Labour & Trade Union News

On the occasion of the National Conference of UNISON (public sector workers union) the Hands Off Venezuela and the Colombia Solidarity Campaign supporters in UNISON organised a meeting on the evening of June 22 to catch the attention of the delegates attending the conference of the biggest trade union in Britain. The appeal of the meeting went beyond the UNISON conference and there were several students from the University of Glasgow, some Labour party members as well as Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) members who were responsible for organising the meeting.

Andy Higginbottom, Colombia Solidarity Campaign Secretary, opened the meeting. Andy explained the relationship between paramilitaries, government and multinational companies in Colombia who are right behind the onslaught that the social and trade union movement has suffered over 20 years. This repression has worsened since Uribe Velez was elected as president of Colombia in 2003. Andy illustrated the level of collaboration of the Colombian army and the paramilitaries by saying that the same soldiers wear the armbands of the Colombian army and the AUC (the main far right paramilitary group), depending of the actions they are going to execute. He also presented the Coca-Cola boycott as a tactic to denounce the violence that this company is employing against their workers in Colombia.

Ramon Samblas, Hands Off Venezuela spokesperson, followed on by explaining the improvements that the Venezuelan Revolution has brought about. It was really inspiring to hear that four new universities had opened their door with the aim of providing education to these layers in society that had never had this chance before.

“But all of that [the social programmes on housing, education and healthcare] has not been free from harassment and attacks from the US administration and the Venezuelan oligarchy. They can see that their power is slipping through their fingers and they have organised reactionary attempts to defeat this movement,” Ramon said to the audience. He went on explaining the different attacks on the part of US imperialism against Venezuela: coup d’etats, lock-outs, terrorism, diplomatic harassment, amongst other. The HOV activist reported on the experiences of workers’ co-management and finished up his contribution explaining the need for “going all the way through”, completing the process and install socialism in the country. The debate that Hugo Chavez has sparked about the need of the Venezuelan Revolution to follow a socialist path will help for sure.

Rosie Kane, SSP Member of the Scottish Parliament reported on her trip to Cuba where she had the chance to meet Fidel Castro. The MSP was invited to Cuba to attend an international event where people from all over Latin America and beyond denounced the crimes of imperialism. During three days, hundreds of people gave accounts of the abuse and violence they had suffered because of the terrorist methods of US imperialism. All these accounts were broadcast by Cuban TV which reaches the neighbouring islands and some Latin American countries. While in Cuba, Rosie spoke on Western hypocrisy and the need of tackling it together with the system that sustains it, capitalism. In her contribution, she despised British media because of the lack of interest in the struggle of the Cuban people against US imperialism. She illustrated this with an anecdote that happened to her the day after she came back from Cuba. A Guardian journalist phoned her and asked her, “What do you think about the architecture of Scottish Parliament building?” Her answer was “For Christ’s sake, I have met the leader of the Cuban Revolution and you are asking me about the Scottish Parliament Building!” She finished her contribution by saying that we have to support all the revolutionary movements that are taking in Latin America and the groups that are developing solidarity with these movements from Britain.

When the main speaker, Colombian trade unionist Juan Carlos Galvis started his speech there were 80 people packed in the room. Extra chairs had to be brought in to accommodate everybody. Some people had to stay outside because there was not enough space for them all. Juan Carlos spoke on behalf of SINALTRAINAL (Colombian beverages and food workers union) about the actions that the trade union had taken at a worldwide level against the abuse and violence that his trade union had suffered by Coca-Cola. Juan Carlos has been working for this company for 16 years.

He explained how SINALTRAINAL had opened four court cases against this company in the United States with the help of one of the US trade union that organise workers in the food and beverages industry. Horrifying examples were given of the level of violence against them by Coca-Cola altogether with the Colombian paramilitaries. The only “crime” they had committed was to organise workers and stand up for their rights. Amongst the methods used is the hiring of paramilitaries to kidnap, threaten and assassinate his trade union colleagues and the accusations of “rebellion”. In Colombia this is the first step to be accused of colluding with the guerrilla groups to “justify” the assassination of trade union, student or peasant activists. Jorge Humberto Bernal is one of Juan Carlos comrades. He was kidnapped by the paramilitaries in Cucuta. He was abducted, blindfolded and thrown into the back of a van. After he was driven around the city of Cucuta for 45 minutes, he was brought to a room where he was shown pictures of a SINALTRAINAL protest outside Coca-Cola bottling plant. He was told that if SINALTRAINAL carried out more protests, he and his comrades would be killed. Juan Carlos himself had suffered the threats of the paramilitaries.

