Labour & Trade Union News

UNT organiser Ricardo Galindez spoke to Ramon Samblas about the progress of this new trade union organisation in Venezuela and the latest events that have taken place in this Latin American country. An edited version of this interview also appeared in today's left-wing daily The Morning Star.

The article in The Morning Star

When the bosses’ lockout was defeated by the spontaneous and determined action of the Venezuelan masses, Ricardo Galindez did not hesitate to join others in walking out from the hopelessly corrupt CTV (Venezuelan Labour Confederation) and its Executive Committee in the State of Lara and join with other genuine activists and rank and file members of the trade union movement in Venezuela to form the UNT (National Workers Union) – now the legitimate voice of Venezuelan labour. Ricardo Galindez, a trade union organiser with more than 20 years experience in the movement has been engaged during the last two years in the titanic task of building a trade union force which backs the movement of the majority of the Venezuelan working people – the movement popularly known as the Bolivarian revolution headed by Hugo Chavez.

His activity has earned him the hatred of the Venezuelan oligarchy and physical attacks on himself by the bosses’ thugs, who, on one occasion, shot him in the chest. Nevertheless, this is not enough to defeat the beliefs or the energy of a man who sees, in the measures taken by the Chavez government, “a chance for the people to enjoy democratic rights like free education and healthcare”. To this he adds that “these gains have revolutionary features because they are against the interests of the capitalists of the world”.

One of the issues that pops up in our conversation is Venepal. This paper mill was occupied and run by the workers after being abandoned by the owners. The decision of Hugo Chavez to nationalise the company under workers’ control is more than welcomed by Ricardo who states “we support President Chavez in his decision. A government that rules in favour of the bosses’ would have never done something like that. The decision is painful for the imperialists and the bosses who deny the ability of the workers to create a new model of production where the aim is to serve the majority of society, not just the wallets of few people”. He then adds: “what the Venepal workers want is to create an endogenous plan where the company will provide cheap paper for the “misiones” (social programs) and the estate of land which belongs to the company will be used by landless peasants”.

We also have time to comment on the state takeover of the massive “El Charcote” ranch, which belonged to the British company Vestey. While he shows his support for the measure he also expresses his concerns about how the issue has been handled by the imperialist paid press and their US masters. In his opinion it is clear that “the imperialists are seeking to create a diplomatic impasse with the UK”. This is not the only tactic the US administration and its allies are undertaking. He says “the kidnap by Columbian agents inside Venezuela of human rights activist Rodrigo Granda is such a provocation. The Venezuelan government has always handed over to the Colombian government all those alleged to be members of the guerrillas or the “narcos”. There was no necessity to come over to Caracas, bribe corrupt policemen and kidnap Granda, who was not even being ‘officially’ sought by the Colombian authorities. This is a provocation of the Bush administration and the Columbian leader Uribe is a mere puppet here”


There is no doubt that the issue of the trade union question in Venezuela is one of the most misleading ones. For almost two years now the labour movement has been striving to get international support from other sister organisations all over the planet. On top of all the problems the new genuine trade union is facing, they also face the lack of official recognition. But Ricardo views the process with considerable optimism and points out how through the UNT the working class is playing its full role in the Venezuelan Revolution.

“Working people have increased their active role in the process. They participated in the mass movements which followed April 11 (the date of the coup d’etat) to rescue our president. Later on we created the UNT which was born weak but has gained strength over the last two years,” he says.

Ricardo warns us not to use membership figures as the only measure of strength of both trade union confederations. “They (the CTV) always inflate the figures,” Ricardo says. The key is rather to analyse the level of collective bargaining. In the last period the UNT has been involved in the organising of companies like Ford, Goodyear, Firestone, the Caracas Underground and “the glorious oil workers”. In the public sector the UNT is dealing with collective bargaining in the health service and the Department of Social Security. Another good measure of the organisation is the size of the May Day marches. In 2003 both union bodies had marches with a similar size but in 2004 the UNT march was much larger than the CTV one. Ricardo is confident that for next May Day the UNT march will outnumber the CTV once again.

The fate of the Bolivarian Revolution

From Ricardo’s point of view the best thing about the Bolivarian Revolution is that the reforms and concessions given to the masses are based on the ability of the masses to mobilise and create new forms of society. As a socialist he sees the revolutionary process in his country as a dynamic and living process. He usually likes to link the Cuban experience to the Bolivarian Revolution in his remarks.

He says that “revolutions are always dynamic and sometimes the social dynamics go beyond the original aims of the movement. The best example is the Cuban Revolution. It was a movement started by democrats and due to the attacks of imperialism on the democratic regime they took up socialist measures against imperialist aggressions”.

To sum up the interview we asked him whether he has a message for the British labour movement. He does not hesitate to appeal to all trade unionists to “discontinue to recognise the CTV, which is the executive arm of the policies of imperialism, and support the UNT. For this purpose we also need campaigns like Hands Off Venezuela, so please support the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign.”

