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martes, marzo 15, 2005

ILO delays Venezuela discussion

Another update from the ILC; apparently the ILO has delayed consideration of the complaints filed against Venezuela until the end of the session, March 21st. (So if you or your union is interested in endorsing the letter below, there's still time...) I have an appointment with a representative of ORIT, the international association of union confederations in the Americas, and I hope to ask him more about the complaints and ORIT's position.

Also, the Bush admin is now openly developing a "containment" policy against Chavez. And yet they say Chavez is paranoid for thinking that the U.S. is out to destroy him. Perhaps by economic and political force rather than military -- but does it matter?

(see complete ILC notice below)

International Liaison Committee of Workers & Peoples (ILC)
P.O. Box 40009, San Francisco, CA 94140.
Tel. (415) 626-1175; fax: (415) 626-1217.
website: ILC section in www.owcinfo.org

Hands Off Venezuela, Defend the UNT and Venezuela's Sovereignty!
Support the UNT's "Open Letter to the Workers' Group of the ILO!

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

Venezuela is coming under renewed attack from the Bush administration.

The Financial Times reported on March 14, that "Senior U.S. administration officials are working on a policy to 'contain' Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, and what they allege is his drive to 'subvert' Latin America's least stable states." The policy is being prepared "at the request of President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, senior U.S. officials say."

Three years ago, the CIA was behind the attempted coup that unseated Chavez for 48 years -- until the movement of millions of Venezuelans, mostly the poor and disenfranchised, defeated the coup plotters and returned Chavez to the presidency.

Six months after the failed coup, the right-wing forces in Venezuela -- with massive funding from the United States through the so-called National Endowment for Democracy -- attempted to bring the country to its knees economically to provoke a popular uprising against Chavez. The Coordinadora Democratica and the CTV trade union federation took the NED funds - a portion of which reached the CTV through the AFL-CIO's Americian Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) -- to stage a two-month work stoppage/lockout in the country's oil industry.

But this U.S.-funded attempt to paralyze oil production in the world's fifth-largest oil-producing nation also was defeated by the mobilized workers' movement of Venezuela. The overwhelming majority of oil workers repudiated the lockout and their union leadership's direct complicity with U.S. imperial interests, and they kept the industry running -- without the managers and supervisors. These workers went on break with the CTV and to form, together with the majority of organized workers in Venezuela, the National Union of Workers (UNT) on April 5, 2003.

Despite these failed attempts to remove Chavez, who was elected democratically to the presidency, all the country-selling forces in Venezuela -- funded and supported by the United States -- kept at it, this time using the provisions of the new Bolivarian Constitution to seek to oust Chavez. They placed on the August 15, 2004, ballot a recall referendum, hoping that with the control they still maintain over most media outlets in Venezuela and the massive funding from Washington they could buy the election.

But in the face of a radicalizing Venezuelan people, this effort, too, failed. On August 15, more than 60% of the people -- in an election that was monitored minutely by Big Business interests -- voted "NO" on the recall referendum, affirming yet again that the revolutionary process under way in Venezuela would not be reversed by the agents of U.S. imperial interests.

The victory of the "NO" vote was further extended in late October 2004, when the "Chavista" candidates swept the elections to state and city governments.

Deepening Revolution in Venezuela

This electoral victory, in turn, deepened the direct action of Venezuela's poor peasants and workers against all the partisans of the Old Order.

On January 10, under immense pressure from the landless workers' movement, which had occupied the lands of anti-Chavez large landownders, Chavez announced the deepening of the country's Agrarian Reform program. One week later, on January 17, Chavez announced the nationalization of Venezuela's third-largest factory: the cardboard-producing Venepal corporation. This factory was one of an estimated 290 factories that have been occupied by workers following the decision by the bosses to shut their plant gates and refuse to resume production under a Chavez regime.

In the aftermath of these two momentous decisions in mid-January, Chavez went on to proclaim on his weekly public TV show that capitalism offers no hope and solutions for the immense majority of the population in Venezuela and around the world. He proclaimed, for this first time, his commitment to building a Venezuelan-style project of socialism that would not waver in placing the interests of working people first.

The "original" form of socialism, Chavez, explained would be built out of the dynamic of the unfolding struggles and would included "novel" forms of worker organization -- from self-management, to co-management with "nationalist" sectors of Venezuelan capital, to outright nationalization under forms of workers' control.

