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Solidarity

The combat against militarisation and dismantling of the welfare state as well as strict opposition to the new EU draft constitution were the main topics hammered home at this year’s Easter marches in Germany which are traditionally organised by the peace movement.Venezuela_bei_Ostermarsch_Mainz.jpg

At the regional demo held in Mainz, Hans-Gerd Öfinger of Der Funke and Hands off Venezuela was one of the speakers. He emphasised the fact that while the movement in Germany deplored recent developments and trends in Europe, the revolutionary process in Venezuela points to the way forward.

This “alternative programme” in Venezuela can be seen in different aspects:

  1. Whereas the German electorate are not even allowed to have a say in a referendum on the new European constitution (“Eat or die” – or rather “Eat and die”), the Bolivarian constitution was elaborated through a process of a broad popular participation and then endorsed in a referendum in 1999.
  2. Whereas the EU draft constitution ratifies the free market, neoliberalism, deregulation and privatisation, the Venezuelan constitution rules that the natural resources must not be privatised. Instead of pouring the yields of the oil industry into private pockets, this money is used for health and education of the poor. Instead of privatising state companies (as European governments do it across the board), the Venezuelan has recently nationalised the Venepal paper factory to save jobs and make sure that production is developed according to the needs of society. This is a clear element of an “alternative programme”.
  3. Whereas Europe has a long and bloody history of militarism and colonialism and this militarism is also enshrined in the new constitution, Venezuela does not even participate in armed military missions under UN command (“blue helmets”) nor does it allow any foreign army bases on Venezuelan soil. Yet imperialists and counter-revolutionaries such as George W. Bush have not given up their intention to bring down the Chávez government or assassinate president Chávez personally. In a recent US TV talk show appeals to assassinate Chávez were repeated. One of the guests in that live TV programme was Félix Rodríguez, a CIA agent who had been directly involved in Che Guevara’s assassination in Bolivia in 1967.

Yet not only politicians in Washington D.C. but also representatives of the European and German ruling class such as the German Christian Democratic “Konrad Adenauer Foundation” and the parliamentary group of the German Free Democrats (Liberals) have confessed to be bitter enemies of the Venezuelan revolution and sympathisers of the counter-revolutionary forces.

Although the Venezuelan revolution has only begun and still has its deficiencies and shortcomings, a fundamental solidarity is required. Hans-Gerd called upon the demonstrators to support the revolutionary process in Venezuela, sign the HOV petition and spread the news wherever possible to break through the barrier of silence and distortion in the German media.

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Following the anti-war demonstration this past weekend, over a dozen people showed up at a downtown pub to launch the Hands off Venezuela campaign in Toronto.

Although there were some logistical problems in arranging the event, there was a good turnout of people interested in getting actively involved in co-coordinating the HoV campaign.  Some of the participants did not know much about the events happening in Venezuela but were interested in the fact that Venezuela has been successful in opposing US, European, and Canadian imperialism.
 
A member of Fightback introduced the Hands off Venezuela campaign, and in particular, highlighted the success of HoV in Europe and Pakistan.  As well, he mentioned the role that HoV played in garnering support for the nationalization of the Venepal paper mill.
 
An HoV co-coordinating committee was elected and is to meet to plan the first HoV event in Toronto.  Hands off Venezuela aims to build solidarity with the Venezuelan Revolution, and prevent the international isolation of Venezuela by dispelling the lies put out by the bourgeois press.  More importantly, Hands off Venezuela intends to reach out to workers and youth and inform them of what is going on in Venezuela.  There, workers, youth, peasants, and the poor have begun to take control of their lives.  There is no reason why the workers and youth of Canada cannot do the same!
 
If you are interested in getting involved with the Hands off Venezuela campaign, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in the rest of Canada.

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The London Hands off Venezuela campaign held an excellent meeting at the Walkers of Whitehall pub just off Trafalgar Square after the anti-war demonstration on March 19, 2005. Hands off Venezuela had a stall at the demonstration that attracted a lot of attention, where DVDs, pamphlets and leaflets were distributed on the revolutionary events in Venezuela.