Ricardo Galindez has been brought to Britain by the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. Hands Off Venezuela has organised a meeting in the Houses of Parliament (Grand Committee room) on February 2 at 19.30. Ricardo will share the platform with John McDonnell, Mick Rix and Jeremy Dear.

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“Without succumbing to illusions and without fear of slander, the advanced workers will completely support the Mexican people in their struggle against the imperialists. The expropriation of oil is neither socialism nor communism. But it is a highly progressive measure of national self-defense. Marx did not, of course, consider Abraham Lincoln a communist; this did not, however, prevent Marx from entertain-ing the deepest sympathy for the struggle that Lincoln headed. The First International sent the Civil War president a message of greeting, and Lincoln in his answer greatly appreciated this moral support.

“The international proletariat has no reason to identify its program with the program of the Mexican government. Revolutionists have no need of changing color, adapting themselves, and rendering flattery in the manner of the GPU school of courtiers, who in a moment of danger will sell out and betray the weaker side. Without giving up its own identity, every honest working class organization of the entire world, and first of all in Great Britain, is duty-bound—to take an irreconcilable position against the imperialist robbers, their diplomacy, their press, and their fascist hirelings. The cause of Mexico, like the cause of Spain, like the cause of China, is the cause of the international working class. The struggle over Mexican oil is only one of the advance-line skirmishes of future battles between the oppressors and the oppressed.”

(Leon Trotsky: Mexico And British Imperialism, Socialist Appeal, 25 June, 1938)

Dramatic events are unfolding in Venezuela. The nationalisation of Venepal under decree number 3438 marks a sharp new turn in the situation. It is a blow against the corrupt and rotten Venezuelan oligarchy and the imperialist robbers who stand behind it. It will be welcomed enthusiastically by the workers of all countries, in the same way that Trotsky welcomed the nationalisation of the Mexican oil industry by President Lazaro Cardenas in 1938.

Although in itself it does not yet mean a qualitative change in the class nature of the Venezuelan Revolution, this bold measure certainly signifies a step in the right direction. It indicates that the working class is intervening in the Revolution with increasing determination, pressing for its independent class interests, demanding a break with capitalism and pushing the Revolution forwards. This, and this alone, can guarantee the final and decisive victory.

The Venezuelan revolution began as a national democratic revolution that did not go beyond the boundaries of capitalism and private property. Despite this fact, it immediately aroused the hatred and the implacable opposition of the Venezuelan oligarchy and its masters in Washington and of the bourgeoisie and reactionaries of Latin America and the rest of the world.

From the very beginning, the international Marxist tendency represented by Marxist.com has consistently defended the Venezuelan Revolution against its enemies. It is the elementary duty of all workers and progressive people everywhere to defend the Bolivarian Revolution against the conspiracies of imperialism and the oligarchy. At the same time, the Marxists defend their own policies, ideas and programme. We stand firmly on the basis of the proletariat and, within the general process of the national democratic revolution, defend its independent class demands. Our slogan is that of Lenin: “march separately and strike together!”

President Hugo Chavez, like Lazaro Cardenas, has shown himself to be a courageous champion of the poor and oppressed and a fearless fighter against imperialism. Until now he did not pose the question of socialism. But by boldly challenging the privileges of the ruling class and resisting the pressure of imperialism, he inevitably placed himself on a collision course with the forces of the old society. This has a logic and a dynamic of its own.

The whole logic of the revolution tends to exacerbate the contradictions between the Venezuelan landlords and capitalists on the one hand, backed by imperialism, and the Venezuelan workers and poor peasants, backed by the masses in Latin America and the world Labour Movement, on the other. Not to see this fact would be unpardonable stupidity. Not to see that the struggle must be fought out to the end and can only result in the decisive victory of one class over another would be reformist blindness.

The destiny of the Venezuelan revolution will be decided by the class struggle. The final outcome is not yet sure. What is completely sure is that the only force that has saved the Revolution time and again from defeat is the masses: the workers and poor peasants, who have repeatedly demonstrated their unshakable loyalty to the Bolivarian Revolution, their willingness to fight and to make the utmost sacrifices to defend it against its enemies. This is the real base of the Revolution, its true strength, its only hope.

Muddle headed reformists try to blur the differences between different classes in the Revolution. They speak of the “people” as a homogeneous bloc, when in reality it is an empty abstraction that conceals a sharp difference of interests. What does the Venezuelan worker have in common with the capitalists? What does the Venezuelan peasant have in common with the landlords? What does the Venezuelan small shopkeeper have in common with the bankers and moneylenders?

At every decisive turn in the Revolution, the role of the different classes has become manifest. The bankers, landlords and capitalists have resisted the Revolution, sabotaged it and attempted to overthrow it. And who saved the Revolution at every stage? It was the masses, and the working class in the first place, who saved the Revolution in the coup of April 2002, and it was the workers who saved it at the time of the bosses’ lockout that was designed to paralyse the economy and bring it to its knees. Finally, it was the masses who rallied magnificently to the defence of the Revolution in the August referendum that inflicted a crushing blow to the counterrevolution.

