Hands Off Venezuela Hosts UNT leader’s visit to Britain

Ruben Linares of the National Coordinating Committee of the Venezuelan UNT visited Britain for a week, hosted by the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. The visit was part of the successful national conference of HOV, which he addressed. Ruben stands on the left of the union and was extremely pleased by the visit, which allowed him to meet with a large number of trade unionists, including representatives of the TUC. He addressed the National Executives of the rail union, the RMT, and the fire-fighters union, the FBU. He spoke to members of the international department of the TUC and also met Brendan Barber, its General Secretary and also addressed a meeting of Members of Parliament at the House of Commons, sponsored by John McDonnell MP.

Hands Off Venezuela has been in the forefront of promoting links between the Venezuelan and British trade unions. The campaign was instrumental in getting a motion on Venezuela debated and passed unanimously at the TUC. Ruben's visit helped to consolidate and deepen this important work.

Ruben was then invited to address the Executive Committee of the RMT at Unity House. He had already spoken at the National Conference of the union in July, and this visit to the Executive constituted a follow up. After a warm welcome from Bob Crow, the General Secretary, and Tony Donaghy, the President, Ruben outlined the political background to events in Venezuela. “For the working class”, stated Ruben, “the counter-revolution of April 2002 was of decisive importance. It shook up the whole of society. The coup was defeated by a spontaneous movement of the workers and oppressed. They were not called upon by any party to take to the streets. There was no leadership. It was simply spontaneous.”

Ruben Linarez shaking hands with Bob Crow
Ruben Linarez shaking hands with Bob Crow

Then the counter-revolution tried economic sabotage, a bosses' lockout. “But again the workers rose up to defend the revolution”, said Ruben. “The attack centred on Pdvsa, the oil company, as it was the life-line of the country. The managers sabotaged production. But the workers responded by restarting the refineries without the bosses. In other words”, said Ruben, “the workers didn't need the bosses. We could run the industry without them”, a point that went down well amongst members of the Executive, who nodded in agreement.

Ruben explained that workers' control of the oil industry, the key sector in the economy, lasted some 65 days. It demonstrated the ability and power of the working class.

Nevertheless, Ruben also gave an honest appraisal of the revolution and pointed to the dangers of bureaucratism. “We need to fight against this”, he said. “However, the prospect opening up was that of a socialist revolution in Venezuela.”

After some interesting questions, ranging from the solidarity work to workers' cooperatives, Ruben summed up the discussion on an optimistic note. “Within the next few years, we will hold a referendum about the character of the revolution. From which we will emerge as the 'Bolivarian Socialist Republic of Venezuela'.”

Ruben then visited the TUC at Congress House to discuss with representatives from the international department. The subjects discussed dealt with the ILO deliberations on Venezuela and the attempts of the CTV, the old corrupt unions, and the employers to attack Venezuela over trade union freedoms. The issue of the official TUC delegation to Venezuela in February was also discussed, as well as the UNT conference and elections also due in the New Year. Ruben also managed to meet briefly with Brendan Barber, the General Secretary of the TUC, who welcomed closer links between both countries.

Brendan Barber
Ruben Linares with Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC

After this, Ruben visited the House of Commons where John McDonnell MP had arranged a meeting with MPs. He outlined the history of the Venezuelan revolution beginning with the Caracazo in February 1989, which led to government repression and the loss of some 5,000 lives. “It was the first expression of anger against the IMF-imposed policies that existed below the surface”, explained Ruben. He dealt with the Chavez military rebellion “for justice” in 1992, which involved many young officers disgusted by the regime. Finally, Chavez was elected president in 1998 with a landslide victory and a new constitution was adopted. The old parties, based on the oligarchy, were discredited.

Ruben outlined events surrounding the 2002 coup and lockout. The masses had changed everything. Again, it was a spontaneous movement from below. It began the real Bolivarian Revolution. “We have been squeezed by the World Bank and the multinationals, but now we are taking to the road of socialism”, he said. “This is our socialism of the 21st century.”

MPs pledged to defend the Venezuelan revolution by putting pressure on the Labour government. The government is opposed to the illegal blockade of Cuba, it must be made to do the same for Venezuela, stated a number of MPs. A group of MPs were to meet with a Foreign Office Minister, who would raise the question of Venezuela.


Lastly, Ruben was taken to Kingston Upon Thames to visit the headquarters of the Fire Brigades Union. Here he spoke to the Executive Committee of the FBU. Ruben again outlined the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution and placed the revolution in the context of socialism. Ruben explained the movement of factory occupations and the conference which had taken place a few weeks earlier. “With these bankruptcies, which were instigated by multinationals in Britain, the workers had to act”, he said. The whole country is debating socialism everyday. “The people have never read Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky or Rosa Luxemburg”, said Ruben, “many have not finished primary education, but we are debating socialism and revolution.” Again he believed that in the near future the country will call itself the Socialist Republic of Venezuela and this would open up a new chapter for the working class of Latin America.

In his conclusion Ruben attacked Thatcher for her privatisation programme, which is being continued by Tony Blair, who he described as a “bourgeois infiltrator in the labour movement”. Once again, everyone present visibly appreciated this remark. Ruben was warmly thanked by Ruth Winters, the President, and Matt Wrack, the General Secretary, and expressed the desire of the union to build links with their sister unions in Venezuela.

Ruben with MPs
Ruben with some MPs at the House of Commons

All in all, it was an extremely successful visit by the representative of the UNT. The Hands Off Venezuela campaign has to step up its work to publicise what is taking place in Venezuela. The organising of speaking tours of leading trade unionists from Venezuela is an important aspect of this solidarity work. Ruben Linares publicly thanked the HOV campaign for is contribution and pledged to help the campaign in whatever way he could.

December 8, 2005



Pictures above: scenes from FBU EC



Pictures above: scenes from RMT EC

Simon Steyne, TUC International Department, with Ruben

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