There was a bit of a problem with the original venue for the meeting. The pub had double-booked their function room and was packed due to the rugby matches that day. We nearly cancelled the meeting when at the last minute we found the Walkers pub that agreed to allow us to host our meeting from 5:30 until 7:30. Even with the problems and the quick change of venue some 60 people turned up to the pub after the demo for the meeting.

David Raby speaking

Scandalously the meeting was disrupted just five minutes after it began by the Metropolitan Police, who entered the pub and demanded that the meeting be disbanded. The manager of the pub came downstairs to the meeting and informed us that we had to vacate the premises immediately because the police had arrived demanding that we leave. Some members of the Hands off Venezuela campaign asked if we could speak to the police and clarify the issue. The police clearly believed that we were holding some sort of “subversive” meeting planning some sort of violent action. We wanted to clarify that we were holding a peaceful meeting, and that it was our democratic right to do so. When members of the campaign got upstairs to speak to the police, they discovered that they had already left. We explained to the manager of the pub that we were holding a peaceful meeting and that there would be no trouble. He then agreed to allow us to continue our meeting, but that we would have to leave the pub by 7:00. It is an absolute scandal that our meeting was disrupted and truncated by the Metropolitan Police. This issue will be raised with MPs and a formal complaint will be made against the Metropolitan Police.

When the meeting got back under way David Raby (Institute of Latin American Studies, Liverpool) spoke about the significance of the Venezuelan revolution in Latin America and around the world. He pointed out that many on the left had failed to recognise that there was a revolution taking place in Venezuela because it did not fit into any historic mould, but now that Chavez had spoken about the necessity of socialism as the way forward for the revolution, many had woken up to the reality of the Bolivarian movement. He explained that what was taking place in Venezuela was a genuine revolution because of the participation of the masses in the political and economic life of the country and because the masses had taken their own destinies into their hands. This was seen in the recall referendum in August of last year with the organisation of the Electoral Battle Units (UBEs) where one million people were mobilised for the election. He mentioned that Allende in Chile didn’t even have that kind of support for his electoral success and never had a clear majority, unlike Chavez who has won nine elections with a clear majority. Another one of the major failings in Chile was that Allende was unable (or didn't really try) to transform the Armed Forces, whereas Chavez did and this was crucial. Chavez was able to generate a revolutionary movement within the military which transformed their consciousness and led to the majority of them (including some high-ranking officers) accepting their role as "the people in uniform". He spoke of the dangers facing the revolution and the threats of imperialism, and agreed with President Chavez that the only way forward for the revolution was socialism. He pointed out that the nationalisations taking place and Chavez’s willingness to mobilise the masses would go a long way in defending the revolution, pointing out that this is one of the failures of previous movements in Chile and Nicaragua.

His other key point was that the Left needs to learn from this experience that the revolutionary vanguard cannot be decreed or proclaimed by a group of well-intentioned people who adopt Marxist ideology and organise a party, if that party is not recognised by the masses; and that the vanguard may appear in very unexpected forms, which is what occurred with Chavez and the MBR-200.

Ramon Samblas, Secretary of the British Hands off Venezuela Campaign then spoke on the achievements of the revolution in Venezuela. He explained the importance of the victory of the masses against the attempted coup in April 2002, and the victory over the bosses in the oil lockout of 2002/2003. He mentioned the importance of the new social programs for literacy and healthcare, and explained the struggle of the peasants for land reform. He explained that perhaps one of the most important developments in the revolution was the nationalisation of Venepal under workers’ control. He finished by saying that the Venezuelan revolution would have major implications for the whole world, and in particular for Cuba and that one of the most important things we could do in the UK would be to join the Hands off Venezuela campaign and take part in defending the Venezuelan revolution.