The threat of counterrevolution

All these events were great victories that demonstrated the colossal power of the masses, once they are mobilised to fight for a better world. We celebrated these victories, but at the same time we warned that the war was not over, that the enemies of the Revolution were not decisively defeated, and that they would regroup and organise new counteroffensives, one after the other.

Events in recent weeks have proved that we were right. Those who imagined that the referendum result would silence the enemies of the revolution have been proven wrong. The imperialists are not in the slightest interested in the rules of formal democracy. They see the Venezuelan revolution as a serious threat to their most vital interests and will not stop until they have destroyed it. Condoleeza Rice was no sooner installed in her new position than she attacked Venezuela. That shows that Washington remains intransigently hostile to Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. No amount of fine words or diplomatic gestures will appease the US imperialists!

George Bush and his allies inside Venezuela will stop at nothing to eliminate Hugo Chavez and liquidate the Venezuelan Revolution. The only real allies of the Venezuelan Revolution are the masses of workers and poor peasants of Latin America and the world Labour Movement. The kidnapping of a Colombian guerrilla by Colombian agents in collaboration with elements of the Venezuelan armed forces indicates what was evident to all but the blindest of the blind: that US imperialism and its puppets in Bogota have not abandoned their intrigues against the Venezuelan Revolution.

The counterrevolutionaries remain active. New conspiracies are being hatched. The kidnapping in Caracas showed that Washington is still using its puppets in Bogotá to attack and undermine the Venezuelan Revolution. Its armed agents operate with impunity on Venezuelan soil. The fact that they were aided by elements within the Venezuelan armed forces indicates that counterrevolutionary elements still exist within the state and are conspiring with the enemies of the Revolution at home and abroad.

The power of US imperialism is very great but it has definite limits. Washington cannot permit itself the luxury of intervening militarily in Venezuela at a time when it is bogged down in an unwinnable conflict in Iraq. But it can intervene indirectly, using Colombia and the OAS. After the scandal of the kidnapping, Peru, Mexico and Brazil have all hastened to offer their services to “mediate”, that is, to place Venezuela in the accused bench for allegedly allowing foreign guerrillas to enter its territory, while drawing attention away from the criminal activities of the Colombian government and armed forces and their paymasters in Washington.

Against the power of imperialism and the oligarchy, the Bolivarian Revolution has its own powerful reserves of support: the power of the masses in struggle for their rights, the workers, the peasants, the revolutionary youth and the progressive intelligentsia. The US imperialists have the support of their hired mercenaries in Colombia and their despicable jackals in the OAS. But the Bolivarian Revolution has infinitely greater points of support – the oppressed masses of the whole of Latin America and the working class of the entire world.

Just as Simon Bolivar understood the need to carry the flame of revolution to the whole of Latin America, so the modern inheritors of Bolivar have the same mission. They can succeed where he failed – on one condition, that they do not allow themselves to be hypnotised by slavish respect for private property, bourgeois legality and the nation state.

Clarity is needed!

Genuine Marxists (as opposed to sectarian chatterboxes) have energetically supported the Venezuelan Revolution. But support for the Chavez government against imperialism and the counterrevolutionary oligarchy does not necessarily mean uncritical acceptance of everything that is done in Caracas. Like every successful revolution, the Bolivarian Revolution has attracted a large number of “friends” and admirers – some of whom only yesterday were its sternest critics. These are fair weather friends who will turn their backs on the Revolution the moment it finds itself in difficulties. With “friends” like these one does not need enemies!

These “friends of Venezuela” provide a regular chorus of praise and adulation. They insist that we should not criticise the government but simply nod in agreement. The workers and revolutionaries of Venezuela do not need flattery. As Lenin once said, talk, rhetoric and flattery have ruined more than one revolution. What is needed is an honest and frank appraisal of the Revolution, its strong points and weaknesses, its successes and failures. Only on the basis of an honest discussion can the Revolution learn and go forward. What is needed is clarity.

Unfortunately, the programme of the Bolivarians is not always very clear. Even the present measures in relation to Venepal are not entirely clear. The government has said that it will invest a lot of money in the company in order to make it viable. The state will be the owner at the beginning but there are hints that afterwards it will be given over to the workers as a cooperative as payment for the back wages that are owed to them. There has also been talk of co-management between the workers and the state (which could mean a whole range of different things, from workers being represented in the directors board, to workers control, etc).

It is necessary to clarify all these questions and to open a debate on the future direction, not just of Venepal, but of the Bolivarian Revolution itself. In this debate the Marxists will give critical support to the leaders of the national democratic revolution. We will say: “This is a start, an important start – but only a start. The nationalisation of Venepal is very good, as far as it goes. But it does not go far enough. One swallow does not make a summer, and one nationalised firm does not make a socialist revolution. However, in order to succeed, the national democratic revolution must transform itself into a socialist revolution.”

Nevertheless, it is necessary to see the other side of the question. The real strength of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution was that it has brought the masses to their feet. Once the working class enters the arena of struggle, it acquires a dynamic and a movement of its own. The strength of the revolutionary movement in Venezuela lies not in its understanding of theory but in its daily practice. Its deeds speak louder than its words. Its actions far outstrip its consciousness. But sooner or later the masses will become conscious of the real meaning of their actions. They will come to understand the objective necessity of a radical break with capitalism. The recent speeches of President Chavez are already an anticipation of this.

