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sábado, abril 23, 2005

Interview with Ruben Molina: "The true challenge of the Venezuelan labor movement is to organize the working class"

Rubén Molina is the Director of International Relations for the Ministry of Labor. Previously he was also Coordinator of International Relations for the Bolivarian Workers’ Force (FBT).

The following interview covers both the FBT and its role in the UNT, and Molina’s work for the government and with international labor organizations.

As always, errors in transcription, translation, spelling and/or grammar are my own.

Ruben Molina
Wednesday, March 30, 2005

LA: Alright, first, if you could tell me a little about the FBT. How did it begin? What role did it play in the formation of the UNT? And today, what are its projects and objective, in the current political environment?

RM: In 2003, when the UNT was founded, the sectors of the labor movement which made it up were fundamentally those which had been part of the process of the FBT, which was founded in the year 2000. The Bolivarian Workers’ Force began in 2000 and was the center for labor organizations and leaders at the national level, across all economic sectors.

The FBT took on political work; it ran a slate for leadership of the CTV in October of 2001. The CTV committed fraud. In the elections, the FBT put forward its candidate, Aristóbulo Istúriz, who is now the Minister of Education and Sports. [After the fraudulent elections] they went to the authorities, fulfilling al the administrative requirements to report elections fraud. And the CNE, the National Electoral Council before which this evidence was presented, ruled the CTV elections null in December of last year [i.e., three years after the election took place. Incidentally, the ruling has had no practical effect.]

Well, during this length of time, this control of the CTV by fraudulently elected leaders, the FBT kept growing. It continued winning support from labor leaders, from unions, and of course from workers belonging to unions.

During this period the FBT came to see that nothing could be done working within the CTV, because apart from that [fraud] the CTV had gotten itself deep into conspiracy: the coup d’etat of 2002, and all of what amounted to economic sabotage in that year and until the beginning of 2003. After all this, the workers started to say to us, the national [union] directors, “Look, why are we still in the CTV? They oppose democracy. It’s been proven that they were involved in the coup d’etat.”

So, it was necessary to create a [new confederation], and the UNT was created. At the time the UNT was formed, the majority political/labor faction in the UNT was the Bolivarian Workers’ Force. So the Bolivarian Workers’ Force makes up the national leadership of the UNT. Its principal directors are members [of the FBT]; it remains the majority bloc, and has ensured that all the elements of the union movement, all the blocs that make up the Bolivarian Force of Workers, work to strengthen the UNT. And that’s what is happening. Thus, my work as the one responsible for international relations within the FBT, has now become the work of strengthening all these international relationships with the UNT. That is to say, it’s another step forward in this whole experience.

So, at this point the position of international relations coordinator of the FBT no longer exists. It exists within the UNT. The FBT has transformed itself, has converted to other things.

LA: And now the FBT exists as a current within the UNT?

RM: The FBT, which now is like a group within the UNT, still continues to be [?], but with very little organic association at this moment compared to before the founding of the UNT. At that point it had organic relationships with the national leadership, with a politically defined undertaking, that of constructing a new confederation. It’s already done, this objective has been accomplished.

So now, what remains are some elements that meet within the UNT itself. . . as a current. Because the UNT is composed of [several different] currents within the union movement. As occurs in practically the whole world, right? Different currents of the union movement. Right?

So within this, the FBT is one more unionist current, but it’s the majority current.

LA: It’s the majority current within the UNT?

RM: Within the UNT, yes. From time to time it meets, establishes some criterion, but the fact is that it doesn’t have the sway, doesn’t have the impetus, doesn’t have all the capacity that it had before the UNT was created. Because the UNT has already been formed, so practically it doesn’t make as much sense [...] that the FBT be that which holds the power. No, no, no. It’s the UNT that holds the power.

In addition, because of a practical reason. What is the practical reason? On an international level, trade union organizations have their internal currents. But they define themselves, build relationships, starting from the base of confederations, or legally constituted national labor organizations. And the FBT is not a trade union confederation. It’s a trade union current.

So, for this reason and other things that have happened in the UNT, the UNT is what holds the power. And thus [...] the FBT is the majority current, but there are other currents. [...]

