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lunes, mayo 30, 2005

Marcela Maspero: "The revolution has swept through the trade union movement"

An interesting speech (translated) made by Marcela Maspero, one of the national coordinators of the new National Union of Workers (UNT) at the World Conference of the ILC (International Liason Committee of Workers and Peoples) held in Madrid in March.

Maspero gives her perspective on the changes in the Venezuelan labor movement since Chavez took office. (Incidentally, I also interviewed Maspero recently; should be posting that interview in the next week or two.)

Marcela Maspero (Venezuela)
National Coordinator, National Union of Workers of Venezuela (UNT)

Good morning, comrades. It is up to me to explain the subject of Venezuela -- a country that is going through a profound revolution at this time, thanks to the election of President Chavez to our government. It is a revolution that, furthermore, definitely has swept through the trade union movement.

The new government in our country has announced deep changes and a revolution from the social, economic as well as trade union point of view. A new constitution was promulgated for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that substantially improves the economic, social and trade union rights and wellbeing of all workers, of all citizens in a participatory and protagonist democracy in our country, precisely in opposition to what had been the traditional representative democracy in Venezuela.

The CTV had been the largest trade union organization in our country for over 40 years. From the CTV came the majority of trade union leaders who are now members of the National Trade Union of Workers (UNT). In its origins, the CTV had a profound class-struggle content, nay even revolutionary content - but over the course of time it lost its autonomy and working class identity and became subordinated to Fedecamaras (the employers' association) and the governments in office. Hence, it lost credibility with the workers.

When Chavez assumed the presidency, the question of elections within the CTV arose. Already during its congress in 1995, the national governing body of the CTV had approved holding elections by the rank and file by direct and secret vote of the workers. These were elections to determine the federation's leadership. But it isn't until President Chavez's election that this call was raised again.

Then a trade union electoral process occurred in Venezuela. It is important that all of you here from all parts of the world know with all clarity and transparency that it was not a process linked to State intervention. It was an agreement reached in the framework of the Constituent Commission, with the participation of all five trade union federations that today exist in our country. The governing body of the CTV decided to abide by a process of trade union democratization supervised by the National Electoral Council, as established in our new constitution.

These trade union elections had as a result a deep renovation of the ranks of national and regional trade union bodies. But when it came time for the Executive Commission of the CTV to publicly announce the results of the CTV elections, it was evident for all to see that 52% of the voting ballots had disappeared. Consequently, the workers of Venezuela, who had envisaged a democratic renewal of the CTV's governing body, were profoundly disappointed.

Later, the CTV lined up alongside the sectors who carried out the attempted 2002 coup d'etat, producing the shortest dictatorship ever seen in the world. The dictator only governed for 48 hours, thanks to the strength of the people who believed in this revolutionary process and reinstated Chavez to his mandate. It is important to note that in this process of a coup d'etat, we, the workers, did not act so much as the working class. We simply took to the streets and joined the people, setting aside our role and place as the working class.

After this attempted coup d'etat, a profound reflection took place in the hearts of trade union and revolutionary currents in our country. Personally I belong to the Bolivarian Workers' Force, which is one of the trade union currents born of the Bolivarian process, and we had our first national meeting of workers on September 8-9, 2002, for the purpose of defining a new instrument for the working class considering the betrayal by the CTV of all class principles and its anti-democratic and fascist stance as evidenced by its support of the April 2002 coup d'etat.

Agreement by all the currents on what to do was not possible and so we simply created a commission charged with working toward the creation of a new trade union federation.

In the midst of these discussion, the sabotage "strike" was launched by the bosses' association, Fedecamaras, and by the then-president of the CTV, Carlos Ortega. It is being said in certain circles that there are no trade union freedoms in Venezuela. But you should know that from the moment this sabotage operation was initiated, Mr. Ortega spent 16 hours a day issuing his daily corporate-led directives against the government and against the workers from the very offices of Fedecamaras. This occurred from December 2002 till February 2003.

And this is when we, the workers of Venezuela, adopted a class position. We, the workers, were the ones who got production in the oil industry back up and running when the administrators, bureaucrats and technocrats were doing everything to sabotage production on behalf of Fedecamaras and its international patrons. This was not a workers' strike around trade union demands. It was a lockout decreed by the bosses and their money-launderers with the political aim of bringing the country to its knees so as to depose the government of President Chavez.

