Hands off Venezuela in the Midlands - Leicester

On Thursday November 24th, 190 members of the Leicester Revenue Network Branch PCS Union held their Autumnal General Meeting. In a two-hour meeting with a very full agenda the guest speaker was Darrall Cozens, the Midlands representative of HoV. On Thursday November 24th, 190 members of the Leicester Revenue Network Branch PCS Union held their Autumnal General Meeting. In a two-hour meeting with a very full agenda the guest speaker was Darrall Cozens, the Midlands representative of HoV.

For many of the trade unionists in attendance this seemed to have been the first time that they had heard of what was happening in Venezuela. This is not surprising, as Darrall explained, given that there has been a systematic campaign in the UK media to ignore or distort the revolutionary process that is underway.

Introducing the subject Darrall began with the recent demonstration in Mar del Plata, Argentina, where Chavez and Maradonna (The hand of God) addressed a demonstration of 40,000 who were protesting against the policies of neo-liberalism that Bush and US Imperialism were trying to force on the governments of Latin American countries. Some of them, such as that of Vicente Fox in Mexico, are ardent advocates of such an agreement. Yet, as Darrall pointed out, a similar pact that already exists between Canada, the USA and Mexico, had led to the creation of very large assembly plants, maquiladoras, outside Mexican cities on the US/Mexican border that had attracted young workers from all over Mexico. This herding together of young workers, devoid of family or community support, had left many young female workers very vulnerable to attack and dozens of them had been murdered and dumped in the deserts that surround the towns. This is the true meaning of neo-liberalism – families and communities destroyed, long hours on low pay in unprotected plants, as well as poverty. According to the UN some 90 million people in Latin America exist on less than $1 per day.

It is against this policy that Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian movement are fighting, not only inside Venezuela but also by trying to set up an alternative trading agreement between LA countries built on mutual cooperation and mutual benefit.

Within Venezuela, as Darrall explained, the oligarchy, the umbrella name for the rich and powerful, had already made three major attempts to stop Chavez – the attempted coup of April 2002, the oil lockout of December 2002/January 2003 and the recall referendum of August 2004, a right of recall guaranteed by the Bolivarian Constitution approved in 1999 by 70% of the electorate. Despite beating the opposition and winning nine electoral contests since 1998, the US still calls the Bolivarian government an “elected dictatorship”.

The social base for the revolution was explained in detail as the government used oil revenues to develop social policies in health, education, food and housing through the various “misiones”. In addition land distribution, the taking over under differing forms of workers’ control of companies that had closed down or were being run inefficiently by their previous owners, had also cemented support for Hugo Chavez, who embodies the aspirations of the jobless, landless and marginalised sections of society. Some 53% of the working population work in the informal sector of the economy. In 1998, the year that Chavez was first elected, some 40% of Venezuelans lived in “critical poverty” and some 80% lived on the minimum wage or less. Between 1989 and 1995 real purchasing power had fallen by 35% and was then at the level of the mid 1950s. In 1997 some 67% of the poor lived on less than $2 per day and 33% on less than $1 per day. It was these sections of society that were benefiting most from the Bolivarian social reforms.

However, as Darrall explained, the oligarchy, still in control of the main economic levers of society, was biding its time before trying to overthrow Chavez and his government. And the words of the US televangelist, Pat Robertson, where in August of this year he called for the assassination of Chavez, highlights the dangers to the revolution. The US wants rid of Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution as they have become a beacon of hope to the poor of the continent and in Venezuela itself millions of ordinary people have woken up to political life – had entered the stage of history.

The question was posed to the trade unionists attending the meeting. Why should the events of a distant country in Latin America be of concern to them? As trade unionists, the gains of workers everywhere are gains for us in our fight – and defeat for others are also our defeat. When workers make gains the balance of power in the fight against capital is favourable to us. Defeat is unfavourable. We have a duty to support and defend the gains of the revolutionary process in Venezuela and become involved in the struggle taking place.

How can that be done? Firstly, by organising meetings like this one to counter the lies and distortion of the capitalist media. Secondly, by building links with the UNT in a concrete manner. Next, by reading and understanding the issues involved. Then, by supporting the revolution, but not uncritically. Trade unionists and socialists have a duty to engage in fraternal discussions with our counterparts in Venezuela so that our experiences and ideas can be shared in order to ensure the success of the revolution and not to repeat the mistakes of the past, such as in Chile in September 1973. Hugo Chavez himself has called for an open and frank discussion on what is meant by socialism in the XXIst century. Chavez has stated that the capitalist road leads to hell. There is no third way between capitalism and socialism. The answer is socialism, but of what type? This is the debate we need to be involved in. Finally, trade unionists should also consider going to Venezuela on holiday to see for themselves what is happening.

Despite the enthusiasm for learning more about Venezuela, as demonstrated by the questions and the discussion, the meeting was not able to affiliate to the HoV campaign, nor able to send delegates to the conference on December 3rd. These were decisions that had to be taken at a national level within the union.

The PCSU branch has to be congratulated for allowing time in a busy agenda to discuss the issues of the revolution underway in Venezuela. As the meeting closed and people filed out, a bucket collection was held for the HoV and £62.50 was collected. Copies of the pamphlet “The ABC of the Venezuelan Revolution” were also sold with one member buying a copy for £5!

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