British Communication Workers Union highlights Venezuela

The British Communication Workers Union recently published an article written by Rob Sewell, titled "Venezuela: The Revolution of the Poor". Hands Off Venezuela welcomes this move and we hereby reproduce the article as found on the CWU website.

The British Communication Workers Union recently published an article written by Rob Sewell, titled "Venezuela: The Revolution of the Poor". Hands Off Venezuela welcomes this move and we hereby reproduce the article as found on the CWU website.


09 January 2006

Venezuela: The Revolution of the Poor 

By Rob Sewell

Those fortunate enough to have seen the documentary “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” on Channel Four will have witnessed dramatic events unfolding in the small Latin American country of Venezuela.

The masses have regularly taken to the streets in support of their President, Hugo Chávez, a man pledged to emancipate the downtrodden of Venezuela. Workers have occupied factories under workers’ control (“cogestion”). Landless peasants have taken over landed estates, including that of Lord Vesty, the British millionaire who owned a chain of butchers. The world, it seems, has been turned on its head!

As always, the United States Administration is attempting to intervene to crush this popular revolution, described as a “revolution of the poor”, in order to protect its “national interests” south of the border. Washington was behind the failed military coup to topple the democratically elected government of Hugo Chávez in April 2002, graphically captured on the Channel Four documentary.

This was followed by a bosses’ lockout to bring the economy crashing down and a referendum campaign to oust the President, both of which failed. Now there is talk in the US of assassinating Chavez, seen as a cheaper alternative to full-scale invasion.

But the revolution is gaining increasing support. Venezuela is immensely rich in oil, the fifth largest exporter, but in the past this oil wealth only filled the pockets of the wealthy elite. Eighty percent lived in poverty. Now that is changing.

In the course of 2003, huge sums of oil money were redirected into social programmes. One million people have been taught to read and illiteracy abolished. With the help of Cuba, 20,000 doctors have been dispatched into the towns and villages to dispense free healthcare. Education has been opened up. Subsidies cheap food has been made available and work programmes established. Chávez has even offered - and is now supplying - cheap fuel during the winter to the poor of the United States, to the dismay of the Bush Administration, which regards it as a “communist ploy”.

Since the beginning of 2005, the revolution has lurched to the left, as millions take part in political life. Everywhere you go people are discussing politics. They are proud to show you the copies of the new Constitution, passed in 1999 by popular referendum, possibly the most democratic in the world, which allows all officials, including the President, to be recalled.

Speaking to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January 2005, Chávez put the idea of socialism on the agenda for the first time. He has repeated his socialist message over the last year at every opportunity and called for a nation-wide debate on the socialist alternative. “I am convinced”, stated Chávez, “and I think that this conviction will be for the rest of my life, that the path to a new, better world, is not capitalism, the path is socialism, that is the path: socialism, socialism.”

This radicalism has found a ready response, not least in the workers’ movement. The old Venezuelan trade unions, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, never embraced more than 12 percent of the workforce. They were very corrupt and linked to the old ruling party Acción Democrática. The body became widely discredited as a bosses’ union, with links to the employers’ federation, and funds coming from the US National Endowment for Democracy, an organ of the US Congress. The CTV leadership consistently opposed Chávez and supported the old bankrupt opposition, even going so far as to back the military coup in April 2002 and the bosses’ lockout. Carlos Orgeta, the leader of the CTV, went into exile after the coup failed, but has now been charged with treason and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

Elections were held within the CTV in October 2001, but were viewed as rigged. Under the circumstances, members split away to form a new democratic trade union federation, the National Union of Workers (the UNT). This marked a big step forward for the Venezuelan working class, who have become increasingly involved in the revolution, especially since the bosses’ lockout.

The aim of the lockout was to paralyse the oil industry, the hub of the Venezuelan economy, and force Chávez to resign. “Christmas without Chávez” was the opposition slogan. Directors, managers and specialists withdrew their labour, but only after programming computers to pay their salaries automatically! The initial disruption caused by the sabotage of the oil industry resulted in electricity blackouts, oil scarcity, and transport dislocation.

Ordinary workers rallied to break the lockout. Starting with the oil industry, they took charge of restarting production. The prerogatives of management fell into the hands of the workers for some 62 days, who proved in practise that industry could be run without bosses. A truly remarkable state of affairs!

The economic sabotage still continued with factories being closed down or deliberately run down. Workers were laid off and unemployment rose. Under these conditions, workers began to demand action from the government. But some did not wait, and began to occupy empty factories and restart production. Workers at an abandoned paper mill - called Venepal - after a two-year struggle had occupied their plant and demanded the state nationalise the company under workers’ control. In January 2005, Chávez nationalised Venepal under decree 3438. This was followed by further nationalisations.

The movement of occupied factories has spread throughout the continent. So much so that in October the first Latin American Gathering of Worker Recovered Factories was held in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Four hundred workers from 235 occupied factories were present to share their experiences, including workers’ control.

President Chávez was present at the 3,000-strong rally and spoke of his support for the UNT, but adding, “it should not and it should never be an appendix of the government, it must be autonomous and free.” When he announced further nationalisations, he was met with a standing ovation and shouts “asi, asi, asi es que se gobierna” (“this is the way to govern”).

This Revolution of the Poor is not yet finished. In many ways it has only just begun. From Venezuela, the message is clear: another world is possible. “We have shown how the workers can run the companies”, stated Ricardo Moreira, “and this means we can run society as well.”

For those wanting more information go to www.handsoffvenezuela.org


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