The oil sabotage "strike" was joined by a lockout of countless private sector businesses and industries. There, workers were compelled to protest at the factory or business entrances to demand that the bosses let them come in to work. Here, too, there was no trade union grievance or demand.

Given that the Venezuelean opposition talks about 18,000 fired administrators, it seems important to us to let you know that over 100,000 workers lost their jobs in the private Venezuelan oil industry as a result of this lockout. Many of these workers, despite the reemployment injunction of the Department of Labor, have not been reinstated in their jobs by the enterprises. Furthermore many of these private-sector enterprises shut their doors, and were later occupied by the workers.

That is was happened to Venepal, to the national valve construction enterprise and to other enterprises -- all of which were occupied by workers. This class position taken in the face of sabotage actually brought the different currents to take up the discussion of a new union federation, and that is how the National Union of Workers (UNT)was born, as an instrument in the hands of the Venezuelan working class. The UNT is autonomous from the government, from all political parties and from all political, religious or other beliefs.

The UNT is internationalist, deeply democratic and it is a class organization. Let's recall that the UNT came out of a congress that was attended by more than 1,000 delegates from 500 trade unions, who then decided to constitute the UNT. We designated a national directorate formed by 21 members: it works horizontally and has the firm mandate to call for elections in order to determine the direction the UNT will take. Our first congress was held on the August 1-2, 2003, where the UNT's guiding principles and a fighting platform -- the tools of the union's ethics -- were adopted. But the proposed reform of the union's bylaws has not yet been approved by the union's rank and file; this issue is still waiting to be addressed at our next congress which should take place between May and June of this year.

It is equally important to point out that within the scope of our tasks to develop the UNT, we had to take a political stance in our country given the danger of an intervention by U.S. imperialism, which on numerous occasions has issued startling statements concerning the policies implemented in our country, statements that were voiced by the highest spokespersons of the Department of State and by its representatives in our country.

The Venezuelan workers were the ones who, united in the UNT, told U.S. imperialism that it has nothing to say in our country, that Venezuela is a sovereign country and that we, the workers, answer for the sovereignty of our country.

Today the UNT can show you with satisfaction the formation of 23 regional sections in each region of our country. Furthermore we now have national trade unions as well as national sector federations for each fundamental sector of the country, such as oil, electricity and the primary industries' sector. Ninety percent of private-sector workers are organized in the UNT, and in 90% of the factory shopfloor referenda or in the debates over collective bargaining, the UNT is there head to head combating the CTV.

We want to explain that in our country, faced with privatizations, there is lots of talk about co-management. And we should also talk about the historic phenomenon of Venepal. The workers occupied it during the sabotage/strike and now it has been expropriated through a decision of the National Assembly of our country and by presidential decree; it is presently under the joint control of the workers and the state. We have begun an intensive process of co-management in the electricity sector and the sector of basic agricultural businesses.

Parallel to this, the collective contracts of the public and private sector are being discussed in our country, after years in which they had not been addressed; we are in the middle of an intense combat -- Venezuela is currently, once again, being threatened by U.S. Imperialism -- to defend our sovereignty and the independence of our country in the face of the intervention of American Imperialism.

To conclude, Venezuela has been and continues to be attacked in international institutions of all types, including the ILO.

We have launched an international campaign against the attack begun by Fedecamaras a year ago. You must understand that, last year, thanks to the support of the Workers' Group of the ILO, neither the CTV nor Fedecamaras met their objective of getting Venezuela to be sanctioned. Nevertheless, in a proceeding that has not followed the norms of the ILO, Fedecamaras has registered a complaint. We want to give thanks to the International Liaison Committee -- in particular to Julio Turra, Luc Deley, Alexandre Anor, Daniel Gluskstein, and Alan Benjamin, and all of you -- for supporting the UNT's international campaign against the complaint registered by Fedecamaras.

It is very important for us to have received your support, and I think that next week, when the topic of Venezuela will be raised at the ILO's Governing Body, the Workers' Group will not dare to support the proposal of the bosses; we will, therefore, leave the international scene with honor, in order to return to our country to continue fighting for social justice, for national sovereignty, for independence, and for the struggle to consolidate and strenghten the working class, and for the basic rights of the workers and the people.

Thank you.



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