Three Reports on May Day, Caracas, 2005

Report 1: An Estimated One Million March as Venezuelan Workers Express Support for Socialism

by Roberto Jorquera, Caracas


This article was first posted on the Internet on May 2, 2005. It has been edited for style purposes for Labor Standard, and some editorial notes have been added in brackets. See also the accompanying report by Louise Auerhahn, a trade unionist from San Jose, California, now visiting Venezuela.

Though no official estimates were given, many of the organizers agreed that over one million workers marched through the streets of Caracas in defense of national sovereignty and workers control and for socialism. The rally, organized by the UNT (National Union of Workers), was a significant change in the political terrain of trade unionism in Venezuela. For the past four years there have been separate May Day commemorations, one organized by the CTV (Central Union of Workers), which has opposed the Chávez reforms all along, and that of the pro-Chávez forces, now firmly united behind the UNT. One clear aspect that differentiated the protest was the call by CTV to the government that it should free political prisoners held in Venezuela. Among so-called political prisoners the CTV included its ex-president, who has been jailed for his support of the failed military coup of April 2002 and his role in the organization of the bosses’ lockout in December of the same year.

Oswald Vera, one of the national coordinators of the UNT, said, “The workers of Venezuela have shown that they support socialism and the revolutionary methods that have been implemented…while the CTV is a symbol of the old unionism, which has been demonstrated today to have very little support.”

Vera continued: “The workers of Venezuela have said that that they are prepared to defend the factories and are part of the reserves so as to defend the country against any foreign intervention.”

Francisco Torrealba, another of the UNT national coordinators, said, ”It is clear from today’s protest that the UNT firmly represents unity, workers co-management, and socialism, while the CTV is a bad memory of the past that has stained the union movement for the past 40 years.”

Workers Control

One of the main themes of the May Day rally was for the UNT to present a document to Chávez, so that it will be discussed, debated, and adopted in the National Assembly. The document is entitled “Project for the Law of Participation of Workers in the Management of Public and Private Enterprises.” Elias Jaua, head of the Ministry for the Popular Economy, said that “the cooperative method that has been constructed is a democratic and participatory method that aims to construct a socialism of the 21st century.” He added: “We are aiming for equal distribution and for the workers to be part of deciding what, how, and who should be producing products…we aim to democratize production and consumption of products in society.”

But the highlight of the demonstration, which ended at Puente Llaguno (where people were killed defending the Chávez government during the coup of April 11, 2002) was the presence of Hugo Chávez. The march, which gathered at 9 am, was still arriving at the end point at 2 pm. Chávez had just returned from Cuba after signing another 49 joint agreements between the two countries. He launched into a speech that outlined Venezuela’s socialism and lasted over two hours. The speech was in the same tones as those of Fidel Castro’s speeches during the early years of the Cuban revolution.

Throughout his speech Chávez repeatedly stated what the process is that is developing in Venezuela—a process that seeks to fundamentally transform the economic, social, and political system.

Chávez began by highlighting his just concluded trip to Cuba, which aimed at further political, economic, and social integration of the two countries. “Our models of integration include liberty and equality…and they are incompatible with the laws of capitalism,” said Chávez.

He also noted the steps that had been taken to further develop the ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America) [which stands in opposition to the U.S.-government-backed “ALCA,” Spanish initials for Free Trade Area of the Americas, known in English as the FTAA].

In his speech Chávez also paid respect to the martyrs of May Day, the workers of Chicago [the Haymarket martyrs who were hung in 1886 in the aftermath of the first May Day, when mass workers’ demonstrations demanded the eight-hour day], and he sent revolutionary greetings to the people of the United States. Chávez said, “Today we are taking back the real tradition of May Day after 40 years of a degenerated unionism represented by the CTV.”

A New Society

But there was no doubt that Chávez also used the speech to highlight the tasks ahead for the revolutionary process and to prepare the mass of workers for the struggles they will continue to face.

“It is only the beginning of the process. We are just beginning to construct a new state, new institutions, and a new society… we are just taking the first few steps in the new economy, in production, in property relations, and so we must not have any illusions, and we must not yet chant that we have won,” said Chávez.