Intervention from the audience

Heiko Koo, a Hands off Venezuela activist who has recently been to Venezuela, spoke about the politicisation of the masses. He explained that while people in the UK and most other Western countries were talking about football, the masses in Venezuela were talking about politics. He explained that when walking down the street or when in bars and cafes one can hear people speaking about events in Venezuela and around the world, about the law, and about history. This was because the masses had been awakened to struggle and the masses have understood the importance of these things to their daily lives. He explained that one good example of this was the field of mass communications, where everywhere there are local, independent radio and television stations being opened under the control of the masses and the communities they are based in. He pointed out that nearly everybody has potential access to the media, including school children who are involved in making a weekly educational programme on state television! He contrasted this with the situation in the UK, where technology should allow nearly everyone access to the media, yet in London, there is only one station where people can have some limited access. Heiko then said that this broad access to the media in Venezuela has improved people’s understanding of history. Documentaries on the history of struggle in Cuba, Chile, and Nicaragua are regularly shown on television. This has led to widespread debate in the Bolivarian movement because people can see the parallels between events in Venezuela today and events in past. Heiko then connected the struggle in Venezuela and the anti-war movement by explaining that all anti-imperialist struggles must be seen as part of the wider struggle against imperialism itself. He explained that it was vitally important to be involved in the anti-war movement and against imperialist aggression in Iraq, but that similar things were being planned for Venezuela. He added that the US and the Venezuelan oligarchy had organised the coup in April 2002 in order to secure Venezuelan oil before the Iraq war and to stop the spreading of the revolution. None of the arguments used as excuses for the invasion of Iraq could be used in Venezuela because in Venezuela there is no dictator or any WMD. Chavez has been elected or won elections 9 times since 1998, and Venezuela is the most democratic country on earth, where not only do the masses have the right to recall any elected official but also the right to recall the President. He explained that there were plans by the US to assassinate Chavez and plans to provoke conflict between Colombia and Venezuela.

After the speakers there was a lively debate and discussion. Many people commented on the rottenness of the Blair government and the need to reclaim the Labour Party. Others spoke on the hypocrisy of imperialism and the lies being spread around the globe about the situation in Iraq and Venezuela and the necessity of defeating imperialism and capitalism both at home and abroad. There were several contributions on the importance of Chavez’s announcement on the necessity of socialism, saying that this was the only way forward, and was an inspiring step for the masses of Latin America and the whole world.

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Workers of the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas (National Manufacturer of Valves) Los Teques, Miranda State, in Venezuela, have not received their salaries for two years and three months. After having come into conflict with Andrés Sosa Pietri (the owner of the factory), one of the industrialists that was involved in the April 2002 coup, the factory was closed. After the nationalisation of Venepal, these workers, who had already occupied the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas for several months a year ago, have occupied it again and are demanding that it also be nationalised.

The Revolutionary Marxist Current in Los Teques has promoted a Support Committee for the workers of the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas and we are calling upon all unions nationally and internationally to send economic aid to the following account 0039-01-0100309746 Banco Industrial de Venezuela under the name of Jorge Paredes y Rosalio Castro for the Resistance Fund, and solidarity resolutions to his email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., to the President This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and the Ministry of Labour This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Model Resolution:

Given the situation faced by the workers of the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas (CNV) in Los Teques (Miranda State), who have not received their salaries for two years and three months after having confronted the coup-involved industrialist Andrés Sosa Pietri, and considering that they are now occupying the factory and demanding its reopening under workers’ control, we assert the following:

1. We entirely support the struggle of the workers of the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas and put ourselves at the disposal of the Action Committee to organize solidarity with their struggle in our workplaces, neighborhoods, etc

2. We call upon the Bolivarian Government to act on this as soon as possible and, as was done in the case of Venepal – which was also abandoned by its owner – to nationalise the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas.

3. We believe that the nationalisation under workers’ control of the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas will not only allow to defend jobs but will also generate more employment in the area and ensure the production of valves for the State Oil Company PDVSA, given that the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas is the only enterprise that manufactures such valves in Venezuela.

4. While this is in process, we ask the authorities of the Work Ministry of Labour and the Presidency to subsidise the workers. At the same time we call upon all unions belonging to the UNT (National Union of Workers) and all social organizations that support the Bolivarian revolutionary process to organize active financial solidarity with this struggle and collect funds to help the brave resistance of these workers.

Signed..........................

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On 22 February 2005, this website published a letter issued by the UNT (see below) referring to an attack of FEDECAMARAS, the employers’ association of Venezuela that has joined forces with the opposition Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) to present a Complaint to the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association alleging that the Venezuelan government has violated Trade Union freedoms and the right to strike.