The Colombian brother also explained the origins of the World campaign against Coke. After the company refused to even respond a document with basic demands to stop the violence against their own workforce SINALTRAINAL decided to launch a worldwide boycott against Coca-Cola in July 2003. After two years, the boycott has supporters in Britain, Ireland, Spain, France, Switzerland, US, Canada, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela and many more countries. Juan Carlos finished his speech vowing to fight against multinationals and therefore against capitalist globalisation. His speech was welcome with a standing ovation. Juan Carlos replied saying that the applause must go to all these that have shown solidarity with his Colombian fellow trade unionists.

A lively debate developed with some UNISON delegates asking other UNISON delegates to support the Hands Off Venezuela motion due to be debated at the Conference the very next day. Others asked for practical ways to implement the boycott and the question what to do to stop imperialist intervention against Cuba and Venezuela was raised. There were also people from the audience that highlighted the revolutionary movements in Bolivia and Ecuador. Above all, there was a feeling in the audience to go out and build solidarity with the movements that will expel imperialism from the continent and build a socialist society.

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On Monday, June 20th the Edmonton and District Labour Council (EDLC) set an exciting example for the Canadian Labour movement, donating $500 to build the Hands Off Venezuela campaign in Alberta and Canada. Following a brief presentation by young representatives of the campaign, a motion was passed to affiliate to Hands Off Venezuela and encourage all of their affiliated union locals to do the same. Significantly, they have offered to distribute our affiliation materials to their mailing list.

There has been much discussion recently in the Canadian Labour movement, about the Bolivarian Revolution and the importance of defending it. At the EDLC meeting on Monday evening, discussion focused on connecting the struggles of Venezuelan workers to the struggles of workers in Alberta and Canada – since they are the same struggles, against privatization, for quality healthcare and education, and against domination by American multinationals. At the regional level, the Alberta Federation of Labour Convention passed a resolution in May, calling for the support of the progressive reforms being put forward by Chavez, the denunciation of foreign aggression against Venezuela, and for solidarity to be established between the Canadian labour movement and the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela. Many of the EDLC meeting delegates had recently returned from the Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress, which took place last week in Montreal, and at which there was an educational focus on Venezuela and extensive discussion urging affiliates to follow events and show their support. This recent discussion and the Edmonton and District Labour Council’s affiliation signal an increasing awareness and sense of urgency. This is clearly just the beginning for the Canadian campaign.

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[Speech made at a Labor Assembly in Geneva, June 12, 2005]

Brothers, Sisters, Friends and Comrades in the unending struggle for the rights of workers, equality, peace and democracy,

Thank you for this great honor of speaking here today with such a working class international assembly. I come to you with letters of representation from my own union, Plumbers and Fitters Local 393 in San Jose, California, the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council in San Jose, and the San Francisco Labor Council. I am pleased beyond words to have been invited to participate here by leaders of the Union Nacional de Trabajadores de Venezuela (UNT) (Venezuelas’ National Workers Union) - to join them in their struggle against the complaint raised by the joint voice of FEDECAMARAS, the Federation of Chambers of Commerce in Venezuela and the CTV, that nation’s old labor federation. Their boss-union collaboration is a marriage that could never be heaven blessed and can only be consummated in a warmer, subterranean climate.

I am Vice President of a 2500 member local union of pipe trades workers. I’m a plumber by trade, retired after thirty eight years as a rank-and-file worker in construction. I’m not a scholar. I have no university degrees, but for many years I have and worked on the issue of AFL-CIO intervention in the political and trade union life of sovereign nations, with most attention to the effect on workers and their organizations in Latin America. Whatever other factors may be involved, the FEDECAMARAS-CTV collusion against the UNT and the Bolivarian Republic, led President Hugo Chavez, is an ugly outgrowth of intervention by ACILS, the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity subsidized by the Bush administration, whose policy, in Venezuela, it parallels.
For over fifty years the interventionist work of the AFL-CIO has been financed by agencies of the U.S. Government. Among those agencies are the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State, the Department of Labor, the U.S. Agency for International Development and some other agencies. In recent years, most ACILS funding comes from U.S. taxpayers through NED, the National Endowment for Democracy. Formerly, Latin American labor intervention operations were manipulated by AIFLD, the American Institute for Free Labor Development, which worked hand-in-hand with ORIT, the InterAmerican Regional Labor Organization. Three other AFL-CIO “institutes” operated on other continents. AIFLD operations, strengthened sellout unions and attacked militant unions, paving the way for transnational corporate globalization and influencing regime changes with disastrous results for workers.

