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Solidarity

The following is a transcript from a talk given by Venezuelan trade unionist Ricardo Galindez at the East Anglia Social Forum during his recent tour of Britain.

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I will start from the very beginnings of 2003 and what happened then. The events that took place at the end of 2002 and 2003 were preceded by the coup that took place at the beginning of 2002. The political factions and the bosses that had been removed from power with the election of Hugo Chavez did not stop their attempts to plot the overthrow of Chavez. Even shortly after the victory of the masses against the coup d'état, the bosses and the oligarchy started plotting against the democratic government and promoted some marches against the government. At the end of 2002 the imperialists and the local oligarchy tried to carry out sabotage in the oil industry in order to block the economy and try to push the people against the Venezuelan government itself.

The ruling class in Venezuela did not understand that the defeat that they suffered on the 11th of April 2002 was just a show of strength of the working classes in Venezuela, because the masses identified themselves with the ongoing revolutionary process. Maybe it’s not what everyone expected, but it is the very beginning of something bigger.

While on the 11th April people came out onto the streets to defend their democratic civil rights, in December of the same year we could see how the people as well as the working class tried to defend the revolution.

We could see how the bosses were paying workers to stay at home in order to carry out sabotage against the Venezuelan economy, we could see the answer of the working class in various cities and towns around Venezuela that continued to carry out their working activity in order to defeat this sabotage that was being carried out by the oligarchy and the imperialists.

We could see how in the countryside on the massive land estates and in some sectors of industry and also in the oil industry the workers were producing under workers’ control. There were no bosses at all. In a wide range of industry, such as the sugar producing industry and also the most important of all, the oil industry, we could see how the workers were producing under their own control. There was the example of the oil refinery in Puerto la Cruz where the workers took it over and were carrying out economic activity themselves. In El Palito there was also workers’ control and in the other refinery the workers maintained production for two months with no bosses and strict discipline in the company.

Once the lock out was defeated in the oil industry, the bosses decided to extend the lockout to education. As soon as the parents and the pupils saw that the schools had been closed, they decided to reopen them, sometimes occupying the schools, asking the government to send teachers to the schools and sometimes when they didn’t have teachers the parents provided lessons to the pupils.

Meanwhile the imperialists and the local oligarchy did not give up their attempt to create chaos. They called demonstrations and marches which were answered by the Bolivarian movement with bigger marches, bigger demonstrations.

Let’s say that if the opposition were taking out on the streets ten thousand, the Bolivarians were taking out one hundred thousand, and if they took out onto the streets one hundred thousand we took out three hundred thousand – always outnumbering them.

Then the local and the mainstream media, all the newspapers, all the TV channels started a campaign to call for a presidential recall referendum. This referendum was defeated. What happened was that, when they saw that by illegal means they could not force the government out, they decided to take the legal road. They decided to start again their campaign for a recall referendum. What happened was that the electoral commission of Venezuela gave up and said okay you can have the referendum.

The point is that it is true that this referendum was not well received among the masses and people were quite angry. When President Chavez said now is the time to unite forces and defeat the referendum, well, we did it and defeated this process.

Even if they were not happy with that, they decided that they had to do it because that was a historical moment for the Venezuelan masses. For the first time in history the Venezuelan people were going to organise an electoral process under their control and through popular organisations like the Electoral Battle Units and other popular organisations

1,200,000 people organised themselves. Students and workers organised in these UBEs, Electoral Battle Units. Well, of course, the workers and students in the neighbourhoods organised themselves. They set up the structures to canvass in order to win this recall referendum.

The victory in this recall referendum for the ‘NO’ option against the recall of Hugo Chavez was the beginning of a new period in the Venezuelan revolution. Let’s say that the oligarchy could not cope with a defeat and they did lose lots of support from the middle classes. They suffered the disbandment of their own forces and suddenly their own leaders no longer appeared on TV and in the newspapers, and did not show up in public life.

After the success of the recall referendum the regional council elections took place and the Opposition, the oligarchy, was limited to holding on to just two states. Now the struggle of the Opposition is based in the state of Zulia, a region on the border with Colombia, an area very rich in oil. Even the governor of this state, once he saw the results, started to shift his position towards President Chavez!

Defeat was terrible for them. The umbrella group, that they had organised all the opposition parties under, has been disbanded. After the defeat, Mendoza, the governor of the state of Carabobo, disappeared from public life after the defeat.

The more astute sections of the bourgeoisie started to approach President Chavez in order to appear more polite towards him. They began to moderate their opposition to Chavez. As the saying goes, if you cannot beat them, join them until you have enough forces to defeat them. This is the policy of imperialism and the local bourgeoisie in Venezuela today.

