Banners read, “Neither Bureaucracy nor Capitalism, Worker Control” and
“Socialism is Won Fighting.” (Source: VA.com)
By Juan Reardon
Thousands of Venezuelan workers took to the streets of Caracas on Tuesday, November 9th, demanding greater participation in their country’s nascent socialist economy.
Carrying banners that read, “Neither Capital nor Bureaucrats – More Socialism and More Revolution,” thousands of workers, union representatives, members of leftist political parties and other popular organizations took their demands to the Ministry of Communes and Social Protection, the National Assembly and the offices of the Vice Presidency.
Venezuela’s National Workers’ Union (UNETE), the organizers of the demonstration, called for the immediate passing of a new and radical labor law, the resolution of pending collective labor contracts, and the empowerment of workers within their unions, especially at worksites that now belong to the network of recently nationalized industries.
A Revolutionary Labor Law
Marcela Maspero, UNETE’s National Coordinator, led demonstrators in their demands for a new and revolutionary labor law. This new law, according to Maspero, “is a vital tool for the Venezuelan working class to overcome longstanding and ongoing exploitation at the workplace.”
Maspero, who in the year 2000 helped coordinate the pro-Chávez Bolivarian Workers Force, also played an important role in the formation of UNETE after Venezuela’s traditional Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) coordinated a series of general strikes against the Chávez government alongside the country’s largest chamber of commerce, Fedecamaras. UNETE was officially born in May, 2003.
“The objective [of the march] is to ensure that the National Assembly approve the new labor law, meant to bring dignity to our relations of production and place in the hands of Venezuela’s workers the direction of this revolutionary process,” affirmed Maspero.
Some of the most popular components of the proposed labor law discussed during the march include: abolishing the so-called “subcontracted worker” position, requiring employers – both public and private – to incorporate all workers as fixed, benefit-assured workers; reducing the legal workday from eight to six hours, allotting paid time for workers’ councils as well as political education; and the establishing of a national fund for worker stability that would include payments to thousands of workers denied their legal rights by former employers before and during the arrival of the Bolivarian Revolution.
UNETE’s National Coordinator described worker’s frustration with the National Assembly, which has been debating the law for years.
“Beginning with the first plans for a new labor law made back in 2003, we passed on to a second discussion in which thousands of proposals were developed by workers themselves. But the responses we’ve received from the authorities are disappointing, authorities that argue they need to seek consensus without seeking that consensus with the workers – who are the most affected by this legislation,” Maspero explained.
Maspero also affirmed that the Venezuelan working class needs the National Assembly to approve this law by the end of this year, avoiding the roadblocks which will likely be put in to place by the incoming National Assembly and its growing anti-Chavez minority.
According to Pedro Eusse, coordinating member of UNETE and member of the leftist “Cruz Villegas” Workers’ Class Current, “The new labor law must severely punish those employers, both public and private, who violate worker’s rights.”
“The right to work for all must be guaranteed in the new law, along with the right to dignified and adequate working conditions for workers with disabilities, young people now joining the workforce and others…” said Eusse.
“The new law should also have a gender perspective, adopting norms that sanction acts of discrimination against women, developing rules for a just maternity and paternity leave, expanding the time allotted for rest during childbearing and after childbirth, with guarantees in salaries, a return to their workplace in the same function they held before their time off, etc.,” he added.
Also pending approval by the National Assembly is a radical component of the new labor law known as the Special Law for Socialist Workers Councils, proposed in 2007 by the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV). This law would place decision-making authority of all things productive, political, administrative and socio-cultural in the hands of socialist workers councils in any and all public, private and mixed-capital workplaces.
These councils would not replace existing unions or their organizational structures. Instead, they are intended to consolidate worker control in every workplace in which organized workers currently lack the legal mechanisms to exercise their collective will.
Other demands made by marchers include an increase in salaries across the board – so as to keep up with inflation – further nationalizations in a number of industries that face constant workplace conflicts, the canceling of debts the government holds with public employees in the health and culture departments as well as the renegotiation by the government of collective bargaining agreements with public sector employees.
Socialism in Theory, Socialism in Practice
As a result of recent nationalizations by the Chávez government and ongoing grassroots efforts by radical workers and their political parties, many of the workers at Tuesday’s march demanded the Bolivarian Revolution go beyond the simple passing of a new labor law. Instead, many called for a transition from what they called a “socialism in theory and in discourse” to a socialism in practice.
“We’d like to see our company nationalized, socialized,” said Vicente Ponte Moreno, elected by his co-workers to prevent workplace injuries at Empresa Ceramica del Tuy, a privately-owned ceramic company in the state of Miranda.
“We know the company well, we know how to run it and we know that we can run it, but we need the government to support our demands,” Moreno affirmed.
Juan Paiva, UNETE’s Regional Coordinator for the metropolitan Caracas and Miranda state, reiterated Moreno’s assertions.
“We’ve been lied to for years. Administrators, technicians, academics, the news media, they all told us we wouldn’t be able to manage companies, industries, production,” said Paiva.
“Look at us now – supermarkets, the steel and aluminum industries, glass, paper, petroleum. With this government Venezuela’s workers finally have the opportunity to take power,” concluded Paiva.
“The working class is with you Chávez, but we want to make the decisions when it relates to working class issues,” affirmed UNETE’s Maspero.
As was reported by Venezuelanalysis.com on October 28, workers from state-owned companies have also demanded greater worker control in their sectors of the economy. These workers – spanning from coffee company Fama de America, food distributor Mercal, to television channel VTV – have called for an end to interventions by reformist state functionaries who obstruct the establishment of worker control in their companies.
Joel Garcia, Secretary General of the Petroleum Workers’ Union of the Orinoco Belt (Sutrapetrorinoco), represents over 2,100 publicly employed oil industry workers in the state of Anzoátegui and is also Union Secretary of the Venezuelan Communist Party for Anzoátegui.
“We haven’t yet begun the transition to socialism. We’ve gone from private capital to socialized capital, but Venezuela’s working class continues to be alienated, exploited, mistreated,” affirmed Garcia.
“In Venezuela, we don’t feel a pain inside when we are stepped on by our workplace or political representatives. The culture of nepotism, favoritisms and manipulation is so strong that we almost expect this type of treatment,” explained Garcia.
“What we need to develop – in struggle – is a clear and defined class consciousness that identifies our class enemies, including those who work against our interests in the name of the so-called ‘Bolivarian Revolution’” Garcia concluded.
“President Chávez, in the last two years especially, has tried to change the economy, the mode of production, and the form of the state. But the problem is if these objectives are not taken up with force, passion, and intelligence by the workers themselves, the bureaucracy within the public administration – the petty bourgeoisie that has control over the important parts of the Venezuelan state – will prevent these objectives from going forward,” affirmed Pedro Eusse in a July 2010 interview.