Marx once pointed out that for the masses, one real step forward was worth a hundred correct programmes. And Lenin said that for the masses an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory. The working class, whether in Venezuela, Britain or Russia, does not learn from books, but from experience. “Life teaches” says the Russian proverb. The workers learn from events, especially great events like the Venezuelan Revolution. They are learning fast through active participation. It was the pressure of the workers from below that led to the nationalisation of Venepal, and this in its turn will strengthen the tendency towards the statisation of the productive forces, towards a break with capitalism, towards a democratic socialist plan of production.

“Appetite comes with eating”

There is an old proverb: “appetite comes with eating”. The nationalisation of Venepal is a big step forward. Its great merit is that is has broken the ice and opened the flood gates. Workers will be asking questions: why should nationalisation be limited to factories that are bankrupt or threaten to close? Why should the state always nationalise the losses and privatise the profits? In order that the nationalised enterprises should be viable, they must be part of a general plan of production. That will not be possible as long as key sections of the economy, such as banking and credit, remains in private hands.

The argument that the Bolivarian revolution must not go beyond the boundaries of capitalism, must respect private property and so on, is sometimes put forward by certain Bolivarian leaders. It is presented as a very “realistic” point of view, as opposed to the supposed “utopia” of socialism. In reality, this argument itself is the most miserable form of utopianism. The idea that the Revolution must confine itself within the iron straitjacket of capitalism is empty formalism. Life teaches us otherwise! At every step this argument clashes with the demands of reality.

The bosses express their bitter hatred of the revolution, they sabotage production, lay off workers, condemn their families to hunger and conspire with imperialism and the counterrevolution. The workers know this very well. They cannot understand how the interests of the Revolution can be served by conciliating its enemies, allowing them to maintain their stranglehold over key points of the national economy.

For all these reasons the workers are demanding nationalisation and workers’ control. They wish to help the Bolivarian government by fighting against its enemies, by driving out the landlords and capitalists, by concentrating power in the hands of the only people who really have the interests of the Revolution at heart – the workers and peasants and their natural allies, the urban poor, the revolutionary youth, the soldiers, the women and the progressive intelligentsia.

Once the economic power of the bourgeoisie is broken, once the land, the banks and the industries are in the hands of the state, it would be possible to mobilise all the productive capacity of the nation in a common, democratically planned socialist economy. Very quickly it would be possible to win the war against poverty and misery, to raise the whole country to a new and higher level.

The Bolivarian movement has many strengths, and a number of important weaknesses. The main weakness of the Bolivarian movement is its lack of theory. Theory occupies a place in revolutions that military strategy occupies in war. A mistaken strategy in war will lead inevitably to mistakes in tactics and practical operations. It will undermine the morale of the troops and lead to all kinds of blunders, defeats and unnecessary loss of life.

It is the same in a revolution. Mistakes in theory will sooner or later be reflected in mistakes in practice. A mistake in everyday life can often be rectified. Everyday mistakes are not usually matters of life and death. But revolutions are life and death struggles and mistakes can be paid for very dearly. The task of the Venezuelan Revolutionary Marxist Current is to provide the necessary theoretical and programmatic clarity, not by pontificating from the sidelines, but by energetically participating in the movement, fighting in the front ranks and pushing it forward at every stage.

Imperialism and capitalism

The central problem facing not only the Venezuelan Revolution but the people of the whole world is imperialism and capitalism. The giant corporations are trying to control the whole world and plunder it for profit. They are supported by the big imperialist bullies, in the first place the USA, which enjoys unprecedented power and uses it to make and unmake governments and subject whole countries and continents to its will. Not one of the problems facing the masses can be solved without an all-out struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

It is impossible to achieve our ends without a radical break with capitalism. In order to solve problems like unemployment or the lack of houses and schools it is necessary for the government to introduce economic planning – to draw up an economic plan based on the needs of the majority, not the profit of the minority. But you cannot plan what you do not control and you cannot control what you do not own. As long as the land, the banks and the big industry remain in private hands, no solution is possible.

That is the central challenge that faces the Venezuelan Revolution at the present time. The Revolution has begun, but it is not finished. As a matter of fact, the main task remains to be accomplished. What is the central problem? Only this: that a number of key economic levers remain in the hands of the Venezuelan oligarchy.

The problem here is both economic and political. The oligarchy will never be reconciled to the Revolution. Although up till now its property has hardly been touched, although it still enjoys its wealth and privileges, although its still holds in its hands powerful means of communication in the shape of the main daily papers and TV channels, which is uses to spew out a daily torrent of filth, lies and slander against the democratically elected government – despite all this, it is not satisfied. And it will never be satisfied until it has overthrown the government and crushed the masses under its feet.

