Belgian Socialist TUC decides to establish links with the UNT

Two union branches affiliated to the Hands off Venezuela campaign in the Belgian socialist union ABVV/FGTB succeeded in harnessing some important support for a motion of solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. This motion also asked for the recognition of the new trade union movement UNT.

Two union branches affiliated to the Hands off Venezuela campaign in the Belgian socialist union ABVV/FGTB succeeded in harnessing some important support for a motion of solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. This motion also asked for the recognition of the new trade union movement UNT.

Those union branches were the public service union (ACOD) in the province of Limburg and the Antwerp branch of the Algemene Centrale, a union organising workers especially in the oil, chemical and building industry.

By presenting this motion they wanted to open the discussion in the wider trade union movement on the developments in Latin America.  Not accidentally those unions presenting the motion have already an important record in launching international solidarity campaigns amongst their members (on Colombia, Cuba, Palestine, Iraq etc.). These unions are also amongst the most combative unions when it comes to defending the rights of their members, as they have shown in the two general strikes in October last year in their struggle against the reform of the early retirement system.

Rapidly they gained support for the motion. It was passed by the national union Algemene Centrale/Centrale Générale (the second biggest union within the ABVV/FGTB), and also by the provincial body of ABVV Limburg and the whole public service union ACOD in the Flemish region. Furthermore, the motion was widely circulated in other areas of the union in Brussels, Charleroi, Liège, and Verviers.

However, as soon as the motion reached the national level of the socialist union, some opposition started to appear. In their refusal to accept the motion some national union leaders repeated the slanders of the ICFTU associate in Venezuela and the CTV union which took an active part in the 2002 coup against Chavez. This meant that the motion did not get through the resolution commission and was not presented at the Congress. Instead a paragraph was added in the document on international trade union rights, explaining that the union was waiting for a new official report of the ICFTU. Meanwhile it expressed its support for the "Venezuelan comrades in their struggle for free and independent unionism". It was not explicitly mentioned who the Venezuelan comrades were but there was little doubt the authors of this paragraph were thinking of the CTV...

Despite this, the national leadership had to partially retreat. Eric Lambert spoke for the Algemene Centrale Antwerpen-Waasland at the ABVV/FGTB congress (read his intervention below). After this intervention, the national trade union secretary, Daniel Vandael, promised in his reply that the ABVV/FGTB was going to establish contact with the UNT in Venezuela. This is clearly an important opening in the union.

The chairman of the Antwerp region of the Algemene Centrale, Bruno Verlaeckt, commented afterwards: "Now we need a period of study and information on the situation in Venezuela in our union. This can of course not be limited to the upper ranks of the union but must reach the rank and file activists".

"We have already got an ongoing project of solidarity with Colombia. But if you say that Colombia is an example of what must not be done, you must also be able to tell people how we see things changing. Our basic concept of trade unionism is that we want the national resources of a country being used to fulfil the social needs of the people. This basic concept is being put into practice in Venezuela."

Building on this breakthrough, the Hands off Venezuela campaign has taken the initiative for a national day of solidarity in December. Different organisations have already expressed their support in organising this important event. Plans are also being worked out to have someone from the UNT to come to Belgium to meet the trade union activists and the solidarity movement.  

Hands off Venezuela - Belgium

Congress intervention of the Algemene Centrale Antwerpen-Waasland

The contribution below was put forward at the congress by Eric Lambert of the socialist union in the oil refinery Total in Antwerp. Three years ago Jorge Martin, the international secretary of HOV, explained to this trade union branch the real situation of the Venezuelan Revolution and the Labour Movement.

"At Algemene Centrale we have a project of solidarity with the Colombian union of oil workers. Our branch, the branch of Antwerpen-Waasland, deducts 5 eurocent each month from the subs of each member to finance the trade union school of Fensuargo, union of agricultural labourers. Thus we are very happy with the resolution on Colombia. Different shop stewards of our union have gone to Colombia, which is, as you all know, the most dangerous place on earth for trade unionists. We have spoken there with women whose husbands have been killed and with men whose brothers have been kidnapped, for the sole and only reason of being trade unionists. In Colombia things are simple: the natural resources are shared between the multinationals and the landowners. The population lives in poverty: more than 60 % of the population lives below the poverty line.

We have read in Trends a few weeks ago that Colombia is the last hope for the North American and European multinationals. In the last years we have witnessed the election, in different countries of Latin America, of leaders who propose another model: they want to use the wealth coming from the natural resources of the country to finance social programs, in other words, oil for education, housing and health. Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela, is literally the motor of this movement, who inspires this process but more importantly gives hope to many developing countries, as well as to the trade unionists in Colombia.

That is why we want to explicitly congratulate the government of Chavez for its social programs in this resolution. The United Nations has concluded that the alphabetisation programs have now taught the overwhelming majority of the Venezuelans to read and write. Thanks to the health programs millions of poor people have now access to medical aid in their neighbourhoods.

It is evident that Chavez is a thorn in the side of the ruling class both in Venezuela and in other countries. After the coup d'état against Chavez in 2002, the bosses' organisation of Venezuela even organised a strike against the regime with the aim of forcing Chavez to resign. The union which is recognised by the ICFTU and also by ABVV-FGTB supported this bosses' strike against Chavez. Thanks to the effort of many rank and file trade unionists many factories were kept open and continued to function under their own supervision. The lock-out was defeated.

That is why we ask to include in the resolution that ABVV-FGTB, just as the British TUC did, establish links with the UNT and we ask the international unions affiliated to the ICFTU to do the same. The UNT is a relatively new union in Venezuela which has split from the corrupt CTV but which already counts more than 1 million members who joined over the last three years.

To conclude, we ask the Congress to express in this resolution its indignation against the hostile declarations of the Bush government against the government of Venezuela and we condemn the intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

We remember with horror Pinochet who in Chile, with the help of the United States, suppressed the socialist project of president Allende in blood. Will we let this happen a second time?"

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