An AFL operative, Serafino Romualdi, was a founder of ORIT. His clandestine work in Guatemala, fifty one years ago, was pivotal in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. It resulted, through ensuing decades, in the deaths of uncounted tens of thousands of workers. Romualdi later set up AIFLD, whose work under his protege, William C. Doherty Jr., was critical to the Pinochet putch against democracy in Chile, unleashing terror, torture and death for seventeen years. Over three thousand lives were taken. I fear that US. government manipulations in Venezuela duplicate its work in Chile in 1973.

These issues have been on my mind many years. It began in 1973 when I learned that the AFL-CIO was part of what happened to democracy in Chile. I was outraged - simply outraged. As the facts came clear, I saw that our Federation’s role was fundamental to that coup. It could not have happened without us! In my city, we organized and welcomed hundreds of Chileans from Pinochet concentration camps. They had suffered torture and lost husbands, wives, children and lovers - their lives torn asunder. I told them though their tears that when the U.S. workers learn the grief our AFL-CIO collaboration causes, we would end that treason to the workers and to what we stand for. We’re still working on it and our California resolution against such collaboration may strike a blow at the July AFL-CIO convention.

I mention this hsitory because AIFLD had the same boss-labor collaboration as we see with FEDECAMARAS and the CTV. Bosses from the biggest U.S. corporations with interests in Latin America sat on AIFLD’s Board of Directors. Representatives of the CTV, already a client of AIFLD in the sixties, sat on that same Board with the bosses. A CIA whistle blower identified both Romualdi and Doherty as CIA agents who funneled U.S. federal money into their so-called “solidarity” operations. Of AIFLD’s work, Doherty said: “Our collaboration (with business) takes the form of trying to make the investment climate more attractive and inviting.”

Though discussion of this history has never been welcome in the AFL-CIO, delegates to the 2004 Convention of the California Labor Federation, representing 2.4 million workers demanded unanimously that the AFL-CIO “fully account for what was done in Chile and Venezuela and other countries where similar roles may have been played in our name, and to describe, country by country, exactly what activities it may still be engaged in abroad with funds paid by government agencies and renounce any such ties that could compromise our authentic credibility and the trust of workers here and abroad and that would make us paid agents of government or of the forces of corporate economic globalization.”

Full accountability will be difficult. For example, they’ve ransacked the Chile file. In 1975 Luis Figueroa, head of Chile’s Labor Federation, blamed AIFLD for “fourteen years of treason” in Chile. The record of that fourteen years in the AFL-CIO archives amounts to twenty-four pages of disparate letters and notes.

We had new hope when John Sweeney became AFL-CIO President in 1995. Stanley Gacek, of his International Affairs Department, flatly told us in San Francisco on November 15, 1997 that AFL-CIO work abroad “does not follow a corporate or government agenda.” Today AIFLD and the other institutes are gone, but ACILS still relies on the Bush administration, receiving its cash mostly through NED, the National Endowment for Democracy, for its work, in 40 countriues, including Venezuela. Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the law establishing NED admitted in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” (“Rogue State” Bill Blum)

It’s ironic that the word “Solidarity” is in ACILS’ name. Our South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council says: “We believe that international labor solidarity must come from the heart of the workers in one country to the heart of workers in another country - a...reciprocal relationship.” There’s no solidarity when labor becomes a go-between, laundering funds and resources from the Bush administration and passing them to groups abroad. That role is more appropriate for government agents - agents of empire.