Workers’ control is a big step forward, and we must encourage it. It challenges the “sacred right” of the capitalists and bureaucrats to manage industry, while giving the workers priceless experience in administration and control that can be put to good use in a socialist planed economy. However, as long as key elements of the economy remain in private hands, as long as there is not a genuine nationalised planned economy, the experience of workers’ control will inevitably have only a partial, one-sided and unsatisfactory character.

The President said yesterday that the expropriation of Venepal was an exceptional measure: “We are not going to take away land, if it is yours it is yours”. But he also said that “any factories closed or abandoned, we are going to take them over. All of them.” And he added: “I invite the workers’ leaders to follow on this path”. These words will not fall on deaf ears. Workers in other occupied factories will take this as a signal to mobilise and demand that the Bolivarian government expropriate their owners. This is the correct road!

What is necessary is to nationalise the land, the banks and what is left of private big industry. That will enable us to plan the economy and mobilise the productive forces in the benefit of the majority. Hugo Chavez stood in two elections and obtained substantial majorities in both. He has a big majority in parliament. He has won a crushing victory in the referendum. What is to stop the government now from introducing an emergency law (decreto ley) nationalising the property of the oligarchy? It would be possible to explain to the country on television the reasons for this (there are a number of very sound reasons). At the same time, an appeal should be made to the workers and peasants not to wait for parliament (which tends to be slow) but to take immediate action, occupying the land and the factories.

Dialectics and revolution

Marxism is based on a definite method – the dialectical method. This explains that every process inevitably leads to a critical point (to use a phrase from physics) where quantity becomes transformed into quality. That is the essence of a revolution. There is a definite point where the power of the old ruling class is decisively shattered and the whole situation changes course. Unless and until this point is reached, the revolution cannot be said to be accomplished.

Sectarian blockheads have complained that we say that there is a revolution in Venezuela. These people talk a lot about revolution but they have not the slightest idea of what a revolution is. When a revolution is actually taking place before their very eyes they cannot even see it! The fact that for several years millions of workers and peasants have been mobilising to take their lives and destinies into their hands, fighting reaction in the streets, in the factories, on the estates and in the barracks – all this goes completely over their heads. They go scuttling back to their libraries to write “learned” articles quoting from Lenin and Trotsky. Not wishing to disturb their beautiful reveries, we will leave them in peace and get on with the pressing task of actually intervening in the Revolution.

In Venezuela we can definitely say that the Revolution has begun, but can we say that it has been completed? Can we say that there has been a decisive change in property relations and the state to the point that there can be no going back? Some people have actually said this. But this view is not only wrong but irresponsible and harmful to the revolutionary cause. Hugo Chavez himself rejected this when, in my presence, he compared the Venezuelan Revolution to the myth of Sisyphus in Greek legend. The masses heave and strain to push a massive boulder to the top of the hill, only to be pushed back again before reaching the summit.

This analogy is quite correct. The Venezuelan Revolution is not yet irreversible. Despite all the heroic efforts of the masses, and despite all their undoubted achievements, the boulder can still roll back down the hillside, crushing many lives in the process. The point of a qualitative change has not yet been reached in Venezuela and will not be reached until the nettle is grasped and the landlords and capitalists are expropriated. The nationalisation of Venepal is an important step in this direction. Now other, even more decisive steps are necessary.

President Hugo Chavez has consistently revealed an unerring revolutionary instinct. He has striven to express the revolutionary instincts of the masses. That is his great strength! It has been shown yet again with the nationalisation of Venepal. However, at the tops of the Bolivarian movement there are all kinds of people. The President is surrounded by advisers, not all of whom are firm revolutionaries. Not all of them share the President’s faith in the masses. They incline towards compromise, concessions, and so-called “realism” – that is, they tend towards policies that, if accepted, would undermine the Revolution and wreck it totally.

In his speech at the signing ceremony, Chavez said “here we are creating a new model, and that is why in Washington they are angry... our model of development implies a change in the productive apparatus. The working class must be united, learn and participate”. He said correctly that capitalism is a model based on slavery, “and this is why in Washington they are angry, because we want to liberate ourselves from capitalism, in the same way that they were angry many years ago with the ideas of Liberator Simon Bolivar”.

He added that some might be annoyed at what is happening in Venezuela, but “they will continue to be annoyed by the revolutionary process, because no one is going to dislodge us from it.” That is the kind of lead the masses are looking for! It has nothing in common with the half-hearted and cowardly measures proposed by the reformists. The Revolution cannot stop half way! It must go from strength to strength, striking blows against its enemies, or else it will fail.

President Chavez also said that the “role of the workers in this model is fundamental and this is the difference between this model and the capitalist model”. He emphasised that “it is necessary to change the productive relations”. “Capitalism wants to annihilate the workers... here we are carrying out a process of liberation of the workers, and this is why they are annoyed in Washington”. The liberation of the workers from capitalist slavery is only possible through a fundamental alteration in the productive relations – but this cannot mean anything else but the socialist revolution.

That is a thousand times true. But it is also necessary to draw all the conclusions. The Venezuelan Revolution is already coming into conflict with the narrow limitations of capitalism. It cannot accept these limitations. It must either break through them, tear them down and boldly strike out on a new course, or else it will in the end be forced into retreat and be defeated.