After the great defeat suffered in the eighties the labour movement had started to recover in the nineties. At the beginning of the nineties the workers decided to set up a new trade union federation outside of the CTV. It was in 2002 that they finally decided to abandon the CTV and set up a new Venezuelan trade union federation. It is true that in the beginning they had many problems to overcome, however they are overcoming these and now they are back at the same level of organisation as before.

Due to the lockout that took place at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, there were many companies that were closed down. What is true is that most of these companies closed down due to imperialist sabotage of the economy, and after the defeat of the lockout these companies remained closed.

At that time many workers decided to reopen the factories, occupy them and run them by themselves and they demanded that the government nationalise these factories under workers’ controls as well as many other factories.

This movement was the beginning of the victory that was to take place at Venepal. With regards to Venepal this company was closed down in 2003, then the government helped the bosses to reopen it. Later on they closed down the factory again, and the second victory of the Venepal workers was when the government decided to nationalise the company under workers’ control.

It is not clear what form of workers’ control this company is going to adopt. Whether it is going to be a co-op, direct control of the workers or a shared control of the company by workers and the state. However, what is true is that the plan the government is going to undertake is the plan elaborated by the workers in the company. The decision of the government to take this company over is a massive victory.

It is true that the government has not expressed a will to nationalise all companies. They say that this is not going to be the main trend, but they also say that the Venepal example is going to be the model for other companies that have closed down and have not reopened yet. The Venepal experience also boosts the confidence of the workers in Venezuela because they can see the possibility of working for a company where the boss is not a coup plotter.

All these measures, the nationalisation, the war against the big landed estates, the latifundia, the process of land reform and also the deepening of the revolution, the “Into the neighbourhoods” social programme, on health care in the poorest neighbourhoods, are all having an effect. For instance, they have announced the building of six hundred hospitals across the country. All of this is a major victory, a step forward for the movement.

These are the questions that concern imperialism, that concern the Venezuelan opposition. We should remember that the US has been suffering from the Cuba syndrome since 1961. At that time, in 1961, the revolution that initially was based on many democratic demands was later forced to go beyond the confines of capitalism. It was forced to take socialist measures.

This is what the imperialists are worried about. And this brings us to the latest Rodrigo Granda [FARC Foreign minister] case. He is a Colombian citizen who came to Venezuela and naturalised himself as Venezuelan. He had both nationalities, Colombian and Venezuelan.

He was not living in underground conditions; he was living with his family under his own name. He was recently kidnapped by Venezuelan police that had been bribed beforehand by the Colombian authorities. The imperialists have thus staged a stunt “against terrorism” and so forth.

The Venezuelan opposition recently tried to gather its forces once again and launched another march that took place on January 23. The aim was to heat things up but they were not successful. The march was a complete failure. As if this were not bad enough for the opposition, the government called another march where hundreds of thousands of people turned out in the streets.

The government gave only four or five days’ notice to call this demonstration. This shows that, as opposed to the forces of reaction, of the opposition, that are completely demoralised and demobilises, the Venezuelan people support the process of strengthening democracy and deepening the revolution. They are very active and have the ability to mobilise themselves.

It’s true that the opposition has been defeated more than once and is demoralise. However, the imperialists have not given up. They are staging more actions against the Venezuelan revolution. The imperialists are active and are looking for the easiest way to create trouble. Yes, the imperialists are active, but we are also active! We are pushing for things like nationalisation, land reform, the deepening of the social programmes and trying to sort out all the problems we have and to carry on.

I believe that from the point of view of all the people who are involved in the trade unions, the only way to achieve victory for the Venezuelan revolution is to go beyond the confines of capitalism and to install socialism in Venezuela.

Questions and answers

Question: “I was just wondering, it was very interesting to hear about the occupied factories. Are the occupied factories in Venezuela in much contact with the occupied factories in Argentina? I didn’t realise it had been happening in other countries as well.”

Answer: Today there is no such communication between factories occupied in Argentina and those occupied in Venezuela. However, two years ago when the process was alive and the workers started to occupy the factories, a delegation of Argentinean workers was invited by the secretary of labour in Venezuela to come over to visit the occupied factories.

At that time, when we had some activities, they exchanged experiences, and at the end of this visit the ministry of labour drafted a plan based on the Argentinean experience and now they are going to use this to carry out all the necessary action for the reopening of Venezuelan factories. Even now that we have achieved the nationalisation of Venepal, we should invite workers from Argentinean factories to go over to Venezuela to share more experiences.