And this is the scene that we’re been watching during the last two years. Very soon, in April, will be the second anniversary of the founding of the UNT.

LA: Which leaders of the UNT today are members of the FBT? ... Of those who are in the national coordination of the UNT.

RM: Yes, a majority belong to the FBT.

LA: And who are they?

RM: Marcela Máspero, Orlando Chirinos, Eduardo Piñate, Joaquin Rosario, Rubén Linares, José Ramón Rivero, Stalin Pérez – Stalin Pérez isn’t part of the FBT, but he represents currents focused on class struggle within the UNT. But Stalin Pérez is very close to the FBT. He’s acted very fraternally in our meetings. There’s also – what’s his name? – Cervato Cardone, and Marco Garcia.

All these are from the public sector, the electricity sector – Jose Arias? in the petroleum sector as well. In the manufacturing sector, [?] the manufacturing companies. For example, Eduardo Piñate is in the [magisterial] sector. He’s the president of the national union of [magisterios].

Fundamentally, these are the national coordinators. And Marcela could describe this to you more precisely. But the UNT is preparing its congress in order to hold elections. We already have the authorities elected by the workers belonging to the UNT [? not sure what this means as elections haven’t been held yet.] What the UNT has now is a provisional leadership. Clearly, two years after being founded, the UNT is proceeding with its internal process of elaborating the statutes that will govern the elections, the final statutes that will govern the organization. They are in the process of all this organization in this moment. But Marcela can tell you about this more precisely than I can. She’s the authority on all this, on the struggle that the UNT has proponed, from two years ago through today.

Right now, I’ll tell you, I hope that the UNT will soon hold its congress and its elections, at the least, before the end of the year. At least by the end of the year. The UNT can no longer afford the luxury of having a provisional leadership.

LA: Haven’t the UNT directors announced that the elections will be held in May?

RM: They’re [working on] that. [...] It could be as you say. My opinion is that they should at least get it done this year. If they do it in May, perfect, better, clearly.

But the UNT is already recognized at the international level. It’s impressive, how the UNT has [achieved] international recognition. For example, if you talk to AFL-CIO staff, and to the union leaders of the AFL-CIO, the top leadership, the national directors, about the UNT – they are familiar with the UNT. The same with the CET? of France. The same with the workers’ s commissions in Spain. With the UET? of Spain. With the CTC of Colombia, with the CUT of Colombia, with the CTV of Colombia. With the CUT of Brazil, with the CETV? of Brazil. With the CET of Argentine, with the CT?, with the CET? of Peru – everyone.

Throughout the continent, including the Caribbean, everyone knows the UNT. And everyone recognizes the UNT. Throughout Europe, they know and recognize the UNT. Throughout Asia, they know and recognize the UNT, Throughout Africa, they know and recognize the UNT. This is what the international labor movement is demanding – that the UNT hold its elections so that it will have a leadership elected by the workers. Which is a principle of all the workers of the world.

I myself am pressuring [the UNT to hold elections], in the positive sense of pressure, supporting, discussing, and to a point reproaching the directors of the UNT to encourage them to move forward with elections. Because [...] there is much international support of this point of view of the UNT; I’m the one who receives all these communications, all the international trade union leaders speak to me about this issue. And I say they’re right. They’re right. So, for these reasons I hope that they will do it before the end of the year.

What is it that’s happening with the leadership of the UNT? It’s very desirable for the UNT to carry this out effectively. It’s quite sought after – all the world wants the UNT [to hold elections soon].

That being so, there begin to appear the dissimilarities, the contradictions due to the struggle between [blocs] of power within the UNT. Which is also very natural, in all trade union organizations. Right now they are moving forward with discussions in order to reach an agreement and hold the elections that we are all waiting for. All of us. And when I say “all” I’m referring to the working class. [...] But I believe that they will accomplish it. Everything will be accomplished. It’s part of the process of a trade union organization like the UNT, one which is very young.

LA: Earlier, Machuca and others in his faction were saying that the UNT ought to – that al the workers enrolled in Social Security ought to vote in the elections. Now, this is no longer in question, right?