As was pointed out by Jorge Martin yesterday, the measures of nationalisation must be extended to all sectors of the economy that are under monopoly and imperialist control, such as the banking system (the lion’s share of which is in the hands of two Spanish multinationals), the telecom sector (in the hands of US multinationals), the food distribution sector (in the hands of a couple of Venezuelan companies owned by known coup organisers), and others.

Workers of Venezuela! Take the road of struggle! Occupy the factories under workers’ control! Demand that they be nationalised! Drive out the counterrevolutionary bosses! The Venezuelan Revolution will triumph as a socialist revolution or it will not triumph at all.

The question is posed point blank: who shall prevail? There are only two possibilities before the people of Venezuela. Either the Revolution will eliminate the power of the oligarchy, and then spread the revolution to the rest of Latin America, or the oligarchy, in conjunction with US imperialism, will eliminate the Revolution. No third way is possible

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Chavez talks to Venepal worker
after signing the decree.
Picture: Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias

On the morning of January 19th, in the Ayacucho room of the Presidential Palace in Caracas, and with the presence of Venepal workers and trade union leaders, Chavez signed decree number 3438 which expropriates Venepal. From now on it will be co-managed by the workers and the state.

This is a very important victory for the workers of Venepal but more than that it is a massive step forward for the Bolivarian revolution.

Venepal is one of the main producers of paper and cardboard in Venezuela and its plant is located in Morón, in the industrial state of Carabobo. At one point it employed a total of 1,600 workers, controlled 40% of the national market and was one of the main Latin American producers in this sector. But the company’s management allowed the paper mill to slowly lose market shares and revenues. In April 2002, at the time of the short lived military coup against Chávez, some of its main shareholders were present at the swearing in ceremony for the new, illegitimate, “president” Pedro Carmona. During the bosses’ lockout against the Chávez government in December 2002-January 2003 the workers resisted attempts by the employers to paralyse the plant.

In July 2003, the owners declared bankruptcy and the workers responded by occupying the plant and starting to run production under workers’ control. Rowan Jimenez, a trade union activist and member of the action committee, explained how during the occupation, “the workers organised production, broke all productivity records and reduced unproductive waste to a level never seen before”, (El Topo Obrero interview, 16/09/04). After a 77-day long struggle an uneasy truce was reached. But that was not to last. On September 7th of last year, the company again ceased operations and the workers’ struggle started again.

The Venepal paper mill.
Picture: CMR

From the outset of the struggle the workers adopted the demand for nationalisation under workers’ control that was being proposed by the comrades of the Revolutionary Marxist Current (The Workers’ Mole). There were a number of demonstrations in Moron and in Caracas, and solidarity actions were being organised by workers in other factories, particularly those organised by the Carabobo region of the newly established trade union federation, the UNT.

After months of struggle, finally, on January 13th, when a delegation of Venepal workers went to Caracas to demand a solution, the National Assembly declared Venepal and its installations to be of “public usefulness and social interest”. This was the prelude for Chavez signing decree no. 3438. This is the result of the struggle and the resilience of the workers in Venepal who consciously sought the support of the local community for their struggle.

In his speech at the signing ceremony, in front of a large number of Venepal workers and UNT trade union leaders, Chavez said “here we are creating a new model, and that is why in Washington they are angry... our model of development implies a change in the productive apparatus. The working class must be united, learn and participate”.

Edgar Peña, General Secretary SUTIP

Before Chavez, the oldest worker in Venepal took the stage and described their four month long struggle and the sacrifices they had had to make. Edgar Peña, general secretary of the Venepal workers’ union explained how the workers had drafted a project that proved the company could be profitable and how this paved the way for expropriation. Peña also asked for National Guard protection of the installations, since there are still those bent on sabotaging them. He also explained how, when they resume production in a few weeks’ time, the first products will be destined for the government’s social programmes (Misiones), “for the benefit of the working class”.

In his intervention, Chavez stated that capitalism is a model based on slavery, “and this is why in Washington they are angry, because we want to liberate ourselves from capitalism, in the same way that they were angry many years ago with the ideas of Libertador Simon Bolivar”.

Referring to Condolezza Rice’s recent criticisms of Venezuela, he said that there are good remedies in the market to cure ulcers, “for those who might need it”. He added that some might be annoyed at what is happening in Venezuela, but “they will continue to be annoyed by the revolutionary process, because no one is going to dislodge us from it”.

Chavez added that the “role of the workers in this model is fundamental and this is the difference between this model and the capitalist model”. He emphasised that “it is necessary to change the productive relations”.

Adressing Venepal workers
Picture: Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias

“Capitalism wants to annihilate the workers... here we are carrying out a process of liberation of the workers, and this is why they are annoyed in Washington”.

Paraphrasing Lenin, Chavez said, “neoliberal capitalism is the highest stage of capitalist madness.”

“In Venezuela we are at war, but not invading other countries or violating other countries’ sovereignty... here we are at war against misery and poverty”.