In Venezuela, ACILS reflects the policies of George W. Bush and his union busting neoconservative cronies. My union says it is dishonest that “ACILS received a 2002 grant of $116,001, awarded by the NED under 'the authority contained in P.L. 98-164, as amended...and Grant No. S-L MAOM-02-H-0054 between the United States Department of State and the National Endowment for Democracy..,’ part of $703,927 that had been granted by NED to ACILS between 1997 and 2002 for ACILS’ work in Venezuela. During 2001 NED granted $154,377 to ACILS as part of a massive increase in NED funding that year to $877,000 for activities which coincide directly with the efforts of the Bush administration leading toward the April 11, 2002 coup in oil rich Venezuela”

It shames us that: “according to ACILS’ VENEZUELA: QUARTERLY REPORT 2001-045 January to March 2002, 'The CTV and FEDECAMARAS...held a national conference on March 5...to identify common objectives as well as areas of cooperation...the culminating event of some two months of meetings and planning...during which the two organizations announced a Œnational accord’...The joint action further established the CTV and FEDECAMARAS as the flagship organizations leading the growing opposition to the Chavez government’” - THIRTY SIX DAYS PRIOR TO THE APRIL 11, 2002 COUP!

My union is offended that ACILS boasts that they “helped to 'support the event in planning stages, organizing the initial meetings with...FEDECAMARAS... Solidarity Center (ACILS) provided assistance for the five regional preparatory meetings ...held between January 22nd and March 1st... The March 5 national conference was financed primarily by counterpart funds,’” ACILS money. Our Labor Council wants to know why “ACILS...is operating...as part of the Bush administration’s drive for regime change in Venezuela, a replay of the Nixon administration’s bloody collusion in crimes in Chile over 30 years ago.”

With this background, there should be no surprise when we learn that AFL-CIO representatives use their influence, in line with the Bush strategy, to promote the false complaint of FEDECAMARAS and their historic ally, the CTV, which went fifty years without a democratic election of leadership.

Bush strategy is to isolate, demonize and destroy the government of Hugo Chavez . They supported and lost the coup, the oil lockout, the Referendum. Now they claim denial of workers' rights. They do what they can to undercut the support given the Chavez government by the Venezuelan working class, led by the UNT. It is the same pattern cut by Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and AIFLD in Chile.

FEDECAMARAS’ complaint diverts attention from its criminal and treasonous role in shutting down the oil industry and in the aborted 2002 coup d’etat against an administration which has won the overwhelming support of the people through six faultlessly democratic elections. FEDECAMARAS must hunger to regain lost control of oil and government favors, and CTV must grieve its lost ability to broker the needs of the workers to management and government.

We are heartened that their complaint failed at the March ILO meeting and was postponed. After March, ACILS worked to squeeze the following words from ORIT: "The Congress of CIOSL/ORIT reaffirms its concerns with the complaint against the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela insofar as its practices violate trade union freedoms.” The fact that ORIT’s presiding officer is a Vice President of the AFL-CIO did not hamper ACIL’s efforts to elicit ORIT’s support for the FEDECAMARAS-CTV complaint. Another fact: the President of ORIT along with John Sweeney and various top officers of the AFL-CIO and ACILS take their place in the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on Labor Diplomacy (ACLD). The “Labor Diplomacy” leader is Tom Donahue, formerly President of the AFL-CIO. The role of the State Department and its committees is solely support of the Bush foreign policy - a collaboration as unjustifiable as ORIT’s backup to the FEDECAMARAS’ attack.

My local union twice sent me to Colombia, where I saw our brothers and sisters going about their daily union business in the face of death threats. In 2004 the ILO reported 186 murdered Colombian union leaders. They were assassinated with impunity by paramilitary death squads that work hand-in-glove with the military which receives billions from Bush. I saw desperate fear in the eyes of a Coca Cola worker when he learned his family was menaced by paramilitaries in Bogota. I consoled a woman in Barrancabermeja whose husband, son and son-in-law were cut down in a soccer field massacre a block from her home. A poster on her wall said “make love to fear.” I interviewed a television union representative in Bogota who lost six members of his family.

I have also been part of a solidarity delegation to Caracas and mixed among the members of the UNT to find the most exuberant rank-and-file expressions of democracy and loyalty to unionism that I have ever encountered. Last May Day proved one difference between the UNT and the CTV. While only a few hundred people attended the CTV event, joining in jubilant celebration of International Workers’ Day, the Chicago Martyrs, their own Federation and the Bolivarian Revolution.

The explosion of democracy I witnessed in Venezuela the day of the Referendum last August resonates worldwide. It is an insult to reason that the ILO even considers disciplining Venezuela with a Commission of Inquiry, while the need for ILO attention cries out in bleeding pain from our sisters and brothers in Colombia.