The U.S. officials quoted in the Financial Times article of March 14 call this deepening revolutionary situation in Venezuela and the example it is setting for workers and peasants throughout the region "a drive by Chavez to subvert Latin America's least stable states." They talk about Chavez employing a "hyena strategy" in the region.

These, of course, are fighting words.

Not Only Threatening Words
But they are not only words. U.S. news agencies have reported that U.S. military forces have been staging naval operations off the coast of Venezuela on the island of Curaçao.

Just this morning (March 15) the Venezuela news agency Aporrea reports that right-wing Cubans in Miami are taking to the airwaves to call either for direct U.S. military intervention to oust the "subversive Chavez" or a CIA-style commando operation to assassinate Chavez. These statements were made by top Cuban exiled officials on the "Maria Elvira Confronta" program on Miami's TV Channel 22.

Key to the U.S. effort to prepare the stage for a possible military intervention -- or at the minimum an international boycott/embargo of Venezuela followed by commando-style operations -- is the drive promoted by the United States in alliance with Venezuela's employer association, Fedecamaras, to win an international condemnation of Venezuela in the UN-affiliated International Labor Organization (ILO) for alleged violations of "labor rights in Venezuela." These right-wing forces have filed a Complaint against Venezuela and are mobilizing all their allies to win passage of the Complaint at the March 8-24 session of the ILO.

On February 3, Venezuelan Labor Minister María Cristina Iglesias explained the stakes of this fight in the ILO. She told a visiting delegation from the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (ILC) -- a delegation that included this writer, Daniel Gluckstein from France and Julio Turra from Brazil -- that in her view, the U.S. State Department and its cronies in Venezuela are out to "crucify" the Venezuelan government at the ILO in attempt to "isolate" Venezuela and secure backing from the Organization of American States (OAS) for any further action against Venezuela by the U.S. government and its proxies. She called on all supporters of labor and democratic rights to reject the unfounded accusations against the Venezuelan government contained in the ILO Complaint.

This same view was expressed by the national coordinators of the UNT, who, accordingly, have issued an "Open Letter to the ILO Workers' Group" urging them to reject the ILO Complaint.

The ILC fully support this international campaign initiated by the UNT. We believe it is possible to generate sufficient pressure within the labor movements around the world to compel the union representatives in the ILO Workers' Group to reject the FEDECAMARAS-CTV Complaint.

This campaign, we should note, already has destabilized the efforts by Fedecamaras to win what was hoped to be easy approval of the ILO Complaint against Venezuela. The discussion of the Venezuela point at the meeting of the ILO Governing Body was scheduled initially for March 9th. Now it has been postponed till the end of the session -- on March 21. This postponement clearly shows that the UNT-ILC international campaign has had an impact, and that the backers of the U.S.-promoted initiative are not sure they have the votes at this stage to condemn Venezuela.

Step Up Campaign Around UNT's Open Letter!
We have made a difference with this campaign -- and, with your support and that of your unions and federations -- we are confident we can ensure that this session of the ILO Governing Body does not issue a condemnation of Venezuela. Were we to prevent such a vote, we would be providing immeasurable support to the right of the Venezuelan people to determine their own affairs, free from intervention by the United States and its Big Business partners.

We call again upon all trade unionists and activists -- particularly in the United States, where we have a major responsibility to turn around the stance by the national AFL-CIO leadership -- to endorse and help us promote for wider endorsement the "Open Letter to the Workers' Group of the ILO" that has been issued by the national coordinators of the UNT.

Please send us your endorsement of this Open Letter AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. [See Open Letter and Coupon below.] We have only six days till the ILO Governing Body takes up the specific discussion of Venezuela. Please forward this message to your lists and print out copies for endorsement by your unions. And please send us a much-needed financial contribution to help us ensure the success of this campaign.

Just one note on this campaign: I will be leaving for Madrid on March 16 for one week to participate in the ILC World Conference (where, I should add, UNT National Coordinator Marcela Maspero will be one of the keynote speakers). I therefore ask all of you to please send your endorsements to the following email addresses:

Alan Benjamin

Luc Deley (Swiss Member of Parliament)

Julio Turra (CUT)

and UNT at following four addresses:

We have only a few days to force the rejection by the ILO of these unfounded charges -- but with your help we know we can succeed, as we have succeeded with so many of our other international labor campaigns.

