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Solidarity

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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Join us in helping to launch the international Hands off Venezuela campaign in Toronto!hov_canada2.gif

Saturday, 19 March @ 4:00pm
O'Grady's Tap and Grill (upstairs)
171 College St. (just west of University Ave.)
For more information, 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..


Help us support Venezuela's revolution against intervention by American or Canadian Imperialism. The Venezuelan people, led by the government of Hugo Chávez, have embarked on reforms in education, health care, and land redistribution in favour of the poor. In return, the Venezuelan oligarchy, supported and financed by the US, have organized coups, economic sabotage, and provocations to keep power with the rich. However, at every turn the Venezuelan workers and peasants have moved forward. Peasants are redistributing the 80% of land owned by only 5% of landowners. Workers are forcing nationalization under workers' control of corporations such as the
Venepal paper plant. And, Hugo Chávez has said that capitalism must be transcended by democratic socialism.

Please come if you want to learn more. We will be electing a Toronto co-ordinating committee to plan events in support of Venezuela. The Venezuelan people need international solidarity and our action now can make all the difference. JOIN US!!

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The British Midlands TUC has agreed a motion at their 2005 AGM expressing full support for the Venezuelan independent trade unions – the National Union of Workers of Venezuela (UNT).

The motion was moved by the West Midlands County Association of Trade Union Councils (CATUC) by Steve Hart. The motion was seconded by Nick Kelleher on behalf of UNISON West Midlands Region, who gave a powerful speech in support of the motion which included recognition of:

• The Fascist opposition determined to undermine democracy

• The UNT has the majority of trade unionists in Venezuela

• The UNT supports the use of 10,000s of Cuban doctors who are providing a free healthcare system paid for by progressive taxation.

• Their support of the most democratic Constitution in the world supported by national Referendum

• Most workers have joined democratic trade unions in the UNT

• 10’000s of Cuban doctors provide a national healthcare system free at the point of use - in exchange for oil.

• A land reform programme is giving land to millions

• Illiteracy has been eliminated

 

The Midlands TUC agreed to:

• Express its solidarity to the trade unionists of the UNT.

• Support the Venezuelan people in their effort to extend social and economic freedom

• Support and promote Solidarity campaigns within Britain that support the popular reforms.

• Encourage solidarity activities to be co-ordinated via venezuelasolidarity.org.uk

Andy Goodall, Venezuelasolidarity.org.uk co-ordinator said “This important decision is the first of what we expect will be many acts of solidarity by the British trade Union Movement. This is particularly important at this time with the UNT asking for international solidarity. This is necessary regarding the upcoming vote at the ILO on an employers request for an investigation. This has got to be exposed by the ILO for what it is – a desperate attempt by billionaire businesses to undermine the democratic revolution happening in Venezuela”.

In June 2004, FEDECAMARAS (the employers' association of Venezuela) – 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

Nick Kelleher, Wolverhampton Trade Union Council. Stated “ We hope that this can be taken up at a national trade union level and that all trade union branches take every opportunity to express support for the campaign to build solidarity with Venezuelan workers”.

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Coinciding with the anniversary of the February 27, 1989 uprising in Venezuela, La Riposte organised a very successful speaking tour in France with Jorge Martin of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. The activities were organised together with the Bolivarian Circles of Paris and Toulouse and in Portes-lès-Valence by the local section of the Communist Party.

The first meeting was in Paris on March 1st, and took place in the headquarters of the Communist Party of the 10th District, and was hov_france1.JPGchaired by Daniel Yegres, president of the Paris Bolivarian Circle. The meeting room was completely packed with about 60 people present despite the very cold weather. This is the 3rd time meetings on the Bolivarian Revolution have been organised in these premises, so quite a lot of the people present were already acquainted with the events. Nevertheless, the recent turn in the Venezuelan revolution in which Chavez has openly raised the need to go beyond capitalism and move in the direction of socialism made it a particularly enthusiastic gathering. There were a number of comrades from the local Communist Party section in audience, including the branch secretary Jean-Pierre Leroux, who is an enthusiastic supporter of the campaign. The collection raised around 120 euro, and 40 copies of different pamphlets on the Venezuelan revolution produced by La Riposte were sold.


The next meeting took place on Thursday, March 3rd at the University of Toulouse (Le Mirail) and was organised jointly with the local Bolivarian Circle, which was established after the previous meeting of the campaign there in November. The meeting was chaired by Christophe Cambefort, a member of the Tolouse Bolivarian Circle and the secretary of the local Young Communist branch. More than 130 people filled the amphitheatre and again were very interested to hear about the latest developments in Venezuela, including the nationalisation of Venepal under workers’ control, the speeding up of the land reform, the question of socialism raised by Chavez and the renewed campaign of Washington against the Bolivarian revolution. There were many questions dealing with a wide range of issues, including the relationship between Venezuela and Cuba, the actions of the Colombian government, land reform, the Bolivarian University, the World Festival of Youth and Students in Caracas this coming August, etc. A collection was held at the end, and as in Paris, quite a lot of pamphlets on Venezuela (including one on Chavez’s speech at Porto Alegre by Alan Woods, and on the nationalisation of Venepal) were sold. A follow up meeting of the Bolivarian Circle has already been planned in order to continue the campaign. mirailtoulouse.jpg


