Dé Máirt, Lúnasa 03, 2010

Workers Lead the Way in Venezuela


In the latest sign of the increasing radicalism of the Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuela’s National Union of Workers [UNETE] has published a series of policy proposals calling for more workers’ control of industry.

Among the proposals are:

  • Full nationalisation of the banking and finance sectors
  • Nationalisation of foreign commerce related to essential foods
  • Readjustment of wages and prices to account for the cost of living and production
  • Creation of a ministry for workers’ control and social production, directed by workers’ councils
  • Introduction of a national maximum wage
  • Introduction of an industrial transformation law that will see idle companies and land transferred to workers’ or peasants’ councils
  • Demarcation of indigenous lands over the interests of transnational mining companies

UNETE is Venezuela’s primary union federation, having been formed in 2003 after the traditional federation CTV supported coup attempts against socialist president Hugo Chávez. Around 80 per cent of the country’s trade unions are affiliated to UNETE.

Early this month, president Chávez celebrated the first anniversary of the nationalisation of the Bank of Venezuela, which was bought over last year by the state and retained its entire workforce. It has also experienced tremendous growth since then.

Chávez said: “I don’t know if there has been any experience like it before in Venezuela of such growth. That means a lot of things. This throws out all of that information that is emitted from the laboratories of psychological warfare that global capitalism has set up in Venezuela… that manipulate and put fear in the minds of Venezuelans.”

The revolutionary government has also moved in recent months to challenge price speculation that has seen food costs skyrocket. Several supermarket chains have been nationalised and the government has opened its own restaurants.

At the opening of one such restaurant last week, commerce minister Richard Canan said: “The creation of these socialist arepa restaurants allows us to demonstrate to capitalist businesses that it is possible to have a venue where food can be sold at a fair price and not as a commodity, as it is under capitalist concepts.”

Chávex has spoken out against the bureaucracyThe UNETE federation’s national co-ordinators recognise the work that has been done by the Venezuelan government to improve the lives and conditions of the country’s workers and peasants, but argue that this work has been hampered by“bureaucratism, indolence, and corruption of functionaries who act like a fifth column... in the entire structure of a bourgeois state that refuses to die”.

The document produced by UNETE goes to the heart of a struggle that exists within Chávez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela [PSUV] and within the Bolivarian Revolution itself. It is a struggle between a rank and file who are anxious to see the socialist transformation of Venezuela and a bureaucracy who seem determined to prevent that from happening.

Government leaders are not blind to the problems facing their project and measures have been introduced to remove power from such bureaucrats and place it in the hands of the workers. In May, Chávez swore in the new directors for the 15 industrial companies that make up Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana [CVG], the directors having been elected by the workers before being ratified by the president.

The CVG forms an important part of Plan Socialista Guayana. This plan came into being following the nationalisation of the giant steel plant SIDOR in April 2008. The workers there began to discuss what a socialist company would look like and how it could be run democratically. They set up their own Bolivarian Workers’ University, in which 1,300 of them registered, where weekly classes are given in important technical skills as well as political theory.

Guayana is the largest of Venezuela’s eight administrative regions and is an important industrial centre. Around 80,000 people work in steel, aluminium, iron ore and mining companies, which have all been nationalised. In conjunction with the Ministry of Labour, workers from the CVG came up with Plan Socialista Guayana last year.

Plan Socialista Guayana is a 10-year programme to turn the CVG companies into worker-managed, socialist operations. Under this plan, the companies will greatly reduce the amount of raw materials being exported and workers will focus on supplying local and national projects for the benefit of the people. The introduction of the plan was hindered by management and local government figures until Chávez himself stepped in. That directors for these worker-run companies have now been appointed shows that the Plan is now well under way.

Other avenues have also opened in the attempt to combat the problems of bureaucracy. A prominent example is the community council. These councils were introduced with the intention of promoting the participatory democracy that is central to the Bolivarian Revolution, by having communities come together to address local problems and develop local projects. Over 30,000 community councils have been created all over Venezuela since their introduction in 2006.

This explosion has not been without problems, especially in terms of finance. The Venezuelan government passed an amendment to the community council law in May to clarify and strengthen the role of the councils in society. Councils are elected by assemblies that represent between 150 and 400 families in a particular area, and assemblies need 30 per cent attendance to form a quorum, ensuring a minimum level of community involvement in the affairs of the council.

In both urban and rural areas, numbers of community councils are coming together to form socialist communes. There are currently around 200 socialist communes being built at present, which are effectively creating a parallel, horizontal alternative to existing municipal authorities.

There are many people in Venezuela who are frustrated at the limited progress made over the past decade by their government, which continues to struggle against a hostile native bourgeoisie as well as a dangerous imperialist power to the north and its satellite state in Latin America, Colombia.

However, as long as the workers and peasants of Venezuela keep pushing towards the socialist transformation of society, the dream of the Bolivarian Revolution and of 21st century socialism will remain alive and well.

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