RM: Right. First of all, I believe you know that Machuca is not enrolled in the UNT. He speaks in the name of the UNT but is not enrolled in the UNT. This is the first grievance.
Thus he can already make a link with what he has now [?]. The UNT attracts him, and part of what he wants is to be the head of the UNT. Note that Machuca was one of the founders of the UNT. And he doesn’t appear as a founder of the UNT because he said, on that occasion, that the UNT was formed antidemocratically. What he wanted was to be the national coordinator of the UNT. [But that couldn’t be], because the workers have to be the ones to decide. We went with a provisional [group of coordinators], [...] like any newly founded union organization, and then we will go to elections. But you cannot claim to be the national coordinator of the UNT.

LA: And because he couldn’t be the coordinator, he left?

RM: Right. Then, as he didn’t have the coordinator position, he said – the UNT is antidemocratic, the UNT is the same as the CTV, because it began thus...

And as it turns out, while the UNT was growing, while the UNT has won recognition at the international level, and of course at the national level, that it has a high percentage enrolled – don’t ask me how many. What I can tell you is that, from the point of view of the Gross Domestic Product, the UNT includes the unions that are most productive, from the point of view of the GDP. Petroleum. All the sources of energy. There’s electricity, in all the [plants] that produce electricity. Coal. Manufacturing. And a high percentage in the public sector.

So the UNT, from the point of view of that which signifies national production levels, has a fundamental strength. How is this demonstrated? In a basic manner.

When there was sabotage, the economic stoppage called by the CTV and FEDECAMERAS, the CTV submitted to FEDECAMERAS’ call for an employers’ strike, no? And therefore, if the CTV had possessed the power to direct workers on a national level, President Chavez would not have lasted a month. He wouldn’t have lasted a month.

Those that stopped production during the economic sabotage (which I do not designate as a “national civic stoppage”) were small minority sectors of employees, of teachers, but very small minorities. And fundamentally sectors controlled by the opposition, those dominated by the opposition in that moment. The urbanizations, the mayor of Caracas, and the local mayors [of municipalities within Caracas].

But from the point of view of manufacturing, it was paralyzed, because all the employers reduced or closed their businesses. Not because of the existence of any power on the part of the CTV. So this demonstrates that – surely, if they had been in power, or had been able to direct the working class of this country, President Chavez – that is to say, us – we wouldn’t have lasted a month.

And we lasted two months. Because [the majority of workers didn’t stop production] we endured. And we recuperated, and here we are, moving forward.

So this demonstrates that the power which the UNT has in terms of its affiliations is not nonsense. Regarding these affiliations, the UNT unions need to organize themselves [to be able to characterize the confederation.?]: “yes, we have so many unions, of such and such economic braches, in such and such areas of the country. And in total, it’s this.” And this is a business – one can ask, the CTV doesn’t know. Much less so after what the UNT has done. With many of the unions, of with the immense majority of the unions affiliated with the CTV, they are [now] with the UNT. Thus we say that nothing remains of the CTV but an empty vessel.

But this is the CTV’s business. We don’t put ourselves into it – the CTV’s business is the CTV’s business. After this – so, it’s quite important, quite interesting to know this type of element to have a general idea of what our union movement is today.

And among all this, then, is the current led by Machuca, who doesn’t belong to the UNT, but neither do they reject him – [he knows?] that he simply would need to complete the legal formalities. Affiliate yourself to the UNT! Number two, the other one is a leader of a transportation union, basically the Caracas Metro; that’s Francisco Torrealba, who now is no longer in the directorate of this union. He belongs to the federation but—

LA: Torrealba isn’t a director of his union?

RM: Of the Sintrameca union he is not now a director. He’s not part of the directorate of Sintrameca. He’s director of the Federation of Transport, but now this federation basically doesn’t mobilize any workers. But fine, he’s the director of a union. That accompanies Machuca.

Franklin Rondón of the public sector is another who accompanies Machuca. [...] Franklin Rondón, now he is president of a federation of workers in public administration, and he’s a founder and affiliate of the UNT.