And in the San Francisco Labor Council AFL-CIO, where the delegates meet, with calloused hands and in sweaty work clothes , unlike the calloused souls and fine suits of the AFL-CIO’s foreign service staff, the workers proudly declare that their Council:
“...Opposes the complaint initiated by...FEDECAMARAS...This Complaint has been endorsed and supported by employers' associations in 23 countries, including the United States...Convening of an ILO Commission of Inquiry is designed to undermine the very progress of the labor movement within present-day Venezuela.

“Today in Venezuela, workers are participating in a democratic, transparent and inclusive process to strengthen the organization of labor groups. The Venezuelan Constitution protects a worker's right to organize, the freedom of association and collective bargaining.

'We recognize and respect the right of Venezuelan workers to determine their own processes and procedures in accordance with the ILO mission to promote social justice, human and labor rights.'

The workers in San Francisco note that: “the California Federation of Labor adopted a resolution opposing NED funding by the national AFL-CIO for the purpose of promoting U.S. government policy in Venezuela. Opposition to the ILO Commission of Inquiry on Venezuela by the U.S. labor movement is part of the same struggle to promote a new foreign policy by labor that is independent from U.S. State Department objectives.”

My brothers and sisters, this struggle is not just for Venezuela. The Bush strategy advanced by FEDECAMARAS and the CTV could lead to a new Chile,new Iraq - or worse. It is part of a struggle for our own peace and security and the rights of workers and our families everywhere. When they touch Venezuela, they touch us all.

This false complaint deserves full hearted denunciation by workers and unions worldwide.


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Yet another move forward has been made in the trade union movement in support of the
Bolivarian revolution.

A motion calling on trade unionists to support and promote the reforms in Venezuela, was agreed at the Trades Union Councils’ Conference Liverpool (UK) 10-12 June 2005.

In addition to the unanimous support by the Trades Union Councils across the country, numerous copies of the DVD The Revolution Will Not Be Televised were distributed. This has proven to be one of the most effective tools at proving the lies and corruption of the opposition.

Yvonne Washbourne moved the motion on behalf of the West Midlands CATUC and informed the delegates of the significant reforms made in Venezuela and the illegal pressure of the US.

Nick Kelleher W-Ton TUC spoke in support of the motion and urged all people to raise the issue within their international committees and co-ordinate work through the VSUK. A full copy of the motion is available on Venezuelasolidarity.org.uk and the action points included

1) Express its solidarity to the trade unionists of the UNT.

2) Support the Venezuelan people in their effort to extend social and economic freedom.

3) Support and promote Solidarity campaigns within Britain that support the popular reforms.

4) Encourage solidarity activities to be co-ordinated via the newly established Venezuela Solidarity Campaign at venezuelasolidarity.org.uk.

Andy Goodall of VSUK stated: “At this moment when there is a real threat of assassination by the fascist and US supported big business of president Chavez. It is critical that workers in Venezuela are supported worldwide and we put pressure on our national governments to resist illegal US interference. Anybody interested in finding out more about the campaign then visit Venezuelasolidarity.org.uk.

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On his way back from the International Labour Organisation Conference, Orlando Chirino, National Coordinator of Venezuela's National Workers Union (UNT) will be speaking at a meeting in London.

The UNT was founded in August 2003 as the response of democratic trade unionists in Venezuela to the fact that the unelected and illegitimate leadership of the CTV had supported and participated in the military coup in April 2002 and the bosses lock out in December 2002.

The UNT has now became the main trade union organisation in Venezuela and is actively participating in the struggle for workers' control and co-management that is taking place in state owned companies like Alcasa and Cadafe and recently nationalised ones like Venepal and CNV.

With decades of experience in the trade union movement, especially in the hard struggles of the textile workers, Chirino became one of the main trade union leaders in the industrial state of Carabobo, participated in the formation of more than 80 different unions and was a member of the regional trade union centre Fetracarabobo. He played a key role in the struggle against the coup in April 2002, and the bosses lock out of December 2002. He lead the foundation of the UNT in his capacity as a leader of the Bolivarian Workers' Force.

Other speakers at the meeting are still to be confirmed, but with growing interest in the British trade union movement about the situation of the trade unions in Venezuela this is a unique chance to come and discuss.

June 15th
University of London Union
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HY
(nearest tube stations: Russel Sq, Goodge St, Warren St)
see map


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