of the CIOSL [ICFTU]. They receive funds from the US. The imperialists, who are continually harassing the Venezuelan revolution, want at all costs and by any means necessary to stop the UNT. This explains their support for the CTV, despite the demonstrable fact that they no longer represent the working class of this country.

AW: Obviously. There is an incredible international campaign to isolate and harass the Venezuelan revolution. We know that there are strong pressures in the US trade unions and also the right wing of the European trade unions to deny international recognition of the UNT. Through the "Hands off Venezuela" Campaign we are doing all we can to explain the real situation to the labour and trade union movement in Britain and throughout Europe. The main problem is the lack of information. Once European trade unionists have real and truthful information, the reception is very good.

OCh: This is very important. The UNT is an internationalist organisation. The working class is a world class. We should not be limited by narrow national horizons. Our motto is, "Workers of the world, unite!"

AW: We are in the workshop about workers' co-management. I personally prefer to talk about workers' control. What do you think?

OCh: Our strategic struggle is not co-management. At this particular time we are passing through this phase. But we must put into question capitalist production relationships and advance towards socialism. There are concrete facts: for instance the nationalisation of Venepal (now Invepal) and tomorrow there will also be the nationalisation of the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas (CNV). There are elements of workers' control like we see in ALCASA (in Bolivar state), where the process has gone further.

AW: Finally, what do you think of the "Hands Off Venezuela" Campaign"?

OCh: The "Hands Off Venezuela" campaign is an extraordinary initiative. It is the only significant campaign that is taking place internationally. Unfortunately, until now we have not paid enough attention to this campaign, but its support has been very valuable to us. The truth is that no one else has done what you have done. I consider the links between the UNT and the "Hands Off Venezuela" Campaign very important. I promise to raise this question at the next meeting of the National Coordination [National Executive Committee]. You can rest assured that we will continue to deepen the relationship with the Campaign.


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Last weekend the Annual Delegate Meeting (ADM) of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) was held in snowy Scarborough, Britain. Hands Off Venezuela supporters had a busy weekend as there was a motion lined up for discussion on Venezuela as well as a debate against the privatisation of the BBC and the opposition to the war in Iraq. Saturday afternoon saw a discussion of a motion on Venezuela that criticised both the role of the Venezuelan media owners in the coup against Chavez in 2002, and the use of the British media in limiting and misrepresenting information on events in Venezuela. The resolution also recognised the support of working people and the poor for the Chavez government as expressed in the presidential recall referendum in August 2004 as well as how this support was the result of the progressive social programmes implemented by the government. The motion also agreed to further the issue of the Venezuelan revolution within the labour movement, to participate in a trade union delegation to Venezuela, to build links with Venezuelan trade unionists and to work for these aims with the Hands Off Venezuela campaign.

The motion was presented by a speaker from the National Executive Committee and had favourable amendments from the Book Branch and London Central that had speakers supporting it. After a very interesting debate, the ADM agreed to support the motion.

ADM also saw the biggest fringe meeting in the form of a joint meeting between Hands Off Venezuela, Justice for Colombia and Cuba Solidarity Campaign. More than 30 attended a meeting chaired by NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear and with 3 speakers: Jorge Martin, International Secretary of HOV, Carlos Cruz, Colombian Journalist and Jesus Gonzales, Economic counsellor of the Cuban Embassy.

Jorge Martin speaking

Jorge Martin outlined the necessity of supporting the Venezuelan Revolution by trade unionists internationally and explained the situation in Venezuela. Carlos Cruz, on the other hand explained the difficult conditions for trade unionists and journalists in neighbouring Colombia and the Cuban speaker gave a good account of the economic and social situation in the island. A couple of NUJ members who are supporters of the Colombian Solidarity Campaign reported on the incident in Bristol when the Colombian vice-president got red paint thrown at him in protest of the role of his government in the assassination of trade unionists in that country.

The weekend in Scarborough was a good opportunity for HOV supports to advertise the campaign, sell material and ensure that the NUJ is fully behind the inspiring Venezuelan Revolution. In the coming months we will have speakers in as many branches and chapels as possible to start a debate about the media in Venezuela and the need for international support for Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.


Full text of the motion passed:

ADM notes the results of the referendum last August in Venezuela which gives its president Hugo Chávez an overwhelming victory and a stronger mandate for his “revolution of the poor”.

 ADM further notes that these results confirm that Chávez’s social programmes on literacy, health care, job training, land reform and subsidised food is popular with the working people and the poor.

 ADM regrets that medias in Venezuela played a major role in attempting to unseat Chávez. The five private channels and the ten national newspapers used their near monopoly of the media to blast Chavez for destroying the economy, antagonising the US government and expropriating private property. This partisan approach of media owners has resulted in journalists’ and media workers’ lives being daily at risk with constant harassment, physical and verbal aggression.

 ADM also notes the use of British media in limiting the information on developments in Venezuela misrepresenting, for example, the land reforms.

ADM recalls that an IFJ mission to Venezuela in 2002 concluded by calling on the wider trade union movement to support media professionals striving to maintain journalistic integrity in the face of intolerable pressures. Both our sister union the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Prensa and the Colegio of Periodistas declared their strong opposition to the manipulation of the media by all sides and called for new initiatives to create editorial standards that will stand up to political and commercial pressure from owners and politicians alike.

 ADM reaffirms its opposition to any attempt by US backed groups to destabilise Chavez and instructs the NEC to support the IFJ affiliate SNTP in defending its members against the intimidation they have endured during recent years, and carrying out the urgent dialogue between government, media and journalists needed to restore public confidence and maintain ethical and professional standards in their work.

 ADM agrees to support any wider trade union initiative to highlight the issue of Venezuela within the British labour movement, including the participation in a trade union delegation to meet and build links with Venezuelan trade unionists. Furthermore, this ADM pledges to work with trade union endorsed campaign such as “Hands Off Venezuela” to further the above aims.

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