So they form a group, the Maneiro Movement. The Maneiro Movement, then, is proposing, as a platform, to throw out the national leadership of the UNT because of the disagreements they have [with the leadership]. Then, it’s that – and they are [?] with Machuca.

One of the things that appears – that is criticized, which Machuca and company propose, is that the elections should be held according to the Social Security registry. That’s impossible.

First, because legally it’s not possible. But more that that, because of the logic of labor unions. You vote for your union because you’re a member of your union. And because you pay dues – you’re enrolled voluntarily and you voluntarily pay dues to your union. So it can’t be permitted – this doesn’t happen in any part of the world – that all those registered in Social Security should now vote in the UNT.

Why did they do it? Because they have a media effect. They’re always in the press. So they believe that with this media effect [...], and since they don’t have sufficient leadership within the UNT, with the workers, at the national level – It’s not that the workers reject them. They don’t reject them. But they don’t have sufficient leadership to be president or secretary-general of the UNT. So they make this proposal which is fundamentally political and media-oriented. Media-oriented, no? That I don’t believe will amount to anything from the legal point of view and from the political point of view within the UNT.

So, it’s a proposal that [...]

LA: Yes, to me the proposal doesn’t appear to make much sense.

RM: It doesn’t make any sense. You’re in a union because you want to be. So one can’t compel the workers or – the affiliated workers belonging to a labor organization can’t be compelled to permit other people, even if they may be workers of the same class, that don’t pay dues to the organization, that is to say, that don’t maintain the organization, to vote, and to decide for those who par dues and belong and are enrolled in the organization. It doesn’t make sense.

That has [??] that proposal made by Machuca’s sector. One, that he doesn’t belong to the UNT. And number two, that this proposal, I don’t believe it’s going to get anywhere.

LA: Do you think that Machuca will affiliate to the UNT before the elections?

RM: To become an affiliate, first he must be enrolled. It has to matter enough to you to enroll. When his union enrolls in the UNT – it has about three thousand people, that union – [...] it will immediately have full voting rights [...] in the UNT. And already, from this point of view, within established regulations, it will have the right to carry out administrative or judicial actions, in accordance with the regulations of the UNT. And of course they would have the full political right to also carry on their battle within the UNT.

But at this moment, they don’t have these rights. They don’t have them because they aren’t [members]. I can’t – I can give my opinions concerning the AFL-CIO. But I can’t [participate in decisions?]. I’m not a member.
The workers will decide their leadership.

LA: And now, if we can change the subject a bit: You’ve just returned from the ILO meeting in Geneva, right? Were you there as a representative of the government?

RM: Yes, of course. Over there, in the administrative council, what the ILO did is – The minister, the vice-minister [of labor], and myself were present. [...] Venezuela is a member of the administrative council, an adjunct member of the administrative council. The term is up soon, in July will be the election for a new administrative council, for three more years, 2005 to 2008. And Venezuela is aspiring to again be on the administrative council.

Now, beginning in the coming week, in the second half of April, we will begin to prepare all the different commissions or [?] that will make up the conference. We’re going to convoke tables of dialogue [better translation?] for [employers?] and workers so that they themselves, united, choose their delegate and technical advisor for the conference. This will be in the second half of April [and it may be myself that they will choose ???]. It will be interesting.

LA: I didn’t understand that last bit...

RM:That we’re turning to the tables of dialogue so they can choose the [delegates].

LA: The workers and the employers?

RM: Choose their delegate and their technical advisor. And what I commented to you is that this will be interesting. That this will be in play. The tables will be good, the discussion, the discussion will be good. Because it’s now been four consecutive years that they’ve held them.

Here they say that there’s no dialogue . . . yet there is open dialogue. We engage in it.

LA: In the meeting, of course, there were these complaints made by the CTV, by FEDECAMERAS. And the ILO has postponed the discussion of these complaints until November, right?

RM: Oh, you’re referring to a proceeding concerning Article 26 of the ILO. [...] Right?

LA: Right.

