Jeremy Dear addresses TUC on Venezuela solidarity

This is a transcript of the intervention by Jeremy Dear (general secretary of the National Union of Journalists and co-president of Hands Off Venezuela) at the British Trade Union Congress 2006. He spoke on the need for solidarity with Venezuela and defended motion 73, advocating the setting up of a united campaign body sponsored by the TUC. This was known as the "unity motion", but there was opposition from other unions to this idea and the motion was remmitted to allow for further discussion. See also the text of motion 73.

Jeremy Dear on behalf of the National Union of Journalists on motion 73.

Brendan Barber opened congress by celebrating the visit of President Hugo Chavez to the UK and to Congress House.

That visit, along many others by trade unionists, and community campaigners over the past 12 moths, was a sign of the importance which Venezuelan politicians, community organisations and trade unions attach to this movement’s support for the social and economic changes happening in Venezuela.

And it was a proud moment for me, to stand before the Congress of Venezuela’s largest trade union confederation, the UNT, to deliver on the TUC’s behalf, a message of solidarity with Venezuela’s working people.

Comrades, as a young trade union activist I recall reading the booklet “Nicaragua, the threat of good example”. It explained the social gains made in that country under the Sandinista government - in literacy, in education and in health and how, as a result of becoming a beacon for the people of other Latin American countries, it had also become a target for the US-backed Contras and a victim of economic sabotage.

If that was the case with Nicaragua or Cuba as we have just heard, how much more so in Venezuela, which has reclaimed its oil, many of his industries, and much of its lands to benefit those forced into poverty, unemployment and landlessness by years of policies of IMF imposed austerity.

No one believes that Venezuela, overnight, has become a paradise. No one believes that crime, transport and housing are not real issues. But let us also not believe the lies that this is an unpopular dictatorship. And let us too not underestimate, and let us celebrate the huge achievements that Venezuelan working people have made.

The country declared free of illiteracy by UNESCO.

More than 1.2 million people now have been given access to health care of which they were previously denied.

They have built 657 new schools and eight new universities.

Millions of hectares of land have been redistributed.

But the social and economic revolution is about more than statistics. It is about the humans and the individuals in education for the fist time. Given the right to learning, the right to work with dignity, the right to basic health care, those free from illiteracy.

The social and economic revolution has also given rise to new media, easing the control from millionaires who own so much of Venezuelan media, given rise to new unions, replacing the old corrupt unions with independent, militant and participative unions and given rise to debates and movements for workers control and community and democratic accountability.

Hugo Chavez will go to the polls in December, backed by independent unions, health workers, teachers, community and youth organisations… in a fair election, he will win. But there is a threat. Not content with support for a failed coup or an economic sabotage, the new CIA mission in Cuba and Venezuela is already seeking to interfere in this election.

Our principles demand we must support the Venezuelan trade unions and working people who demand nothing more than the right, free from interference, to determine their own future.

There is a threat, but there is a force capable of undermining that threat, it is a force we call solidarity. Solidarity with the Venezuelan people, with independent trade unions - in support of their gains and in defence of their rights. We must build further solidarity, delivered by trade unionists and trade unions, to trade unionists and trade unions.

Our motion welcomes the solidarity work being carried out by three solidarity organisations and supports all those campaigners that have taken this cause to all the trade union meetings, union conferences, community organisations and beyond.

But between its lines it also expresses some despair and frustration. There are too many occasions when solidarity organisations have spent more time seeking to score points off each other or find arcane points of disagreement than delivering what the people in Venezuela really need, solidarity.

It may satisfy some, but to the people of Venezuela is not only incomprehensible but potentially disastrous.

Our motion is a plea for trade union unity to deliver greater trade union solidarity and for the TUC to help co-ordinate that work.

We are asked to remit and we understand some of the concerns about how we have proposed that co-ordination work. We are not wedded to a single means but we believe that there must be action - we are implacable in recognising that in unity is greater strength and that in the face of the momentous challenges and the serious threats that Venezuelan working people face, the greatest strength possible is needed to defend the enormous gains that they have already made.

On the basis that Sally [Hunt] has pledged that there will be further action to create that unity, we will remit.

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