Q: How does the organisation operate at grass roots level, because there are so many people involved? I’m interested in how they communicate. I’m not entirely clear how much the policy such as land reform is driven by the government and how much by the mass movement making the government do it.

A: Right now it is true that the government is leading the process, however we can see that from below there is a force. There is a mass of people that is pushing to have its demands heard, the demands of the community on the government. There are also land committees, grass roots organisations, that try to implement land reform not only in the countryside but also in the cities. There are also community labour groups that have managed to get works approved for new socially useful buildings and things of this kind, that are going to be controlled by the community.

Q: You mentioned workers’ control. I’m interested in this. We read it in the papers that the paper industry is coming under workers’ control. It is clear that this is far deeper than the nationalisation we have seen here in Britain. But it does not involve the whole economy. So how does it actually work? If you work in a factory that is run under workers’ control what would that mean for me in terms of how I influence what goes on?

A: Right now in Venezuela they already have experience of workers’ control in the sugar refineries. The company that the government nationalised was handed over to the workers and also to the cane sugar workers, the ones who carry the cane sugar. The company has been working well. The workers elect their own representatives to the board of administration of the company. But at the same time they also organise their own trade union. Now, this company, in spite of all the problems, is the most productive company in Venezuela. Then, there is the example of the workers in the old state owned oil company in 2002-2003. Those workers through meetings in the factories decided what to produce, how to produce it and when to produce it.

The oil workers had the support of the armed forces and the community was also there offering them support. They had the power to decide on production, distribution, supply and so forth. How could they go back to a so-called ‘normal situation’ where the workers are given orders?

The Venepal workers elaborated a project, in the form of a book with 200 to 300 pages. In this book the workers explain every little detail concerning production, from the machines, to the sheets, everything is in there, even the tea machine. And that was when the company was first closed, when the government pumped some money into the company the first time in 2001.

At that time they won a right, it was a kind of shared control of the company. There was a machine that was needed to produce power, to produce electricity. This machine broke down, so they called a technician from Germany where the machine had been originally produced. Well the workers decided to fix the machine without asking the management and now this machine is still there producing more power than before. It shows the enormous potential of the workers.

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The meeting of the Hands off Venezuela campaign held in the offices of the AT&GWU in Dublin was the biggest meeting on Latin America ever hosted there. These were the words of the brothers and sisters of LASC (Latin American Solidarity Centre). 115 people attended the meeting to hear Ricardo Galindez speak.

Richard Gott, former Latin American correspondent for The Guardian, was present at the meeting and explained the events that have unfolded since the very first electoral victory of Hugo Chavez. He pointed out that even then a strategy to oust him was being prepared. The British journalist said he had been to Venezuela and that he had witnessed the development of the social programmes known as “misiones”, and explained how beneficial they were for the ordinary working people.

Mick McCaughan, the author of The Battle for Venezuela, was also at the meeting. He briefly spoke about the position of the Venezuelan revolutionary process in the context of the general struggle taking place across the whole of Latin America, where important struggles and movements have been developing in countries like Bolivia, Peru and Argentina amongst others.

Ricardo Galindez explained just how important the revolution in Venezuela is. The ability of the Venezuelan masses to mobilise and organise themselves has been demonstrated through the formation of the Bolivarian Circles, UBEs (Electoral Battle Units), the social programmes, and the creation of new trade unions and the UNT itself. What this shows is that the revolutionary process is on the ascent.

Galindez stressed the need to develop solidarity with the revolution because international solidarity can be a powerful weapon in the struggle against US imperialism and the transnational corporations that are attempting to isolate the revolution.

He also explained that the leadership of Hugo Chavez has been evolving. Chavez began his presidency on the basis of democratic demands and by standing against “neo-liberal capitalism”, and has now moved to an anti-imperialist position. He recently pointed out that the root cause of the problems of the Venezuelan people was capitalism, and that the only solution to these problems was the establishment of a socialist society – a genuine socialist society.

An anti-globalisation activist also took the platform and gave a first hand report of her experiences at the World Social Forum where Chavez met with activists and trade unionists from all over the world.

The interest in what is happening in Venezuela was so big that even after the meeting was officially over the discussion continued. At the end of the meeting a number of those present came up to the speakers to carry on the debate. They asked further questions about the revolutionary process in Venezuela and wanted to know a lot more about what is really happening.

This short trip to Ireland showed that the Irish workers have a keen interest in what is happening in Venezuela. Links with important trade unions were forged and the ground has been laid for future solidarity activities in Ireland.