RM: The case was referred, the decision was referred to November. Because it turns out that those who [signed?] the complaint, last year, were the employers [who sit on] the committee on trade union freedoms, and in November of last year the administrative council decided that the committee on trade union freedoms should give an opinion, a response, on the complaint against Venezuela, which the administrative council must then [ratify?]. And it decides if the proceeding that the employers are requesting will be applied or will not be applied.

But it turns out that the employers cannot give an opinion, because they had signed the complaint, and one can’t be both judge and accuser. So, as they will be choosing new members of the administrative council this November, and new members of the committee on trade unions freedoms, it was decided that meanwhile they complaint would be deferred until November.

LA: Do you believe that this is a victory? A partial victory? Or simply something administrative?

RM: No, no. Look, for the government this – for us in the government it’s something that we had already foreseen. We always said, since they introduced the complaint in June of last year, that this complaint had no sense. That this complaint, rather that a complaint concerning violations of the conventions on trade union freedoms, is a political complaint. And thus, because it is a political complaint, it had already begun badly. And it was wrong.

Second, that what FEDECAMERAS is invoking, within this complaint, is the lack of dialogue. And we have demonstrated that there has been continual dialogue at the highest levels with FEDECAMERAS.

Third, that it’s a political complaint that was initiated before the referendum, the referendum on August 15th of last year in which President Chavez was ratified, and [the referendum results] have effectively killed the complaint. But at the international level [??]. They accuse the president of being a dictator. They accuse the president of violating human rights. They accuse the president of crimes against humanity. They accuse the president of many such things. And it turns out that once again he wins the election. And this time submitting a referendum to the public in which the question was, shall he stay or shall he go? And [the people said] he stays.

This is clear – that what happens with the ILO and FEDECAMERAS, they can’t afford to appear to have been directly defeated. [...] And they are seeking . . . an elegant way out of the proceeding [...]. So we, as the government, see this as a political game in which we are [trying not to make them lose face – rough translation].

And for this reason we accepted, “good, very well,” that the case will be brought back for discussion in November. That it will be brought back for discussion, we have absolutely nothing to lose, we never have had anything to lose, nor do we now, nor will we. The only thing that we can lose, speaking politically as a government, is the support of our people, and the support of our people is there. And if they are being supported by our people because of what we are doing – fine. [...] Perfect. But they are making [¿], No, no, we believe in the support of our people. It is this that for us is the fundamental thing; whatever other lament presents itself in whichever part of the U.N., or in whatever part of the universe, what interests us is our people. And while we have the people, we are doing it [?] well. [...]

LA: So fundamentally, is it that – because the opposition today doesn’t have support in Venezuela from the people, it’s looking for international support?

RM: Right. Each day their forces are diminishing further. They continue diminishing quite a lot. By now they almost don’t have international support.

They committed a strategic error – I’m referring to the opposition. In two years they wanted to [do everything?]. Many of the things that happened to them, they came through them well. [They attempted] a coup d’etat. They sabotaged the economy enormously. They went to all the international petitions. They lied to the country and they lied to international public opinion, even made them feel like [. . .] both the national and international media. Now it’s come to be that then give their opinions . . . and nobody believes them. Because we demonstrated that everything they’re saying is a lie.

So, they go to the Interamerican court of human rights, to the Interamerican commission. And the Interamerican commission, in my opinion, is all people who are against Venezuela. So it comes to be that the credibility of the Interamerican commission is [diminishing?]. And every day it grows, this lack of credibility.

Second, they went to the ILO accusing us of everything. And the ILO’s credibility has also [remained between words?]. Even – they say, what a bother, how tiresome. Already many sectors are saying, geez, what a bother. This is getting tedious already. Why? Because what’s coming to be is that the international organizations are losing credibility – because many of the international bodies took part in the tricks of the opposition. They were deeply involved in the game.

And so it has happened that [the opposition] needs to be given oxygen to recuperate. Because we demonstrated the deceits that they were practicing. And one is a deceit [concerning Article 26], that is diminishing, that it disappearing. They don’t want it to disappear, because it’s a political landmark [?] for them. They can’t afford it. [...] It will be discussed in November.