Chávez also stressed throughout his speech that more work had to be done to unite the revolutionary forces, to which people responded with chants of “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido” (The people united will never be defeated). Banners also read, “Without a revolutionary party there can be no revolution.”)

Chávez used the opportunity to condemn the fighting that had erupted within the MVR [Spanish initials for Movement for the Fifth Republic, Chávez’s political organization] between the supporters of Freddy Bernal, mayor of Libertador [district] of Caracas and Juan Barreto, mayor of the Municipality of Caracs. Chávez made a public invitation for them to all have lunch to discuss their differences and to come to an agreement. “Some of the key issues for the people of Caracas are the problem of rubbish removal and safe streets,” said Chávez. “We need unity, unity, and more unity. If not, they should resign and allow the people of Caracas to elect officials that really represent them,” said Chávez.

Much of his speech was dedicated to the theme of building a new society and explaining what that meant. In that framework Chávez said, “In the process of building a new society we must be critical of ourselves and must work toward what Che defined as the building of a new human being in society. Chávez commented that it was necessary to lead by example, so as to construct a new society and win more people to the revolutionary cause. “The aim must be to gain 10 million votes in the next presidential elections that are to be held in December 2006,” said Chávez. In terms of encouraging people to further develop a revolutionary consciousness Chávez used the example of [the Argentinian] Che Guevara. “Che was more than just a martyr, more than just a heroic guerrilla fighter; he was also a Minister in the Cuban revolutionary government and developed many ideas on how to build the new socialist society… we must study and learn from his thoughts,” said Chávez.

“We are a country that has resources [enough] so that every Venezuelan can live in dignity…and we will be in a position within a few years to start to send Venezuelan doctors to parts of the underdeveloped world, as Cuba has done for decades.”

Chávez also noted that Cuba had just approved scholarships for up to 10,000 Venezuelan doctors to study in Cuba.

Capitalism Not the Answer

“The capitalist system does not allow us to implement our constitution or the political, economic, or social project that we want,” said Chávez. He made it clear that capitalism was not the answer to the problems facing Venezuela, Latin America, or the world.

He also made it clear that there was no third road. “We need to march for a new socialism of the 21st century…so that we can build a new political and social socialist system.” We are in a transitional situation, which has taken affect since 1998 [when Chávez was first elected president of Venezuela] and needs to be continuously planned…To construct socialism, we need to break capitalist economic laws…the traditional economic orthodoxy is not compatible with a revolutionary economy,” said Chávez.

He went on to say that the process that was being implemented in Venezuela was that of a revolutionary democracy that aims to redefine socialism in the 21st century. As part of this project Chávez explained the process of workers co-management that was being introduced in factories across the country. He used the example of the workers at the INVEPAL (Venezuelan Industry for Pulp and Paper Production) factory in Maracay. “INVEPAL is now a factory that strives to build socialism,” said Chávez. The workers at the factory now are part of the management community and decide how, what, and when things are produced, so as to help further develop the factory and the local and national economy. As part of this process to increase production Chávez invited all industries in Venezuela that are not functioning at 100% to work with the government to increase production. Chávez said, “We invite all industry to be part of the new society…we will help every industry to expand production and will provide the funding to do so. However, the only condition is that workers be allowed to be part of the management.” Chávez also said if industrial enterprises were not being used or had been abandoned, then the government would move to expropriate them. The aim, said Chávez, was to “move from a revolutionary democracy to socialism this year…and that it was critical for political parties to be consolidated in this process.”

In his conclusion Chávez said that “we need to break all the chains of the past that have held us back.”


Report 2: A Tale of Two Marches

by Louise Auerhahn

The author of this report is a trade unionist from San Jose, California, now on a six-month visit to Venezuela. To read her report, go to the following Internet address:

http://bbugs.blogspot.com/2005/05/mayday-in-venezuela-tale-of-two.html


Report 3. The Revolution Advances

by Michael A. Lebowitz

The following report was posted to a Marxist discussion list on May 1, 2005.
See http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/maillist.html

The report has been edited slightly for style purposes by Labor Standard. The second postscript was posted on the following day, May 2.

