Opinion and Analysis: Labor and Workers' Control
Workers’ Control, Challenges and the Revolutionary Government: An Interview with Elio Sayago, President of CVG Alcasa
On 15 May 2010, Elio Sayago, a revolutionary activist with a long history of struggle, was named worker-president of CVG Alcasa by [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez, with the explicit order to implement Worker Control and the Socialist Guyana Plan. As the comrade relates in this interview, his management has been the victim of a series of bureaucratic traps; from the violent seizure of the company’s front gates, to manoeuvres aimed at unduly removing him from his post.
LC: Elio, What is the current situation within the process of change that is being carried out in the Guayana [CVG] companies?
Sayago: Well, we are going to address four elements that I want to highlight in this interview, which are: Operative, Organisational, Political, and Financial. It is important to analyse Alcasa from a position that we define as a revolutionary advance. For us, the president of the republic [Hugo Chavez] is launching the advance of the revolution in the economic sphere here (Guayana), when the president says in Guayana: “I play on the side of the workers”.
First of all, you are not going to find a Maracaibo Socialist Plan, a Merida Socialist Plan, or a Caracas Socialist Plan, because the socialist aspect of the economic sphere is Guayana. It’s a challenge for us, and involves carrying out a revolutionary offensive to consolidate the Bolivarian Revolution.
We cannot deny that in these ten years, the natural fact of assuming government has involved dismantling the structures of the adecos y copeyanos [translator: referring to Democratic Action (AD) and Christian Democrats (Copei) the two ruling parties of Venezuela’s Fourth Republic period, 1958-1998]. This allowed for an autonomy which we have advanced in both our political and territorial sovereignty. Today, as a country we have relations with whomever we please, furthermore we are promoting a multi-polar world with regards to sovereignty, (including) OPEC relations in the field of energy.
The role that Venezuela plays on the world stage and the repercussions that this has are undeniable; especially for those who are weakest. Latin American relations have been extraordinary, the (bilateral) missions for example, even within the field of finance. When the president (Chávez) came to power, banking was totally controlled by the private sector. Today, state banks hold the majority of the national banking system. We can give concrete examples of the advances made by the revolution in the manufacturing sector, for instance, the recovered companies which were nationalised and which are now productive.
But when the president launches the cry for Socialist Plan Guyana and says “I play on the side of the workers”, this involves a deepening of the search to intervene in the mode of production within the economic sphere, aiming to develop productive forces and the transformation of the social relations of production. This is a challenge which is uniquely for us (in Guayana), with what we made reference to at the start; that there isn’t a Socialist Plan Maracaibo. It is through Socialist Plan Guyana that we can bring together the construction of iron, steel and aluminium companies under workers’ control, which involves creating just one company.
At the moment the aluminium sector consists of eight companies from the point of extraction to the processors; Alcasa, Alunasa, Cabelum, Rialca. Furthermore there are nationalised companies such as Alven, Alvarca, and Alentuy. From these companies, it is necessary to construct just one: and here a theoretical element comes into play, with regards to how this company would be structured, how it would be ordered, how it can make use of of spare parts, experience, primary material, input, knowledge, within what has been up to now eight companies, eight businesses, eight presidents, eight management boards. Multiply eight by twenty managers, with their logistics and administration, each one culturally separated by institutional individualism and the fact that historically they have been separate businesses, each competing against the other.
This is a structural approach; to order the mode of production so that the concept of the search for the workers of Bauxilium, Alcasa and Venalum is strengthened, so they are not just thinking about their own companies, but rather that they start to think about how their work, their efforts, the relationship that we as human beings have with nature through aluminium and iron, contribute to the search for the happiness of human beings; or of that of the worker. We can give that relationship with nature to human beings through the products which allow them to solve problems in society.
We would be talking about the search for a culture of work which aims to provide satisfaction for human beings. Of course, this entails the elimination of a certain culture: if the extraction worker has bauxite as their production, they are always accustomed to extracting bauxite, and with that you cannot make an arepa [popular Venezuelan bread].
