US Workers Study Venezuela’s Revolution
They returned him to office in less than 48 hours, with the help of the progressive sector of the armed forces.
It can be clearly seen that this commitment to the Bolivarian Revolution, which finally has included the people and elevated their standard of living and dignity, is even firmer today.
Last year’s gathering illustrated the firm decision by Chávez to elevate the quality of life of the people, particularly the poorest, through special Misiones, or alternative projects of health, education and employment.
Revolution at critical junctureThe gathering this year had exceptional significance. The revolution is at a crucial juncture. It has tremendously increased its base of support, having been ratified by nine election processes. It has survived innumerable destabilization campaigns directed by the US government, both inside the country and worldwide through a hostile media campaign.
The time has come when the advancement of the process has led to a direct confrontation with the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and with the property relations that support its enormous privileges.
Contradictions are so sharp that only two roads are possible: go back or go forward. The dynamism of the revolution does not allow for anything to stand still.
Since they achieved their goal of freeing Chávez, the masses have learned much in a short time. Their political awareness has developed as they tasted the flavor of empowerment. How can they go back?
The road forward has already been defined by Chávez himself: the Bolivarian Revolution will take the road of socialism. He first announced it in January in a press conference during the World Social Forum in Brazil, and has repeated it many times since.
Chávez announced on April 13, during the opening of this year’s event in the Teresa Carreño Theatre, that “After much thinking, and reading and re-reading about the world, I have turned into a socialist.” This was received quite warmly by Venezuelan workers, students, government figures and international guests, judging by the prolonged applause that followed.
This statement, which closed the inauguration ceremony, was preceded by the phrase “and if these were not enough ... .” Chávez was referring to his enumeration of the progress made by the revolution, developments that are making the US government and corporations, particularly oil companies, nervous.
Ready to defend the revolutionThe developments mentioned were many. They include activating a 200,000-strong Military Reserve of both women and men, of all ages, to defend the country. This will be increased to 2 million in the coming months. Venezuela is keenly aware of being a Pentagon target and thus is preparing the reserve army in every corner of the country—from the Apure region where reservists patrol on horseback to Indigenous people in the Amazon jungle. As Chávez said, “The revolution is advancing, and as it advances, the threats increase.”
Chávez spoke at length on the oil question. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, he said, and they are the primary interest of the US. The oil today is being managed by the revolution for the benefit and advantage of the people and not for the profit of US oil companies, as it used to be during previous governments. Taxes are finally being imposed and enforced on foreign companies. Stealing of oil and its derivatives will no longer be permitted in Venezuela.
Companies used to pay a ludicrous amount of rent for the land they occupied—just pennies per year per acre. The royalties on oil ran as low as 1 percent on heavy crude. That has been raised to 16 percent, and under a new law the royalty on regular crude is raised to 30 percent and could be increased further.
Thorough investigation by the Bolivarian government discovered that the foreign companies were not paying rent for their land. Now this robbery will stop.
Chávez also mentioned trade relations with other countries. Venezuela will supply Argentina with oil for the first time in 100 years. It will exchange 8 million barrels of fuel oil for pregnant cows, nuclear medical equipment for cancer treatment and agricultural machinery. This avoids having to use so-called hard currencies.
“Similar treaties have been established with Cuba, Jamaica, Uruguay, Paraguay and many other countries of the Caribbean and Central America,” said Chávez. “Now we have a strategic agreement with China, to supply oil, and with India."
He explained that Venezuela, together with Brazil, “will form Petroamerica, a grouping of oil and oil-related companies; and soon Petrocaribe will be born in the Caribbean.”
He also mentioned the new initiative of Telesur, a television network based in Caracas and several other South American countries. Venezuela is also proposing a “Bank of the South” to “break the oppressive chains of economic imperialism of the IMF and World Bank.”
Needless to say, the US CIA is operating 24 hours a day to break the revolution. However, the political will of the masses is progressing in spite of this.
Participatory and protagonist democracy, the cornerstone of the Venezuelan revolution, was palpable durinh the sessions, where a six-person delegation from the US organized by the International Action Center participated. They were Steve Gillis and Frantz Mendes, president and vice president, respectively, of the Boston School Bus Drivers Union; Julie Fry from Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST); Lourdes Bela of the Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle, and Betsey Piette and this writer from the Philadelphia IAC.
Workers are taking over plantsThese delegates attended three of the eight different working sessions held during the gathering. They covered “Farmers facing the challenge of making the agrarian reform irreversible,” “The role of workers in the management of companies” and “Education for the social transformation and construction of the ethical project of the human subject.” Betsey Piette attended the session on the role of the workers.
She said that over 500 Venezuelan workers gathered for the two-and-a-half-day workshop, which focused on Bolivarian co-management and alternative economic models. They were joined by international delegates from other Latin American countries, Canada and the US. The program was organized and facilitated by the National Workers Union of Venezuela (UNT).
Among the program participants were the head of the UNT; representatives of the Bolivarian Workers Force; the president of the Invepal workers’ union; Venezuela’s minister of labor; labor leaders of the transport sector; Cuban representatives, and representatives of workers’ struggles in Brazil and Argentina. Among those attending were workers from the oil, aluminum, transport, education and electric industries.
The national director of the UNT and a representative from Invepal described the three-year struggle of the workers there to stop the shutdown of that paper plant through the development of a union, occupation of the plant, and finally a takeover of the facility with government support in January 2005. The workers will reopen the plant later this month, producing books for use in Venezuela’s literacy program.
An alternative example of co-management at the electrical plant CADAFE was presented. The facility includes a recreation area for workers and their families and a cooperative cafeteria. Conference participants were able to visit CADAFE and also tour the Invepal plant.
Repeatedly, conference participants stressed that whatever the model used, the struggle for workers’ control in Venezuela should not be limited to the public sector or to a takeover of failed industries abandoned by their former capitalist owners.
Speakers received resounding applause when they stressed that co-management is not about Venezuelan workers becoming “shareholders who own capital,” but about overturning capitalist property relations and replacing them with workers’ control over all the industry through socialism.
Steve Gillis, president of USWA Local 8751, Boston School Bus Drivers Union, presented T-shirts from the Million Worker March and messages of solidarity to the Venezuelan workers.
Gillis denounced US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s criticism of Chávez as the leader of a “failed revolution.” “It is capitalism that is the failed system,” Gillis noted, “because it has shown itself incapable of providing for the basic needs of working and poor people.”
Republished with permission of ANNCOL, The New Colombia News Agency. ANNCOL, based in Stockholm, Sweden, is an association of Latin American and European journalists founded in 1996. Since May 1998, ANNCOL has been providing on-line news about Colombia. ANNCOL is an associated member of FELAP, the Latin American Federation of Journalists. Visit ANNCOL.ORG for more information.
Copyright © 2005 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
This story was published on May 1, 2005.