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Ricardo Galindez’s trip to Ireland over the weekend was a big success. Ricardo was a delegate to the founding conference of the Venezuelan UNT, a union that was built in opposition to the completely bureaucratised CTV that has gone over to the reactionary oligarchy in Venezuela. He is currently an official of the union and trade union adviser. The trip was part of Galindez’s speaking tour to build international solidarity with the Venezuelan Revolution.

During his 36 hour-long visit comrade Galindez met with some Latin American Solidarity Centre (LASC) activists, who organised the Dublin part of Ricardo’s tour.

On the evening of February 5, Galindez, along with LASC and Hands Off Venezuela activists, visited Jack O’Connor, President of the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU). During the two-hour meeting with O’Connor Galindez outlined the current situation in Venezuela. He analysed the revolutionary process and the situation the Venezuelan labour movement is facing. He explained that the workers are leaving the empty shell of the discredited CTV in droves and are moving into the UNT.

The CTV was closely associated with the bosses who were behind the 2002 coup attempt to overthrow Chavez. It is openly supporting the forces of imperialism rather than the interests of the Venezuelan workers. On this basis Ricardo explained the importance of recognising the UNT as the legitimate Trade Union Confederation in Venezuela.

O’Connor was also invited to visit Venezuela together with other trade union leaders so that they could see for themselves what is really happening in the country and see first hand the massive campaign of slander and lies which is being mounted against the Venezuelan revolution and the democratic and anti-capitalist movement represented by the UNT.

O’Connor was also asked to invite Venezuelan trade unionists to address the leaders and the rank and file of the Irish trade union movement. The two trade unionists expressed the importance and necessity of developing solidarity with Venezuela and weakening the positions of US imperialism and the transnational corporations that are seek to destroy the revolution. They also expressed the importance of strengthening workers’ struggles in different countries in order to defeat the common enemy.

O’Connor praised Galindez’s visit and promised to address the different bodies of the union with regards to Venezuela and analyse what exactly the SIPTU could do to defend trade union rights. He expressed his full support for the Venezuelan people and the referendum victory on August 15, 2004.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I would like to take the opportunity you have offered to me to speak on the historic developments in my country, which are today the most dynamic on the Latin American continent.

The Venezuelan people have stood up against a past of miseries and humiliations. We have said, “Enough is enough” and have started to lay down the basis of a new country. This is why the old national oligarchy, financed by dollars from the CIA and the Pentagon and supported by the mere puppets like the Colombian government or Blair in United Kingdom, have united in a “holy crusade” to rescue the “holy land”.

We have taken the first few steps, headed by the government of President Chavez, and we conquered a consciousness of political dignity and also healthcare and education services, things that in the past only existed in our dreams. Although this is little compared to what we deserve and what we can achieve, the oligarchy believes that we do not deserve these things. This is why the oligarchy, with the help of their great economic power and the intrusive dollars of US imperialism, have organised coup d’etats, marches, economic sabotage and propaganda campaigns to manipulate the situation.

However, all this power has not been enough to stop us. We have defeated them in every battle, and have consolidated our victories by taking measures to strengthen state control over our main industry. We have organised popular battalions through the Bolivarian Circles and UBEs (Electoral Battle Units). The working class itself has built its own organisations like the National Union of Workers (UNT), which has become the main trade union federation of our country.

In our thirst for justice we demanded the nationalisation of certain companies. As a result of this struggle the Chavez government has heard our demands and has nationalised the Venepal group and granted resources to run the company under the co-management of the workers and the state. This means that the doors are opened to the rescue of thousands of workplaces ignored by “Golpista” bosses.

We are here today not only to tell you about the results of our efforts but also to recognise that those results would not have been possible without the participation and militant solidarity of thousands of workers, intellectuals, members of parliament from many countries, students, democratic activists and revolutionary militants from all over the world.

We are here today and tomorrow we will be in other cities in Ireland and the UK in order to let you know that the days ahead are going to be even more difficult. The assassination of more than one hundred brothers and sisters, amongst them the prosecutor Danilo Anderson, and the provocation known as the “Granda Case” launched by US imperialism through the puppet Alvaro Uribe Vélez, clearly show this. It is very important that the militant solidarity with our revolutionary process is strengthened. President Hugo Chavez has described this process as a revolutionary, anti-imperialist process which is against capitalism. He has also recently said that the only way out of the crisis created by capitalism is socialism - true socialism. Socialism is the system where the workers have power and decisions made at all levels are the result of a democratic discussion of the oppressed and exploited people through their grassroots organizations. The leadership of these organizations would not be privileged and would be democratically elected. The people who elected them would be able to recall them at any time. These leaders would live as the workers live, ensuring that they always think as working people.