We thank you in advance for your support for this important effort in defense of Venezuela's sovereignty and in defense of genuine trade unionism in Venezuela.

In solidarity,

Alan Benjamin,
U.S. Support Committee


Open Letter to the ILO Workers' Group

We, the undersigned leaders of the National Union of Workers of Venezuela (UNT), issue this appeal to the trade unions around the world that are represented in the Workers' Group of the International Labor Organization (ILO), as well as to all our sisters and brothers who are championing the trade union battles in defense of workers' rights.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

We in Venezuela have been been part of the effort by the working class to create a trade union federation that is built from the bottom up by the rank and file and that is rooted in the principles of class independence, trade union democracy and full autonomy in relation to the State and all political parties. This effort -- which in April 2003 brought unionists from different sectors and trade union currents together to create the UNT -- is part and parcel of the struggle of our people in defense of their national sovereignty.

Today, the UNT represents the majority of the organized workforce in Venezuela. Its creation in 2003 has given a huge impetus to the drive to organize trade unions across our country. The rate of trade union affiliation has increased from 11% in 2001 to 23% in 2004. The UNT also has been present in the last two International Labor Conferences of the ILO in June 2003 and June 2004.

But these recent years also have seen FEDECAMARAS, the employers' association of Venezuela, join forces with the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) to present a Complaint to the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association alleging that the Venezuelan government has violated Trade Union Freedoms and the Right to Strike.

The joint Complaint by FEDECAMARAS and the CTV is highly unusual, as trade unions are generally the ones filing ILO Complaints against the employers and seeking support from the ILO Workers' Group against all violations of trade union rights, including the right to strike. It is unprecedented, as well, on account of the convergence of interests between FEDECAMARAS and the CTV.

Such a Complaint can be understood only in the context of the unfolding political situation in Venezuela, in which FEDECAMARAS and the top leadership of the CTV participated directly in the attempted military coup of April 2002, together with the opposition political parties and with the encouragement of the U.S. Embassy. The coup -- which established a "government" headed by Pedro Carmona, then president of FEDECAMARAS -- was foiled after just two days by the mass mobilizations of the Venezuelan workers and people.

Later, in December 2002 and January 2003, FEDECAMARAS -- together with the same leaders of the CTV -- organized an employer lockout/work stoppage that was political in nature and that sought to bring down the government through the sabotage of the country's main source of income: the oil industry. In both the attempted coup and the bosses' lockout/work stoppage, the CTV leadership took actions that were repudiated by the overwhelming majority of the workers of Venezuela. At no time, in fact, were the workers consulted by the CTV leadership about the work stoppage in the oil industry. Quite the contrary, upon learning of this action by the CTV leadership, the workers mobilized massively to occupy the oil rigs and refineries to ensure the resumption of oil production.

These undeniable facts were reported in detail by 35 leaders of the UNT to the Contact Mission of the ILO that traveled to Venezuela in October 2004.

It is not new, nor is it unexpected, that employers should resort to lockouts against the workers to promote their interests. Many of you undoubtedly have witnessed such bosses' lockouts in your countries. It is less frequent for the employers to resort to military coups, but, alas, such actions are not unprecedented. But isn't it an insult to our intelligence to try to have us believe that employer lockouts and military coups can somehow be aimed at defending democracy and trade union rights? Do they think we're fools who cannot see through their hypocrisy?

In June 2004, FEDECAMARAS -- with the full support of the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and representatives from bosses' organizations in 22 countries, including the United States, all of them notorious for their anti-union activities -- invoked Article 26 of the ILO Constitution and proposed that a Commission of Inquiry be established in relation to alleged violations of Trade Union Freedoms in Venezuela.

The March 8-24, 2005 meeting of the Governing Body of the ILO is scheduled to take a vote on this request by FEDECAMARAS. It is worth noting that while this baseless Complaint against the Venezuelan government moves through the ILO system, the government of Colombia has not been subjected to any sanctions or pressures by the ILO -- even when the ILO itself registered at the beginning of 2004 that 186 trade unionists had been assassinated for their union activity in that country, a number that now surpasses the 200 mark.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

The Venezuelan government today has wide popular support to advance its Agrarian Reform program and, with the aim of guaranteeing jobs and wages, to take over factories abandoned or bankrupted by their employers. Yet at this very moment, incidents are being staged to create a diplomatic conflict between Venezuela and Colombia. More ominous still, U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have issued public warnings against the alleged "negative" and "destabilizing" role of Venezuela in the region.

