by Gerry Foley / June 2005 issue of Socialist Action
Since President Hugo Chavez’s victory in the August 2004 referendum forced by the opposition in an attempt to unseat him, the third major assault against his government in less than three years, a radicalization has been accelerating in Venezuela.
The radicalization reached a new high point with a march of a million people in Caracas on May Day, organized by the UNT (National Union of Workers), a
new union confederation that arose out of a reaction by the workers against the alliance between the old trade-union bureaucracy and the reactionary
pro-imperialist bourgeois opposition to Chavez. Red shirts were the uniform for the march, and the president himself appeared in one.
Before the vast crowd, Chavez declared that the goal of his government was socialism. The website Venezuelaanalysis.com quoted the president as saying:
“It is impossible that we will achieve our goals with capitalism, nor is it possible to find an intermediate path. … I invite all of Venezuela to march on the path
of socialism of the new century. We must construct a new socialism of the 21st century.”
The report continued: “Chavez had just returned from Cuba earlier that day, where his government and that of Cuba signed 49 cooperation agreements. In allusion to his visit, Chavez said that the Cuban Revolution ‘vibrates to the same rhythm’ as Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution and that the changes have just barely begun. He pointed out, though, that his government does not intend to copy the Cuban model of socialism.”
Effective May 1, the Chavez government decreed a 26 percent increase in the minimum wage. The president’s popularity rating has risen in accordance with the radicalization in the country. It has already topped 70 percent. That is a dazzling contrast to the fate of Lucio Gutierrez, the recently ousted president of
Gutierrez had a similar origin to that of Chavez. He was a military officer who went over to the side of the masses in a confrontation with a neoliberal
regime. It was on that basis, like Chavez, that he was elected president. But once in office, he tried to continue neoliberal policies and subsequently his
popularity evaporated. It stood at 4 percent in the week when he fled the country.
The predominant slogan in the UNT-organized march reportedly was “without co-management there is no revolution, without revolution there is no
co-management!” In the conception of the radical trade union confederation, co-management apparently means workers’ control, that is, the right of workers’ representatives to oversee the functioning of the enterprises in which they work. In the Russian Revolution, workers’ control was the first stage of
the nationalization of the economy.
Bill Burgess, a member of the Vancouver and District Labor Council delegation to the Third Global Gathering of Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, in Venezuela in mid-April, reported in a recent edition of the Canadian webzine Socialist Voice on a three-day roundtable meeting on co-management held in context of this assembly:
“Loud cheering was common for speakers like Angel Naves when they sharply distinguished their ‘Bolivarian co-management’ from co-management in
countries like Germany or Argentina. Naves argued that in the latter, union leaders are simply co-opted into existing management structures and methods.”
Burgess noted, moreover, that Naves saw co-management as a social process and not just a question of company management: “Federation of Electrical Workers' leader Angel Naves told the roundtable that enterprises under workers’ control must serve their surrounding communities and society at large. He argued that the union movement should reject any notions that such enterprises belong only to the workers employed. The final resolution approved by the roundtable characterized the co-management as ‘Bolivarian,
revolutionary, and anti-capitalist.’”
Co-management in the electrical industry developed out of the workers’ resistance to privatization. “The Chavez government halted the privatizations and appointed union representatives to the companies’ boards of directors. A variety of workplace assemblies and ‘transparency’ [open the books] policies have been instituted.”
Burgess indicated that the inspiration for the workers’ moves to take control of their enterprises came from the resistance of the oil workers to the attempt of the capitalists and the reactionary union bureaucracy to force Chavez out by a campaign of lockouts and economic sabotage at the end of 2002:
“The workers were able to restore production in several key refineries, and the bosses’ strike failed to drive the government of President Hugo Chavez from
office. Although the oil workers did not institutionalize a direct participation in the direction of the state-owned oil company PDVSA, some 400 striking managers were dismissed. Other speakers said the class consciousness of all workers was raised by the example of oil and other workers who mobilized
to keep their workplaces running during the bosses’ strike.”
So far, co-management is limited to state-owned companies, but Burgess reported that the UNT is trying to get it extended to privately owned companies as well. Moreover, the government maintains that it will support workers’ takeovers of companies that are being sabotaged by their capitalist owners.
The social radicalization in Venezuela has gone hand in hand with a more and more outspoken defiance of U.S. imperialism by Chavez and his government. Chavez has declared that the U.S. rulers intend to try to assassinate him. The Christian Science Monitor reported May 20 that U.S. Undersecretary of State Otto Reich “calls the Castro-Chavez relationship an ‘axis of subversion.’”