He explained that the recovery of factories on the part of the state is aimed at changing the conditions of exploitation the workers have been submitted to by the capitalist model and the recovery of the country’s industrial capacity. He added that these new companies should not be viewed through the lens of state capitalism, but rather as co-management. “We must not fear the workers since they are the soul of the companies”.

Chavez also announced the “recovery” of a maize processing plant and all of the basic industries in Guyana (this means the massive SIDOR steelworks amongst others).

Though he said that “today’s expropriation of Venepal is an exceptional measure... we are not going to take away land, if it is yours it is yours”, he was also clear that “any factories closed or abandoned, we are going to take them over. All of them.”

“I invite the workers’ leaders to follow on this path” he said. This is a clear appeal to workers in other factories who were also involved in the struggle of the occupied factories in July-August 2003, like the CNV, Fenix, Industrial de Perfumes, CODIMA, among others. Workers in these factories have already started to remobilise.

This is without doubt a massive step forward in the right direction. But it must also be extended to all those other sectors of the economy that are under monopoly and imperialist control. This should include the banking system (which is largely in the hands of the two Spanish multinationals), the telecoms sector (in the hands of US multinationals), the food distribution sector (in the hands of a couple of Venezuelan companies owned by known coup organisers), and others. This needs to be done, as in the case of Venepal, under workers’ control. In this way the whole economy could be planned to the benefit of the majority of working people. This would be the only way of guaranteeing the final victory of the revolution. Workers’ control or management, if it remains isolated in one single company, cannot, in the longer term, fundamentally solve the problem.

Through its own experience, the Bolivarian revolution has come up against the wall of capitalism. Now it needs to break it down and move to a democratically planned socialist economy in order to win the war against poverty and misery.

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"I bring greetings of solidarity to all the delegates here at the BC Federation of Labour Convention in the name of our sisters and brothers of the Venezuelan working class.

My organization, the National Union of Workers of Venezuela is very pleased with the honour of being able to share with you about our struggle in Venezuela to create a more democratic society with social justice during these outstanding moments in which our country and the workd in living.

For forty years, our country was marked by neo-liberal policies - a recipe imposed by the International Monetray Fund which for years created more poverty and exclusion, increased unemployment, decreased national productivity, increased the export market, privatization of state enterprises like the national airline, telecommunications and energy. This plan benefited the few who became richer while the majority became poorer.

During this time our governments and politicalparties were manipulated like marionettes by the IMF and capitalists who were making huge profits as a result of the privileges gratend them by the governments. The labour movement of which the CTV was the most representative body was complicit with the governments and the political parties had imposed leadership and received huge benefits from the state companies and financial institutions. These benenfits which were gained on the backs of the workers were given only to the leadership of the unions.

In 1995, the CTV agreed to democratize their electoral process but once again ignored this decision and made pacts to re-elect their own leadership. We are talking hre of a labour movement without any credibility amongst its members, suspected of enormous actso f corruption and implicated in the privatization of state companies - a labour movement who's legitimacy was in question.

In this Venezuela, the end result of failed democracy, and with institutions questions because of their involvement in the neo-liberal policies and with people desiring profound changes, and struggling against the corruption and the exclusionary model of governing, into all of this Hugo Chavez Frias assumed the presidency with the majority vote of the people including the Venezuelan workers.

The first reforms made were political, the most of these was the National Constituent Assembly which developed a plan of constitutional reform with the broad participation of all the sectors of society. The constitutional reform proposal was approved by a majority of the people in a national referendum. The constitution included a change in the model of representative democracy to a model of participatory and active democracy. It greatly improved the social and labour rights, prohibited the privatzations of state companies and promted social control over public spending.

IN 2000 union elections were called by the workers. Major changes to the way the elections would be held were developed with the participation of the leadership of the CTV, workers and the electaol commission. Nevertheless after elections at the base and federation level, 48% of the results were lost and never recognized by the leadership of the CTV. The new ledership of the CTV was formed from the very same political parties as always.

The reform of the state advances and in November of 2001 49 laws to regulate the base of the ecomony were brought forward, including the fisheries law which regulated commercial fishing and protected small fishers. And the land reform bill which promted land distribution to campesino and cooperatives designed to promote agricultural development. The new banking bill made financial institutes microcredit and created public lending institutes, a women's bank and a fund for small businesses. These changes affected the privileges of the business elite, FEDECAMARAS who with the CTV organized a work stoppage on December 9. the only time in the world that private sector workers with their salary.

Political actions against the reforms continued with FEDECAMARAS and the CTV at its head. On April 9, 2002 they convoked a total work stoppage which led to the coup d'etat on the 11 of April where they imposed a provisional president, the president of FEDECAMARAS and various ministers who were from the leadership of the CTV. Within hours the new government had revoked the new constitution, the National Assembly.

The Venezuelan people took to the streets and took over military bases and the principal highways and roads to demand a return of their democratically elected president. ON April 13 Chavez returned to the country and convoked a national dialogue with representatives of al sectors, including trade unions and three members of the CTV.