Because in addition to this – that which was decided recently, in March, in the ILO, that [the complaint] will be moved to November, was by consensus. It was by consensus of workers, employers, and governments in the ILO. So we demonstrated, one, that we believe in international institutions like the ILO; two, just as we believe in international institutions like the ILO, we also critique them and are working to change their methods of work. To [?] impartiality, transparency, and clear rules. And clear rules.

So for us, that is fundamental. That is structural. For what? So that this doesn’t happen to Venezuela again and so that it doesn’t happen to any other country – what happened within the international [institutions]. Because what’s important to known is that FEDECAMERAS and the CTV have been part of the ILO for more than seventy years. Overall – CTV has more than seventy years, FEDECAMERAS has less, like fifty years – sitting on the ILO. And they’re members of the administrative council of the ILO.

Well, so – we don’t speak of a defeat for anyone. We prefer to use the term: justice is being done. It’s better than speaking of a defeat – justice is being done.

In the council of administration, we had the support of GRULAC [the Workers' Group of Latin America and the Caribbean], which is made up of 33 countries in Latin American and the Caribbean, the GRULAC of the ILO. We had the support of the Russian federation. We had the support of [Haiti?]. We had the support of China. We had the support of Libya. And an additional declaration from the republic of Uruguay – and I say additional because some had already given their opinions, and we didn’t want more opinions to follow because – we’re going to allow this thing to take its course.

We even had – I’ll tell you something – the workers in the ILO, which is the ICFTU, the ICFTU never was in agreement ... it never agreed that the proceeding which the employers introduced in last year’s conference should be applied to Venezuela. It was never in agreement. And it demonstrated this in November and it demonstrated it recently. Even some contradictions that they reported, those will be remedied. And there are many people [who didn’t like this relationship?] because a sector of workers, a small minority, in the ILO administrative council, made a deal with the employers. That is to say, they made the following agreement with the employers: one, saying that if this proceeding were applied to Venezuela, the workers told the employers that they would vote to apply the proceeding to Venezuela if the employers voted to apply a proceeding to Colombia. Colombia has had this proceeding pending since 1998.

LA: And in Colombia more trade unionists are killed each year...

RM: Yes. Compare them. To compare that . . . underlines how ridiculous it was, what happened, no?

So, there’s a lot of dissatisfaction because that sector of workers tried to negotiate this deal with the employers. [...] So the truth is there. What’s happening now is that the truth that some didn’t want to understand, now they are understanding it. And we don’t view this as a victory, which would be giving to understand that another party had suffered a defeat. We view is as justice being done. Which is completely different.

Marcela has been a protagonist in all this. She can tell you about it.

LA: Yes, there’s a letter from the UNT [by Marcela] against this complaint that’s been circulating.

RM: Oh, an international campaign, right. You have all of this, it’s all gotten to you?

LA: Yes.

RM: Yes, it was [...] phenomenal. Phenomenal, this international campaign.

LA: From this campaign it appeared as though this complaint was a major threat made against the government and against Venezuela. But it seems that it isn’t so, that now it’s hardly anything....

RM: Look, already – they have struck at us with a coup d’etat. The U.S., the U.S. government has a campaign as the highest levels against Venezuela. They say we are terrorists, that we’re buying arms or arming ourselves on order to arm terrorists. They’re syaing that this isn’t a democracy. This – they have said about us. This proceeding in the ILO is one more element of this campaign. [...]

And if there’s anything we don’t want, it’s to go to a vote to close the complaint. We don’t want that. Because we believe in consensus in the ILO. We don’t want to go to a vote. Because calling to a vote would be to close the complaint. And then [...] would be to talk of a defeat. Because then we would see [?]. But we don’t want to. We don’t want this to be necessary.

The enemy, the [?] that has attacked us cruelly, given that they have done horrendous things to us, as a people – even so, we respect them for their character. We respect them. And number two, we are not seeking just to cow them. Because they themselves have acted in such a self-destructive fashion that we don’t need to, and if we are going to destroy them, in the sense of robbing – no. It’s that they themselves, with their own actions, have been self-defeating. They themselves with their antidemocratic, fascist actions have defeated themselves. And this is clear in the eyes of public opinion, international and of course our people.