Anyone familiar with the international policies implemented by the Bush administration in the recent period can understand full well that these are not simply words; they are a direct threat to Venezuela. Bush and Rice invoke the concept of "democracy" -- but if one looks at what is going on in Iraq today, one can see what they mean by "democracy."

Is it possible not to see a link between these political developments and the stance taken by FEDECAMARAS at the ILO?

Regardless of what one's opinions may be about the Venezuelan government and its policies, it's a fact that it's a government that received the support of more than 60% of the people in the August 15, 2004 recall referendum, thereby dealing a blow to the effort by FEDECAMARAS and the top officials of the CTV to oust the Chávez government. The election results were ratified, in fact, by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center, two bodies that cannot be accused of harboring any sympathies for the Venezuelan government.

It is also an undeniable fact that the partisans of the current Venezuelan government obtained the overwhelming support of the people in the state and regional elections held in October 2004.

From our vantage point as the UNT, genuine democracy means respecting the sovereign will of people to determine their own fate. And we wish to reiterate this point: Venezuela's right to self-determination must be respected and upheld independent of whatever one may think about the current government of Venezuela. It is not up to the U.S. government to decide in the place of the Venezuelan people what is "positive" or "negative" for Venezuela.

It is totally understandable that the representatives of the employers in the ILO should form a common front with FEDECAMARAS in support of this Complaint. Likewise, it is not surprising that governments, particularly that of Bush in the United States, should follow suit. But in no way can the representatives of the workers' organizations in the ILO support this attack upon our sovereignty and our independent trade union organizations.

Is it not obvious that allowing the Commission of Inquiry to be approved -- as FEDECAMARAS demands -- would, in fact, be tantamount to trampling upon our trade union freedoms and the very sovereignty of our country? Only we, the workers of Venezuela, can and must decide what kind of trade union organizations we should build, in the framework of the principles of Trade Union Freedom.

We issue this urgent appeal to all trade union organizations the world over. We call upon one and all to reject the proposal by FEDECAMARAS and its cohorts to sanction Venezuela and to conduct an ILO Commission of Inquiry. Such an action is not called for, nor does it correspond to the real situation of trade union freedoms in Venezuela, which is a country that has ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

For our part, as trade union officers who are committed to the rank and file,we have nothing to hide. That is why we are appending to this Open Letter a Memorandum that responds to the specific charges contained in the Complaint filed by FEDECAMARAS and the CTV.

We invite trade unions from all around the world to come to Venezuela to see for yourselves the reality of our country, where even the CTV -- which participated directly in the attempted coup of April 2002 and the lockout/work stoppage of December 2002-January 2003, enjoys full trade union freedoms.

We also invite representatives of the international trade union movement to attend the upcoming National Congress of the UNT. This will permit you to learn firsthand from the workers about the real situation of the trade unions in Venezuela.

To conclude, we call upon all trade union organizations and officers to reject the provocation by FEDECAMARAS and its allies to establish an ILO Commission of Inquiry for Venezuela. We call upon you to add your names in support of this Open Letter to the ILO Workers' Group.

- In defense of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people!

- In defense of true Trade Union Freedoms!

In solidarity,

signed by following National Coordinators of the UNT:

Orlando Chirino, Marcela Máspero, Stalin Pérez Borges and Rubén Linares


Endorsement Coupon of the Open Letter to the Workers' Group of the ILO

[ ] I have read the "Open Letter to the Workers' Group of the ILO" issued by the national coordinators of the National Union of Workers of Venezuela (UNT) on February 3, 2005. Please add my name as an endorser of this Open Letter.

[ ] I will send a financial contribution of $ ___ payable to "OWC" to OWC, c/o San Francisco Labor Council, 1188 Franklin St. #203, San Francisco, CA 94109.


UNION/ORG & TITLE (list if for id. only)





[please fill out and return to . Please send copies to Julio Turra, National Executive Director, CUT Federation, Brazil to and to the UNT federation of Venezuela to . Also please send to email addresses list at the end of the letter from Alan Benjamin, see above.]


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