The UNT has asked for messages of support by adding your signature to their letter of complaint (find below the letter referred to). Please read this letter, as it is quite self-explanatory. As you will see, the meeting they refer to started yesterday, March 8, and will continue until March 24, so we all have to act quickly. Trade union activists and socialists the world over should give all the support they can to the UNT as the genuine expression of the organised Venezuelan labour movement. Remember that the CTV leaders actually backed the April 2002 coup against Chavez!

We invite all our supporters to take up this issue inside their trade unions and mass left parties, and try to get official backing from local, regional and national trade union bodies. We invite you to mention in your letters that you are responding to this appeal of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign.

Please send your solidarity letters by e-mail to the following addresses:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (UNT) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Stalin Perez)

with a copy to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Open Letter to the Workers’ Group of the ILO

 

By the national coordinators of the UNT
Tuesday, 22 February 2005

We, the undersigned leaders of the National Union of Workers of Venezuela (UNT), issue this appeal to the trade unions around the world that are represented in the Workers’ Group of the International Labor Organization (ILO), as well as to all our sisters and brothers who are championing the trade union battles in defense of workers’ rights.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

We in Venezuela have been part of the effort by the working class to create a trade union federation that is built from the bottom up by the rank and file and that is rooted in the principles of class independence, trade union democracy and full autonomy in relation to the State and all political parties. This effort – which in April 2003 brought unionists from different sectors and trade union currents together to create the UNT – is part and parcel of the struggle of our people in defense of their national sovereignty.

Today, the UNT represents the majority of the organized workforce in Venezuela. Its creation in 2003 has given a huge impetus to the drive to organize trade unions across our country. The rate of trade union affiliation has increased from 11% in 2001 to 23% in 2004. The UNT also has been present in the last two International Labor Conferences of the ILO in June 2003 and June 2004.

But these recent years also have seen FEDECAMARAS, the employers’ association of Venezuela, join forces with the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) to present a Complaint to the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association alleging that the Venezuelan government has violated Trade Union Freedoms and the Right to Strike.

The joint Complaint by FEDECAMARAS and the CTV is highly unusual, as trade unions are generally the ones filing ILO Complaints against the employers and seeking support from the ILO Workers’ Group against all violations of trade union rights, including the right to strike. It is unprecedented, as well, on account of the convergence of interests between FEDECAMARAS and the CTV.

Such a Complaint can be understood only in the context of the unfolding political situation in Venezuela, in which FEDECAMARAS and the top leadership of the CTV participated directly in the attempted military coup of April 2002, together with the opposition political parties and with the encouragement of the U.S. Embassy. The coup – which established a government” headed by Pedro Carmona, then president of FEDECAMARAS – was foiled after just two days by the mass mobilizations of the Venezuelan workers and people.

Later, in December 2002 and January 2003, FEDECAMARAS – together with the same leaders of the CTV – organized an employer lockout/work stoppage that was political in nature and that sought to bring down the government through the sabotage of the country’s main source of income: the oil industry. In both the attempted coup and the bosses’ lockout/work stoppage, the CTV leadership took actions that were repudiated by the overwhelming majority of the workers of Venezuela.

At no time, in fact, were the workers consulted by the CTV leadership about the work stoppage in the oil industry. Quite the contrary, upon learning of this action by the CTV leadership, the workers mobilized massively to occupy the oil rigs and refineries to ensure the resumption of oil production.

These undeniable facts were reported in detail by 35 leaders of the UNT to the Contact Mission of the ILO that traveled to Venezuela in October 2004.

It is not new, nor is it unexpected, that employers should resort to lockouts against the workers to promote their interests. Many of you undoubtedly have witnessed such bosses’ lockouts in your countries. It is less frequent for the employers to resort to military coups, but, alas, such actions are not unprecedented. But isn’t it an insult to our intelligence to try to have us believe that employer lockouts and military coups can somehow be aimed at defending democracy and trade union rights? Do they think we’re fools who cannot see through their hypocrisy?

In June 2004, FEDECAMARAS – with the full support of the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and representatives from bosses’ organizations in 22 countries, including the United States, all of them notorious for their anti-union activities – invoked Article 26 of the ILO Constitution and proposed that a Commission of Inquiry be established in relation to alleged violations of Trade Union Freedoms in Venezuela.