LA: If we can touch on a more general theme – in general, what do you think are the biggest problems, the biggest challenges facing workers today?

RM: In Venezuela?

LA: Right.

RM: To organize more. Organize themselves more.

Look – the true challenge of the Venezuelan labor movement, be it the UNT, be it the CTV, be it the CUTV, be it CODESA, be it the CGT, is to organize the working class. In Venezuela the economically active population is approximately twelve and a half million Venezuelan men and women (and of course resident foreigners). Fewer that 20% are affiliated to a union organization, approximately.

So, the great challenge: to organize the economically active population. This is the principal challenge . . . above all the rest. [The organization of the working class will come to a difficult agreement?].

Among all the rest [of the challenges] is that of a fruitful dialogue with the State.

[end of side A]

So, among all the rest that’s indicated as a great challenge of the working class, is a fruitful dialogue with the State . . . that is, the unions need to prepare for dialogue with the State. And in this moment they are assuming the great [?] that the labor organizations have. [...]

For example – yesterday Manual Cova [CTV leader] gave some opinions [regarding] extending labor immobility [national decree currently in force which prohibits laying off employees except for cause.] Right? So [he criticized the extension?] for not being sufficient, because of [lack of] dialogue, and all the rest. This sets one to thinking: is the CTV prepared for dialogue? What the CTV wants is to seat itself as an equal with the government – that is, the top leadership of the CTV.

Just the same, the UNT isn’t that prepared for dialogue either. Neither is the CGT, neither is CODESA. Confronter with the new formations and changes that the country has undergone, they’re not prepared for this. They need to prepare themselves more. They need to prepare themselves.

[So these are] the challenges. One, union membership. And two, prepare themselves for the dialogue. And we – note well, we don’t call it discussion, we call it dialogue. [Note: the two words here both translate as “dialogue”, but have different connotations.] Discussion is just one element of participation, which goes much deeper. And the trade union organizations are not sufficiently prepared to participate in the face of the great changes in formation that are taking place in this country. These are two fundamental challanges. [...] And the State, the government, also needs to prepare itself more to be able to hold a fruitful dialogue. It’s logical, no? It’s logical.

That doesn’t mean that they aren’t taking part in the participation, the dialogue. No, no, no. They are taking part. But it could have been much better. Yes. [They could have been?] stronger as trade union organizations. and note that I’m not talking about a particular union leadership, but about the trade union organizations. In whose name they were acting form the point of view of the confederations, CGT, CODESA, UNT, CTV, y CUTV, which are the five that exist as national labor confederations in this country, That is a challenge which these five confederations face.

LA: And for the challenge of organizing the workers: how is it possible? These five confederations, what do they need to do?

RM: They simply need to do it. Have plans, projects

Or put it this way: how to woo a girl? Or how does a girl woo a boy? With proposals. Aside from [...], chocoates, roses, flowers, pretty words. But also with proposals. In a couple, what would it be, when they’re dating? Let’s go to the movies, because that – invites us to get to know one another, to enjoy ourselves. The unions also need to woo the working class, by means of plans, of projects, of proposals.

Fundamentally, that’s it. It’s nothing new. How to do it? We shall see. But what’s certain is that they have to do it. Though it’s hard to believe, we within the Venezuelan union movement, in the last – throughout nearly all its history – and I believe it’s also the case in the trade union movements worldwide – we [have neglected??] the central battle to advance proposals for the working class. The movement is arriving at the moment in which the historical battle of the Cold War – and this mentality still exists, it’s still here. At the international level it’s beginning to be overcome, a little bit -- look at this, with the agreement between the ICFTU and the World Confederation of Labor, that between now and 2007 [they will work to form] a new international labor confederation. That’s interesting. You didn’t know that?

LA: No.

RM: The ICFTU and the WCL, last year, began a series of conversations, in which their executive committee has already approved creating a new international labor confederation. By 2007. That’s quite important. Because it’s another great challenge of the national and international union movement: unity. Unity continues to be one of the great challenges as well.