I thought people would be interested in a brief update on developments in Venezuela.

I marched for several hours today in the May Day march with workers from Alcasa, the state aluminum company, and other workers from state companies in the state of Bolívar. Well, “march” is not quite an accurate way to describe the stop-start pattern of our progress. In fact, far better to describe it as a street party, which occasionally lurched forward when streams of marchers coming from other streets lessened: infectious dance music blared from the sound truck leading us, and dancing was occurring throughout the crowd—most impressively from two older women and a man (occasionally joined by others) in front, who periodically shared the microphone to lead us in chants. The main chant, which everyone happily shouted, was “Without co-management, you cannot have a revolution!” (Occasionally, a variant [was chanted]—“Without a revolution, you cannot have co-management.”) And then back to the music. The theme was echoed everywhere on the banners; one big one banner that I seemed either to be behind or to being hit on the head with said, “Co-management and Production—All Power to the Workers.”

This was a happy crowd. And, the slogan was not a demand but an assertion—because the workers in Alcasa have already begun a process of co-management (which, to distinguish from the German use of the term, might better be called self-management or worker management); they have begun organizing production themselves and electing their shop directors. What the workers in Alcasa have begun now will be a model for the workers in the other state industries (held by the CVG, the development corporation of

Guyana) in the state of Bolívar. And, this process is not only occurring in Bolívar—co-management is the model which is being followed in Cadafe and Cadela, two state electricity distribution firms. And the term is also being used to describe the process in two closed private firms which were recently taken over by the state to be run jointly by the state and worker cooperatives [the paper mill VENEPAL and the valves factory CNV]. In fact, the main slogans for the march itself, organized by UNT (the new trade union federation), were “Co-management is revolution” and “Venezuelan workers are building Bolivarian socialism.” These were the same themes that came out of the several-day workers’ round table [discussion] on co-management that was part of the 3rd international solidarity meeting two weeks ago in the city of Valencia.

None of this could have been predicted six months ago. And the speed with which the concepts of co-management and socialism have spread here testifies to the life and energy of this revolution. We have moved quite quickly from social programs (with money circulating but without new production of goods) to a push for endogenous economic development (stressing cooperatives and agriculture but without sectors likely to accumulate) to the creation and expansion of state sectors and the focus on co-management. True, it’s not entirely clear what either socialism or co-management mean here yet. But what the crowds out for this May Day march believe (if faces are any indication) is that both are “good.” And that, you will recognize, means a lot.

After four hours on this march/party, my companera and I recognized that we were several hours away yet from the place where the march was to end. So we decided to walk home (which was on the way) and use the opportunity to watch the rest on TV. When we got back at about 2:30, we could see the flood of red shirts on TV cheering the speakers and singers. The crowd was immense. (I haven’t seen estimates yet, but my guess would be a few hundred thousand.) Then Chávez arrived. He listened to a number of speakers from UNT, and then began to speak about the need to create new models, to borrow but not copy, to build co-management and a socialism of the 21st century.

These are becoming familiar themes. But, there was a new issue posed—the question of introduction of co-management in private firms. This is not Chávez’s initiative—it is a question being pushed by UNT and forms the basis of a bill which will be debated in the National Assembly. This, too, was part of our discussions in Valencia, and it is something to watch closely because the form it takes (our North American group at the workers [discussion] table stressed the importance of opening the books of the companies to the workers) is likely to mean an encroachment on capital.

In solidarity,
Michael

P.S. There also was a demonstration by the CTV, the old labor federation that backed the coup and the subsequent bosses’ lockout. A good indication of what the CTV has come to was revealed the day before when they indicated that they were expecting 40,000 participants and indicated that their main demands would be to free political prisoners (in particular, their former leader Carlos Ortega, a coup leader) and to deal with unemployment (which, they stressed, would need economic growth—something requiring negotiations between government, workers, and industrialists). From my window, before we headed for the UNT march, I could see the street where the CTV people were assembled. Didn’t look like much more than a thousand, but maybe more came (not many more, though, if the careful phrasing on El Universal’s website is any indication).