The March 8-24, 2005 meeting of the Governing Body of the ILO is scheduled to take a vote on this request by FEDECAMARAS. It is worth noting that while this baseless Complaint against the Venezuelan government moves through the ILO system, the government of Colombia has not been subjected to any sanctions or pressures by the ILO – even when the ILO itself registered at the beginning of 2004 that 186 trade unionists had been assassinated for their union activity in that country, a number that now surpasses the 200 mark.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

The Venezuelan government today has wide popular support to advance its Agrarian Reform program and, with the aim of guaranteeing jobs and wages, to take over factories abandoned or bankrupted by their employers. Yet at this very moment, incidents are being staged to create a diplomatic conflict between Venezuela and Colombia. More ominous still, U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have issued public warnings against the alleged “negative” and “destabilizing” role of Venezuela in the region.

Anyone familiar with the international policies implemented by the Bush administration in the recent period can understand full well that these are not simply words; they are a direct threat to Venezuela. Bush and Rice invoke the concept of “democracy” – but if one looks at what is going on in Iraq today, one can see what they mean by “democracy.”

Is it possible not to see a link between these political developments and the stance taken by FEDECAMARAS at the ILO?

Regardless of what one’s opinions may be about the Venezuelan government and its policies, it’s a fact that it’s a government that received the support of more than 60% of the people in the August 15, 2004 recall referendum, thereby dealing a blow to the effort by FEDECAMARAS and the top officials of the CTV to oust the Chávez government. The election results were ratified, in fact, by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center, two bodies that cannot be accused of harboring any sympathies for the Venezuelan government.

It is also an undeniable fact that the partisans of the current Venezuelan government obtained the overwhelming support of the people in the state and regional elections held in October 2004.

From our vantage point as the UNT, genuine democracy means respecting the sovereign will of people to determine their own fate. And we wish to reiterate this point: Venezuela’s right to self-determination must be respected and upheld independent of whatever one may think about the current government of Venezuela. It is not up to the U.S. government to decide in the place of the Venezuelan people what is “positive” or “negative” for Venezuela.

It is totally understandable that the representatives of the employers in the ILO should form a common front with FEDECAMARAS in support of this Complaint. Likewise, it is not surprising that governments, particularly that of Bush in the United States, should follow suit. But in no way can the representatives of the workers’ organizations in the ILO support this attack upon our sovereignty and our independent trade union organizations.

Is it not obvious that allowing the Commission of Inquiry to be approved – as FEDECAMARAS demands – would, in fact, be tantamount to trampling upon our trade union freedoms and the very sovereignty of our country? Only we, the workers of Venezuela, can and must decide what kind of trade union organizations we should build, in the framework of the principles of Trade Union Freedom.

We issue this urgent appeal to all trade union organizations the world over. We call upon one and all to reject the proposal by FEDECAMARAS and its cohorts to sanction Venezuela and to conduct an ILO Commission of Inquiry. Such an action is not called for, nor does it correspond to the real situation of trade union freedoms in Venezuela, which is a country that has ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

For our part, as trade union officers who are committed to the rank and file, we have nothing to hide. That is why we are appending to this Open Letter a Memorandum that responds to the specific charges contained in the Complaint filed by FEDECAMARAS and the CTV.

We invite trade unions from all around the world to come to Venezuela to see for yourselves the reality of our country, where even the CTV – which participated directly in the attempted coup of April 2002 and the lockout/work stoppage of December 2002-January 2003, enjoys full trade union freedoms.

We also invite representatives of the international trade union movement to attend the upcoming National Congress of the UNT. This will permit you to learn firsthand from the workers about the real situation of the trade unions in Venezuela.

To conclude, we call upon all trade union organizations and officers to reject the provocation by FEDECAMARAS and its allies to establish an ILO Commission of Inquiry for Venezuela. We call upon you to add your names in support of this Open Letter to the ILO Workers’ Group.

- In defense of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people!

- In defense of true Trade Union Freedoms!

In solidarity,

signed by following National Coordinators of the UNT:

Orlando Chirino, Marcela Máspero, Stalin Pérez Borges and Rubén Linares

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