Comrades, the Venezuelan Revolution is a living process that requires your conscious solidarity. To give your solidarity is like planting the tree of life which tomorrow will bear fruit. This fruit can be used to carry out your own future revolution, the terms of which will be decided by the workers and the people of your country. This will be a struggle against an enemy already weakened by our victory.

I invite you to strengthen the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign by spreading the branches across the United Kingdom and Ireland and bring the campaign firmly into the consciousness of those that live here.

Ricardo Galíndez

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Ricardo Galindez’s tour of Britain kicked off with a big success yesterday. Over 80 people filled the Grand Committee Rooms in the British House of Commons to hear the Venezuelan trade union leader outline the latest developments in the Bolivarian Revolution.

The meeting was sponsored by John McDonnell MP, the honorary President of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign and chaired by Jeremy Dear, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.

John Mc Donnell

John McDonnell opened the meeting by explaining the vital importance of the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign in raising the issue of the Venezuelan revolution throughout the labour movement. In particular, in this general election year, it was essential to put pressure on Labour MPs and through them on the Labour government. “In the past we supported the cause of revolutions that had been crushed by imperialism, now we have a chance of supporting a revolution in the making”, he said.

Ricardo Galindez spoke of his experiences in the fast moving events of the Venezuelan Revolution. He explained the masses, aroused by the election of Hugo Chavez, had faced up to every challenge, including the recent Referendum, to deal a blow to the counter-revolution and the rule of the oligarchy. “On the day of the Referendum, the Opposition suffered a serious blow”, he said. “It was produced by the strength of the masses and introduced profound demoralisation into the ranks of the Opposition. They disappeared from the streets.” However, Ricardo warned that the counter-revolution would never give up. “They continue to conspire and plot. They keep factories closed.” They were behind the recent assassination of the prosecutor investigating the coup organisers.

Ricardo then explained that the recent kidnapping of the FARC representative in Caracas by Colombian special forces in alliance with some Venezuelan military officials was a provocation, behind which lies the hand of Washington.

Ricardo Galindez

He went on to explain that the UNT was a growing force. The working class has put its stamp on the revolution and the nationalisation of Venepal was a “turning-point”, so he said. Ricardo welcomed the comments of President Chavez in explaining that the Bolivarian revolution could not remain within the confines of capitalism. Only by taking the socialist road and nationalising the banks, finance houses and major companies can we succeed. He warned, however, that the revolution is not complete. To avoid defeat it must go forward and break the power of the oligarchy by nationalising their property and placing it under workers’ control.

Comrade Galindez ended his speech with the words: “We shall win. We have got to win. We WILL win!”

The next speaker was the Venezuelan Ambassador to London, Alfredo Toro Hardy. He explained that President Chavez was well aware of the fine work of the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign in Britain. “In fact, I spoke to President Chavez a few days ago and he was keen to make a short stop-over visit to Britain to meet with you”, stated Mr Hardy to rapturous applause.

The Venezuelan Ambassador
Alfredo Toro Hardy

The Ambassador outlined the policies of the Chavez government and the grave difficulties Venezuela faced from the aggressive stance of the United States. Hugo Chavez had won 8 different electoral processes in addition to his presidential election in 1998, and yet the hostile media are calling him a dictator!

The model of free-market capitalism that the United States is attempting to impose on Latin America has been a disaster, he said. Latin American indicators are worse in the 1990s than in the 1970s. “The model advocated by President Chavez is rational”, he explained. He ended his speech with the appeal: “We need your help.”

Manzoor Ahmed

Comrade Manzoor, member of the Pakistani Parliament, and who met President Chavez in Venezuela last year, also addressed the meeting. In his contribution, he drew comparisons between the Bolivarian Revolution and the revolution in Pakistan in 1969. In Pakistan, the revolution under the leadership of Bhutto, went half way, and resulted in the counter-revolution being able to muster its forces and overthrow Bhutto in a military coup. The conclusion he drew was that it is necessary to carry through the socialist revolution to the very end. There was no other road, stated Manzoor.

A lively period of questions and discussion followed from the floor. A collection was also held which raised an excellent £150 for the funds of the campaign. After a brief reply from the Ambassador and Ricardo, Jeremy Dear summed up the meeting and appealed for the Campaign to be raised in every corner of the labour movement. He also expressed his deep appreciation to John McDonnell for his help, which was also heartily appreciated by thunderous applause from the audience.

Once again, the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign has held a successful meeting in the House of Commons. The task now is to take the Campaign to every trade union branch, every trades council, every shop stewards’ meeting and every student union, to build it into a mass movement in defence of the Venezuelan Revolution.

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