P.P.S.

Thanks so much to Fred Fuentes for alerting us here on Marxmail to the link containing the declarations from the Workers’ Table at the Solidarity Encounter.

http://www.venezuelasolidarity.org/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=62

I am delighted to see a translation (and will regularly check this site now). As I think the material is extremely important for all Marxists, socialists, revolutionaries (however we define ourselves), I reprint them below—both to make them available here on this list and also to correct something lost in the translation of the English-speakers’ statement as a way of introducing here what I think is an important point.

The first point in our statement would read better as: “We agree with the idea that without workers' co-management, there is no revolution. However, we believe that if workers' co-management is by itself, without dealing with the problems of  poverty, unemployment, and exclusion, there also can be no revolution.' I stress this because I proposed the wording for this first point; and it was consistent with one of the main elements in my own presentation to the Table—the potential for a lack of solidarity in co-management (as occurred in Yugoslavia) and for the specter of co-management for an aristocracy of labor in a Venezuela characterized by 80% poverty and an informal sector composing 50% of the working class.

Conclusions from Roundtable No. 3 “The Role of Workers in the Management of Companies”

In view of the important contributions presented during roundtable No. 3, entitled “The Role of Workers in the Management of Companies,” within the framework of the activities of the Third Global Encounter of Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, held in the city of Valencia during April 14–15, 2005, the following proposals have been collected, which synthesize a general consensus:

  1. The direct and democratic participation of workers in the management or co-management of production and distribution is an exceptional mechanism to guarantee and consolidate the Bolivarian Revolution. In order to implement this strategic policy, strong unity of the people and the working-class is required around the revolutionary program and direction of Commandante Chávez. This is how it will be possible to deepen the social, political, and economic transformations that our country demands, and take us in the direction of socialism of the XXI century.
  2. We view our co-management as Bolivarian, revolutionary, and anti-capitalist: BOLIVARIAN because it is a proposal of the Venezuelan revolution, adapted to our reality, culture, and historical legacy and because it takes in the constitutional mandate which aims to “establish a democratic, participatory, and protagonistic society”; REVOLUTIONARY because it aims to demolish the old structures and conceptions of power of the capitalist IV Republic and replace it with the new institutionalism and revolutionary consciousness; ANTI-CAPITALIST because it aims to demolish capitalist property relations and production and replace them with others where labor is privileged over capital. The principle that will guide workers management and co-management must be: Power to the workers and the people!
  3. In this sense, the process of workers management and co-management is framed within the ten strategic objectives of the new stage in the Bolivarian Revolution, particularly:

·   to advance in the conformation of the new social structure.

·   to advance in the construction of the new democratic model of popular participation.

·   to accelerate the construction of the new productive model, as a way toward the creation of the new economic system. In the current political conjuncture this is an urgency, in the face of the threat of imperialist aggression.