Finally, the meeting organised in Portes-lès-Valence by the local Communist Party section and chaired by its secretary Pierre Trapier, was particularly interesting. More than 30 people turned up at the George Brassens municipal meeting hall, including a number of PCF members and CGT trade unionists. For most of them this was the first time they had heard about the Venezuelan Revolution, and they were particularly interested to hear Jorge Martin explain the unfolding of the Bolivarian movement since its origins, which can be traced back the brutal suppression of the February 27th, 1989 uprising. Just about all the people present signed up to get involved in the Hands Offhov_france3.jpg Venezuela Campaign, and the idea of creating a local Bolivarian Circle was enthusiastically taken up. This work will be coordinated by Maxence Fay, a young member of the PCF in the area and supporter of La Riposte. In the course of the debate, a CGT member raised the question about the need to campaign within the trade union movement in France in order to gain recognition for the recently created UNT trade union confederation in Venezuela. We particularly would like to thank the PCF members in Portes-lès-Valence for the extremely warm, friendly and hospitable way in which they received us.

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HOV supporters in Germany have been quite busy in the last few weeks. Yet this is not the end but only the beginning of our solidarity campaign.

In cooperation with the Venezuelan Consul General in Frankfurt, we organised two public meetings with Dr. Luis Britto Garcia, writer and media expert who spoke on the revolutionary process in Venezuela and the role of the media. Although the two meetings in mid-February - in Wiesbaden and Cologne - were organised at a short notice, they attracted some 20 visitors each who were very keen to listen and ask questions on the current events in Venezuela.

Cologne HOV meetings

On Thursday, 10th and on Monday, 14th February the first 2 of in total 3 meetings on Venezuela and her Bolivarian Revolution were held in Cologne. The Cologne branch of ['solid] - the socialist youth and the Young Socialist University Group Cologne, who both have been supporting the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign for almost a year now, have organised the series which is based on three films about revolutionary Venezuela - "Venezuela - Another Way is Possible", "The Revolution will not be televised" and "Venezuela from below". The last event will take place approximately in early April.

Each of the movies conveys a clear impression of what is really taking place inside the country, how the fronts between the working class, the small peasants and the urban poor on the one side and the oligarchy, national private media, finance capital and world imperialism on the other side are set and how the struggle for Venezuela's future is about to proceed. In addition to the movie "Venezuela - Another Way is Possible", which has been presented on Thursday and which provides a detailed account of the origins of the Bolivarian process,  we invited Hans-Gerd Öfinger, a journalist, trade-unionist and editor of the German marxist journal Der Funke, to speak on the perspectives of the revolution.

A socialist revolution or no successful revolution at all

The revolutionary process in Venezuela finds itself in a critical stage. Historical developments cannot come to a standstill. The Venezuelan masses urge for a solution of their enormous social problems, for satisfaction of their needs and therefore pressurize the government of Hugo Chavez to go forward in their interests. But any improvement of the living standards of the masses questions the political, economic and social position of the oligarchy. The Venezuelan bourgeoisie, which is bound to imperialism by thousands of economic and political bonds, will not tolerate any loss of influence or fundamental change in the distribution of the national income and will continue to respond with sabotage, terrorism and military coups d'êtat to the construction of a society in the interest of the people by the Venezuelan working class and the Chavez government. As long as the economic instruments of the oligarchy, the banks, the big media corporations, the industry and the major parts of the national land, remain in the hands of reaction and private capitalists, all achievements of the Bolivarian movement are in immediate danger and any progressive development of Venezuela and the whole of Latin America in the name of the workers, peasants and the youth will not be possible.

Hans-Gerd Öfinger explained that, in this context, our attention has to be focussed on the decisive battles in Venezuela - the struggle of the workers for control of production and political decisions. With the nationalisation of Venepal, a key paper and packages manufacturer in Venezuela, under workers control in January 2005 in response to the demands of the workers, which have been firmly supported internationally by the Hands Off Venezuela campaign, and the decision of the former company owners to close down production, an example is given. Venepal shows how to take the revolution forward is relevant to all those spheres of the national economy which are essential for the Venezuelan people and which are used by the right wing opposition to systematically disrupt the movement. The model of Venepal now has to be extended, and the new left wing trade-union confederation, UNT, which has the potential power to achieve this goal, needs our international solidarity. Hans-Gerd Öfinger remarked that the Venezuelan counter-revolution has her allies, not only within the Bush administration, but also among European capitalists and ruling classes. Even though a direct intervention by US-Imperialism might not be on the order of today and even though the Opposition appears to be in a "crisis" with loss of social backing and public presence, we must not think that now there will be a gradual development and that the ruling class will ever give up peacefully and quietly. This assumption was nurtured by a recent statement made by a liberal MP in Germany who had strongly criticised President Chavez´ left wing speech delivered at the WSF where he referred to socialism. This German Liberal had referred to Venezuela as the coming "source" of a Latin American fire, thus demonstrating und justifying plans for further aggression against the Chavez government. Hans-Gerd hammered home the need to show concrete solidarity with the revolutionaries in Venezuela on all levels - in schools, universities, workplaces and trade-unions.

