Tumultuous opening to II UNT National Congress

Last week the second national UNT congress took place in Caracas. We reproduce this report from Andy Goodall from Venezuela Solidarity UK. We will have another report ready soon.

Invited as one of the official observers by the UNT (National Union of Workers), VSC witnessed the revolutionary passion of the Venezuelan delegates who came from all parts of the country to Caracas for this II UNT National Congress, which is taking place from May 25th - 27th, in the Salon Venezuela, in the Military Circle of Fuerte Tiuna.

Anti Imperialist Banner at UNT
Anti Imperialist Banner at UNT

The UNT in its embryonic form was conceived on April 5th 2002, exactly one week before President Chavez was taken prisoner by the fascist coup mongers of the Venezuelan military, and the US lackeys belonging to civil society and the historically corrupt high bourgeoisie. In the intervening last three years, the UNT has gone from being a fertilized embryo to the dominant trade union movement in Venezuela. Currently 16 national unions and 700 local trade unions are now affiliated to the UNT, consigning the traitors of the CTV (Venezuelan Workers Confederation) to the status of an empty organisational shell, with little or no grassroots support.

This fact was evidenced by the overwhelming attendance of UNT affiliated workers for the Congress on registration day May 25th, when at least double the numbers of expected attendees turned up to be registered. The Salon Venezuela has a maximum capacity of 2500 people, and the result that day was that half of the potential delegates returned, disappointed, to their home states. Registration procedure turned into a marathon and lasted more than 12 hours testing the patience of even the most hardened and committed revolutionary trade unionists. It has been suggested that next year’s Congress should be held in the Poliedro (capacity of some 14000) and that pre Congress selection and procedures should be smoothed out and all unnecessary bureaucracy unceremoniously eliminated. By 10pm on Thursday May 25th all identification badges had run out.

Banner welcoming international delegats
Banner welcoming international delegates

With the Congress due to be installed from 10am on Friday May 26th, VSC was witness to huge queues one and a half hours before the official starting time waiting to enter the Congress building. Two hours later, the Salon Venezuela was bursting at the seams and there was a sense of great expectation in the air, as the organisers announced multiple greetings from the stage to the many unions and national delegations present.

The primary reason for the enthusiasm was the fact that this Congress was billed as a “grassroots event” where the workers themselves would take Congress decisions and not the ruling representational cliques as was always traditionally the case during the 40 years of corrupt CTV dominance in the Venezuelan trade union scenario.

For this II UNT Congress the main points to be debated were:

  1. Mobilise and organise workers and people.
  2. Develop an alternative economic and social plan to be discussed by the workers.
  3. Democratise the UNT.
  4. Combat all legal impunity of the 2002 coup mongers and traitors to the homeland.
  5. Repudiate imperialist inference.
  6. Transcend capitalism, fight for socialism and struggle for workers power, free from bosses and bureaucrats.
UNT lack of Space
UNT lack of Space

The agenda dovetails with the ethos and precepts of the Bolivarian Revolution and in effect will launch the UNT on a path which will transcend the trade unions’ traditional role of defending workers rights, labour conditions and collective wage negotiations. This path will lead to the sphere of social justice, internationalism and international solidarity, as well as fighting for Latin American integration within the frame work of the Bolivarian Alternative for America (ALBA). In other words, the UNT will become a workers revolutionary vanguard to transform not only Venezuelan society but also take the lead in conjunction with other national trade unions to create a better world for all oppressed peoples in Latin America and in other countries on the planet.

This international flavour of the II UNT Congress was reflected from the outset when representatives from numerous countries present were invited to address the multitudinous gathering. Countries present were Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, Italy, Cuba, Australia, Great Britain, Paraguay and France. The most powerful speeches came from the international delegates from the CBT of Brazil, the CTA of Argentina, and the British TUC.

Brazilian passion uplifts congress
Brazilian passion uplifts congress

The speech from the CTA delegate was particularly powerful as he proceeded to relate workers struggles, social struggles and Latin American integration in the ALBA with contemporary events which took place during the collapse of the Argentinean economy in 2001-2002, and the coup and oil industry sabotage in Venezuela from April 2002 to February 2003. In both cases he highlighted the decisive participation of the Argentinean and Venezuelan peoples in disentangling the disaster caused by fascist and neoliberal policies in these countries.

The first speaker on stage was the TUC’s Jeremy Dear, whose speech was expertly translated by HoV’s Jorge Martin. Every phrase was enthusiastically applauded by the assembled delegates when Dear commented that the TUC, representing 7 million British workers, was the first trade union central to pass a resolution supporting the Bolivarian Revolution. The shouts and applause were deafening.

Keith Sonnet Assistant General Secretary
Keith Sonnet Assistant General Secretary UNISON

When Dear concluded his speech by saying “Our struggle is your struggle. Your victory will be our victory. And it will be a victory for the revolution” the roof of the Salon Venezuela almost caved in. There were shouts of long live British workers and it was clear that Dear was sweating profusely when he came down from the stage. VSC spoke to several Venezuelan trade unionists who have 100% clarity that the Bolivarian Revolution now enjoys unqualified support from the British TUC and great swathes of the UK population, especially after President Chavez’s visit to London two weeks ago.

VSC also understands that London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, will visit Venezuela in August in order to consolidate solidarity links between the UK and Venezuelan capital cities. Finally, Jeremy Dear emphasised the word “solidarity” three times in his seven minute speech which struck a chord with the Venezuelan trade union delegates.

It was now up to UNT General Secretary, Marcela Maspero, to install the Congress in order to proceed with the agenda outlined above. However the tumultuous reception accorded to the international delegates turned into a generalised cry for “elections, elections” and this continued for a good ten minutes during Maspero’s opening address. This reaction of the delegates cannot in any way be interpreted as an unruly protest, but should be seen within the context of the burning desire for complete participatory democracy at grassroots level by this emerging trade union whirlwind, which is sweeping workers organisations the length and breath of the country. Order in the Congress hall was eventually restored after convincing the delegates that differences should be debated and that the Congress should not be dominated by vocal bully boy tactics which would have obviated any constructive debate.

VSC is convinced that strongly opposing views will be turned into concrete policies reflecting this six point agenda and that UNT leaders such as Orlando Chirinos will be vindicated due to their efforts of being in the front line of this young trade union movement. Chirinos received the most enthusiastic reception since he tends to be a revolutionary of action rather than words. He is well known for visiting factories, workshops, barrios,

View from balcony

social movements and cooperating directly with the historically excluded of Venezuelan society rather than just being a convincing orator. In a nutshell, he is acting as a true revolutionary trade unionist divorced from the clique mentality so roundly rejected by the new Venezuelan trade union movement embodied in the UNT.

On Saturday May 27th work groups will be formed to discuss and formulate recommendations on the wide reaching UNT agenda and VSC will be there to report on the preliminary conclusions of this unique example of participatory democracy inherent in the core of the Bolivarian Revolution.

VSC would like to extend personal thanks to Lenin Perez, one of the key logistical personnel in organising the Congress, for his help in obtaining our authorisation and accreditation to attend this ground-breaking and revolutionary event.

Andy Goodall
VSC National Coordinator

A further report coming soon.
(slightly amended)

Rousing address from Jeremy Dear
On left HoVs Jorge Martín translating

Join / affiliate to the campaign!

Make a donation!

Hands Off Venezuela's financial resources are limited so we rely on our supporters around the world.  Please make a donation of any size towards building the campaign