So, take note of this. One, affiliation. Two, preparation to participate in society. And to participate in order to make decisions about what happens, not just to sit at a table, no, [...], but to decide. [...] And three, unity.

Those are the three challenges. They continue to be the three challenges, though it’s hard to believe, throughout history. They’re not new. And how to accomplish them? Plans, concrete projects.

LA: And finally, how can North American unionists support our sisters and brothers in Venezuela?

RM: Your presence here is a support. [...] So, first by your presence. Because [that is the way] to learn the reality. Directly. And secondly, through your presence here, you can bring first-hand information. Because you saw it. So you can recount it to other working-class people. This is invaluable.

Among the rest would be the agreements that can be made within economic sectors. This is quite important. Between workers of the same economic class doing similar work.

For example, exchanges and discussions with public sector workers throughout the Americas. How [??] is affecting them, for example.

In the energy sector they’re already doing it, certainly. In petroleum, natural gas, coal, and electricity, we’re going to hold an energy conference, in May, here in Caracas. Latin American and Caribbean [countries]. We don’t yet have sufficient strength to move towards the U.S. and Canada. [....] First Latin America and the Caribbean.

Because, another thing, because we in Latin America are net energy producers. In which is included coal, oil, and natural gas. It’s for exportation to the United States and Canada. So we first want to take a look at this reality, as producers, and then, we want to move forward to look at reality with the workers in these sectors in Canada and the United States to establish ties between us. But first we need clarifying as energy producers.

So this energy conference will be in May, the 18th, 19th, and 20th of May, here in Caracas. They’re already organizing it, no? They’re organizing together with union leaders from Argentina, from Brazil, from Cuba, from Colombia, from Uruguay, from Ecuador, and from Venezuela, and from Mexico. Eight countries in a committee that have been meeting for some time, in that organizing committee, from these affiliates in the energy sector; the meetings have been held for the most part here in Venezuela. Of organizations of union leaders and grassroots labor organizations in the energy sector, in those sectors that I named: natural gas, oil, coal, and electricity.

So those are concrete elements that can bring about more exchange and higher levels of unity among the working class at the Latin American and continental level. We cannot – look, take the diatribe of what is the imperialist government of Bush – we can’t transmit this battle or this concept, this situation we have, to the North American people, to the people of the United States. [...] So we need to work on this with more precision.

And because of this, the visits from our brothers in the United States are very important, as in your case. In the case of everyone who Deborah [has brought here?]. [refers to Deborah James of Global Exchange] Everyone in the organizations that you all have. We’re in contact with many labor organizations in the United States. Marcela is even planning a speaking tour in the United States. I’m talking bout this with – well, it needs to be prepared. But there’s talk about it. Mention this to Marcela.

So . . . Marcela and the UNT will be going to the congress of the CLC in Canada. Yes, they’re going to hold it soon, in June. And the UNT will send a delegate. And so – they need to do the same with the United States. And they already have an invitation to go to San Francisco, to go to Washington, to go to New York, to go to states where the organized labor movement is strong and different from the traditional movement, and to the social movement, as in your case, that are against the government, against everything that the Bush administration has done to the people in the wake of the war. Over there, they are taking away freedom of expression. Over there they are harshly persecuting the people and are watching everything they do. We are [??] everything they are doing.

. . .

And it’s important not only that you have come here, or that union leaders and progressives continue coming to offer [solidarity] to Venezuela, but also that we understand more of what’s happening in the United States and can offer our solidarity. Because it’s mutual. Here we are thankful and will continue to be so to receive whoever wants to come to support us. But also, with what’s taking place there, to offer all our solidarity, and to go over there, to speak, and to give support to the people of the United States. Because they are living it.

[...] After September 11th, the way in which the Bush administration, in the name of terrorism, is oppressing its own people. Though it’s hard to believe, they are oppressing their own people. And more each time. [?] all the laws they’ve eliminated. it’s impressive that – this would be important.

[...] It’s also one of the great challenges that we have, as the working class, as citizens of the world. To become more familiar with our realities so that our solidarity will be more effective. And so that the agreements to struggle against oppression will be more effective as well.

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