The first event was attented by about 25 people and the discussion following the speech lasted for more than an hour until well after 11 p.m. One of the guests present compared the situation in Venezuela with the events during the "Kapp-Putsch" in Germany. In 1920, after the biggest revolutionary tides of 1918/1919, parts of the German ruling class together with loyal right-wing elements among the German military high command tried to cleanse the country from the last still existing soviets and forms of workers' power, which had been installed by workers and soldiers during the 1918 revolution, and replace them with a brutal military dictatorship. To fight back against this military coup, probably the biggest general strike in German labour history was proclaimed, which eventually turned into a revolutionary uprising and put power in the hands of the workers in some areas such as the Ruhr. In fact, this strike was even lead by ADGB (union federation) leader Carl Legien, a former supporter  of the reformist right wing of the SPD and of revisionist Eduard Bernstein. In the cause of the events, he was pushed to go further than he actually intended to. The German revolution of 1920 finally suffered a terrible defeat as the Social Democracy tried to "mediate" and "reconcile" between the classes and seeked a compromise with the right wing and the leaders of the coup. When they succeeded in convincing the workers to give back their arms, the bloodbath started as reactionary soldiers and fascist elements killed hundreds of worker activists in the Ruhr. .

"The Process has to be radicalised."

On Monday, 14th February, the second meeting in Cologne took place with again with more than 20 people attending, including Cesar Méndez, Venezuelan Consul General in Frankfurt (Germany). The classic film "The Revolution will not be televised" gave a direct insight into the counter-revolutionary actions of April, 11th 2002 and magnificently conveyed the spirit of a people that spontaineously rises up against a criminal coup.

Dr. Luis Britto Gárcia, scientist and writer whose latest publication focusses on the Venezuelan media, spoke on the disgraceful role of the big private media corporations within the revolutionary process. The Venezuelan oligarchy uses her monopoly of information and culture, as is the fact with the control of the industry, to spread lies and misinformation about the Chavez government and to inhibit any form of cultural development of the people. Especially the private media show the parasitic character of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie which is completely incapable of playing any sort of "progressive" role, but instead only serves her own interest in profits and the greed of imperialism.

Dr. Luis Britto Gárcia remarked that Venezuela shows the way how to break the chains of neoliberalism and monopolies. During the Bolivarian Revolution, many forms of alternative media have been created by the people itself. But he also stressed that the problems of Venezuela have not yet been solved, the decisive battles have not yet been won, but just begun. The example of Venepal shows how a solution has to look like. To answer the question of perspectives for the Bolivarian movement in the words of Dr. Luis Britto Gárcia: "The process has to be radicalised."

Hands off Venezuela, Mr. Bush!

HOV supporters in Wiesbaden, Mainz and Frankfurt used the demos against the recent visit by US President Bush in the area to get the HOV campaign known locally and nationally. On February 22, an after-work demo with some 1000 participants took place in the city of Wiesbaden where GW Bush was to visit US Army soldiers on the following day. On this occasion, Hans-Gerd Öfinger, an organiser of the demo and a local union activist, linked the opposition to Bush with the question of Venezuela, pointing out that the Bush administration had supported and organised the coup in 2002 and would continue to do their utmost to bring down Chávez and stop the revolutionary process.

This reference to Venezuela also found an echo in the local press which quoted from the speech. Hundreds of leaflets were distributed and many signatures collected on the spot. Another public meeting on Venezuela in Wiesbaden is scheduled for March 9 and will take in a left wing Turkish workers club.
On February 23, we had a stall at the big national anti Bush demo in Mainz where Bush met chancellor Schröder on the same day. Again, many leaflets were distributed and signatures collected. One of the signers was Tobias Pflüger, a Euro MP and prominent anti-militarist  who had been elected on the PDS slate.

Earlier last month, an HOV representative had also been invited to speak at the regional conference of in Bavaria. In Frankfurt, HOV activists continue to meet on a monthly basis.
2005 will be a busy year for HOV activists in Germany as we are planning interventions in big rallies and festivals as well as a series of discussion meetings. Of course, we never forget our tasks in Germany itself but always link the issue of the Venezuelan revolution to the burning problems facing us at home.

Step up solidarity with the Venezuelan Revolution now and join the Hands Off Venezuela campaign! Long live the Venezuelan and world Revolution! Forward to Socialism!

By Thomas Gamstätter, secretary of Cologne Hands Off Venezuela.

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