  1. Experiences up until now teach us that it is only possible to develop the knowledge of the running of companies by workers, when these belong to the state. The workers rejected any idea of turning workers of the co-managed or managed factories into small proprietors. It corresponds to those in the factories, to exert their role as guarantors of the sovereignty of the people established in the constitution, so that the profits of these companies become part of the social funds which help reverse the poverty of wide sections of the Venezuelan population and are not directed toward stimulating new business ventures.
  2. The participation of the community is fundamental in all of the process of workers co-management and management and in the development of the alternative model, in order to obtain the means toward the transformation of the production model and end social exclusion.
  3. The process of workers management and co-management in state-owned companies, within the framework of the present revolutionary process, is a fundamental step toward assuring the democratic participation of the sovereign [people] in decision-making. That is to say, it is a political act that makes concrete the alliance between the people that must control the state of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the working class, and not a corporative economic pact between a bosses’ state and a privileged caste of new state employees. We fight without truce against the threats of the internal counterrevolution, represented by bureaucratism, corruption, and nepotism.
  4. The process of workers management and co-management demands the existence of the organic organizations of the workers, the trade unions, but these will have to adapt their structure, objectives, and methods of work to the primary objective; to orient politically the workers in the key tasks of production and management of companies, reinforcing the bonds with the diverse popular organizations, in addition to the defense of their legitimate economic and social demands. In this sense the fundamental role of the UNT is indicated, as a revolutionary union federation aiming to orient, accompany, give direction to, and fortify this process.
  5. In order to advance in the process of workers co-management and management, it is necessary to promulgate a law that develops the constitutional lineaments on the norms that must reign as much in the state companies as the private ones. We make available to parliamentary delegates, the documents drafted by workers from the electrical sector and aluminum industry. In this sense, we state the important similarity of different expressions from the workers movement around the basic principle of production and distribution under workers management and co-management, all of which constitutes an important conceptual base for the elaboration of the necessary legislation, regulation, and normalization.
  6. By virtue of the political importance already indicated, we ask that the National Government continue in its timetable of bringing state companies into this process, designing and systematizing them with the participation of the workers, and forming a parity group between them and the Government. As well, just as in VENEPAL, to continue with the demands of workers from different companies from the private sector to initiate processes of workers co-management, particularly in the cases of Constructora Nacional de Válvulas (CNV), CANTV, and others.
  7. We ask of the National Government to publish all the contributions and to distribute all the materials presented by the national and international delegations, to obtain the widest possible distribution of the ideas and proposals that were debated here.
  8. We agree to express our broadest possible solidarity with the fight of the workers in their tenacious fight to take over companies and put them into the hands of the workers, both in Argentina and Brazil, as well as with all other similar cases in this continent and in the world. We give a special mention to the cases of CIPLA and INTERFIBRA in Brazil, and ask that the Government of President Lula take the necessary actions to stop the judicial persecution of a member of the Council of Recovered Companies, Serge Goulart.
  9. The participants of roundtable No. 3 express our unanimous and absolute solidarity with the Cuban revolution and its people, and express our deep rejection of the resolution pushed by Yankee imperialism, in the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The participants of this roundtable extend our solidarity to the anti imperialist fight of all the people that suffer from imperialist aggression, particularly to the heroic Iraqi and Haitian peoples, who face the invasion of their territory by Yankee troops.
  10. The participation of the workers in the management and co-management of companies, within the framework of the Venezuelan revolutionary process, has as it main objective to elevate the consciousness of the workers and the people to assume its role as the fundamental factor in the process of production and distribution. Capitalist regulation of production and social distribution is antagonistic and uncontrollable. Co-management makes the democratic control of the working people possible, recovering decision-making powers, as much political as socio-economical, for the producer. It is the only way to unite immediate goals with strategic objectives. The only way that can lead us to a true equality. Enough of the counterposition of formal equality and hierarchical inequality! These are practical steps to the socialization of production and distribution! With workers co management, the objective and subjective conditions mature!

NOTHING AND NOBODY WILL STOP THE VICTORIOUS MARCH OF THE BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION!

Valencia, April 15, 2005

Declaration from the English Speaking Guests at the Third Encounter of Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution

We agree upon the idea that without workers co-management there is no revolution. Nevertheless, we think that workers co-management as an end in itself in the fight against poverty, unemployment, and social exclusion will not lead to a revolution.

We felt inspired from listening to the debates of the last two days, because we saw what a discussion within a winning movement is like. We were impressed by the open and democratic atmosphere, the level of the debate, and the respect given to all points of view that were expounded.

We endorse the idea whereby, as a means to expand workers co-management to include the private sector, new laws are adopted that anticipate transparency in production and financial operation; that is to say, to make the books of the company made available to workers.

This Encounter has constituted a reaffirmation that the workers have the capacity and creativity to run their workplaces. Here, we have been witnesses to the increasing role of the union movement within the framework of the Bolivarian Revolution, in assuming the key social and political challenges of “Socialism in the XXI century” and in advancing the organizations in defense of the revolution in the workplace (the centers of production).

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
mlebowit@sfu.ca

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at
Residencias Anauco Suites
Departamento 601
Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
Caracas, Venezuela
(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724