I had the honour of being part of the commission which allowed for important dialogue with the government, business leaders and workers from the base. It resulted in important agreements to reactivate the economy in sectors such as automobile manufacturing, textile production, transport and pharmaceuticals. The presence of President Chavez throughout this dialogue was key to its success.

The different poitical currents which supported changes in our country among them the Colivarian Workers Force, in which I am a member, discussed the necessity of creating a new union central in the face of traitorous acts by the CTV. Our ideas was the country needed workers to participate in its development. On September 6 2002 we organised a national meeting. We were not successful in reaching an agreement to form a new central because there still existed a desire for some to maintain untiy within the trade union movement. We developed a final statement which was presented to President Chavez at the end of the conference. As a result, the counter-revolution called for another work stoppage for December 9 of 2002. this led to complete economic sabotage - 20 billion dollars were lost thanks to the involvement of the management of the oil companies. This cause great difficulties for people as there were shortages of gas and cooking gas. People ined up for more than 24 hours to get gas and tyr to continue working. It is important to underline the people strong commitment although they were suffering, they stayed strong and kept fighting for the Bolivarian process and to prevent their President from being overthrown

During the sabotage the working class acted as a class, and our position was key in order to recover production. The oil workers replaced the managers and re-started production, at first manually and then at full production. Thousands of workers from the private sector gathered outside the gates of the factories and demanded that the bosses opened them.

The Presidents of the CTV and FEDECAMARAS transmitted through private television stations inciting the people to rebel against the president and to contiune with the work stoppage.

After this latest act of treason on the part of the CTV, various progressive political currents within the labour movement met and spurred on by the absolute rejection of working class ideals demonstrated by the CTV decided to call for antoher national assembly. On April 5, 2003 we founded the UNT with a horizontal leadership structure of 21 members respresenting all the fundamental sectors and regions. We developed a constitution and statutes. With the mandate of the unions, we developed proposals for regional and national structures. On August 1 and 2, 2003, we held the First Congress of the UNT and approved a Declaration of Principles, a Code of Labour Ethics, a Platform for Struggle and a shared analysis of the coutnry's context. As part of the discussion of the reform of the statues we decided to hold broader discussions on these reforms with the base of our unions.

The Regional sections of the UNT were formed all over the country as were national federations to discuss collective agreements. Our May Day march this year had as its theme No to Imperialist Interference in Venezuela. Our march had greater participation than the CTV march!

The UNT has maintained a clear position against the constant attacks by the US Department of State and other actors who want to continue generating a crisis in our country.

When the Presidnetial referendum was called for August 15, the UNT called its members to -vote no to neo-liberalism, no to the flexibilizacion of labour, no to union bureaucracy, no to social injustice, and to demonstrate their affirmation of our president Chavez.

We have attended conferences of the ILO to defend Venezuela against the charges of violations of trade union freedom brought by the CTV and FEDECAMARAS. Who is violating who's rights?

We are an union independent of international affiliation, we call ourselves autonomous, internationalists, democratic, accepting a plurality of views and commited to social justice.

We are preparing a new Congress in February 2005, to which many trade union organisations from all countries have asked us to be invited, amongst them the Canadian Labor Congress. This congress will ratify the reform of the statutes and the electoral rules and call a democratic and clear election, which will elect a new UNT election.

Venezuela lives a new process, outside of all established schemes, as an expression of real class struggle. We are building a new path, a path towards equality, social justice, a change of the model, against neoliberalism, against adjustment programmes, towards a sovereign nation, integrated with the other peoples of Latin America, as our Liberator Simon Bolivar dreamt.

Our autonomy and our class commitment leads us to take a position and to support this process because:

- it has lifted 80% of illiterate people out of illiteracy
- gives the opportunity to all to finish their primary and secondary education
- has extended basic primary health care to 60% of the population, so far, through health care centres in the poor neighbourhoods.
- offers basic foodstuffs at reduced prices to the poorest sections of the population
- has created the Bolivarian University, which aims to give all equal opportunity to access to higher education
- strengthens the education and professional training of workers, creating endogenous development nucleus which can generate high quality jobs
- the minimum waged is revised according to inflation on a yearly basis
- bosses are legally prevented from conducting mass lay offs
- collective bargaining agreements are being discussed in all sectors.
- pensions are raised to the level of the minimum wage.
- promotes the participation of workers in the management of the state.
- we are living through the best ever period of trade union freedom.

Canadian brothers! the enemy of the working class is one, is homogeneous, and all our strength is concentrated in deepening the peaceful and democratic bolivarian revolution. This invitation by the British Columbia Workers Federation and the Canadian Labour Congress is a gesture of solidarity. Thank you for listening to our thruth, thank you for spreading it and giving us support.

However, the shwadow of our common enemy still haunts us, we need to your help to prevent in Venezuela what hapenned in Chile. We need you to be vigilant of the movements of the US empire, so that it does not trample on us.

The world trade union movement has a fundamental challenge thrown by a process which goes beyond the borders of Venezuela, of America, and that might become a key pillar in the building of a world with more humanity, more social justice and more democracy.

The working class united will never be defeated!"

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