That is how aluminium begins to be used from the point of view of making a wheel, or aluminium for medicine, it is a worthwhile use. In creating just one business out of the corporation, just one factory, we are looking to construct the concept that, “my efforts must go towards this collective value, and we all have to be working towards this”
Let’s leave behind that historic culture of being the producers of primary material at the service of transnational companies; we want to develop our productive forces, to convert them into agents of transformation so that they can provide solutions for society. Of course, this is a revolutionary process in which the state’s current productive capacity is small, but we have to start off with that.
The fact that state production companies at the moment don’t have the necessary aluminium to cover their installed capacity cannot be justified. It is that path that we are pursuing right now with the 2012 Socialist Plan Guyana, in order to consolidate the corporations within the process of developing our productive forces. We would be starting with that aspect.
Of course, we are going to say that that development of productive forces, for example in Alcasa’s plan, is to do with stabilising and developing productive forces until the US $403 million that the president of the Republic [Chavez] approved in 2010 materialises. The dollars which have been in “BANDES” since 2010 due to the bureaucracy of CVG and MIBAM [translator: Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana (CVG), the steering organisation of the nationalised basic industries of the Guayana region, and the Ministry of Basic Industries and Mining (MINAB), the government department which oversees CVG, headed by minister Jose Khan]. It has not been possible to sign the commercial contract with the Chinese to properly implement the development which Alcasa is designed for: to go from producing a historic 35,000 tonnes of laminates (for roofing), to 116,000 tonnes of laminates, and, for the first time, with an orientation towards sustaining the Great Housing Mission. (translator: refers to the large-scale house building program the Venezuelan government launched earlier this year). We’re thinking of constructing and developing a construction factory for housing, where annually we’ll produce 40,000 tonnes of structural bases for housing.
For us, the situation is very simple in this sense: in what context are we going to develop the productive force to create a concrete practise? From stability, integrity, maintenance, from achieving the stabilisation of production to the development of the 403 million dollars that the president has already approved. We need to analyse bureaucracy from the point of the social relations of production.
Firstly, as Alcasa is beginning this process within the sphere of developing productive forces, it’s important within that framework and that historic context; when the president launches the cry “I play on the side of the workers” and that of workers’ control, that what we are looking for is to bring to fruition and give structure to the protagonism of the people in the construction of their own destiny.
As we are achieving that culture of mutual responsibility, and in the sense of when we talk about the advance of the revolution, the president of the Republic is really asking a question to the state functionary; “are you ready to share power with the workers and the people?” And that’s how a dynamic is created which has not existed for the past ten years of the revolution, confrontation inside of our own government.
Why? Because during the first ten years we progressed by taking power within those spheres that I already pointed out (international relations, sovereignty etc), but it is now within the economic sphere that the president is declaring Socialist Plan Guyana, with all of its geopolitical and economic elements, which involve economic power for Guayana. It’s vital that when we are talking about collective management under workers’ control, not everybody says “yes!”, because here in Guyana the contradictions inside our own government are beginning to get worse. Because there are bureaucratic networks and mafias that have managed to take advantage in the past ten years by wearing little red caps, so that they can get positions of power. Now they have these privileges and they don’t want to lose them.
They are even potentially converting themselves into enemies of the revolution, because the revolution means a real process of transformation. As Jesus Christ said, ‘you are known for your acts’. So it’s not a matter of what they may say, anyone call talk well, but a matter of what they do. What is the result of their actions in Guayana?
This is what is being put to the test within our own government, who is prepared to share power with the workers and organised communities, and who is trying to continue with the same structure of ‘I command and the rest obey’. It is important to understand this from a historic-political point of view, because there is a theoretical debate surrounding what contradiction exactly must be solved by the Bolivarian revolution.
From a one-way point of view, we have to understand that Venezuela, Guayana, the aluminium, steel and oil sectors, aren’t detached from the global economic system. Beyond the purely economic, there is a global crisis of the system which is threatening humanity. Therefore, when we talk of the crisis of the prevailing model in Alcasa, in the iron sector, in the oil sector, what we are talking about is inseparable from the global crisis which is putting humanity in danger.
This is important because I would say right now, the fundamental contradiction that we have to resolve within the Bolivarian revolution is the contradiction between the nation and imperialism. We have to separate them, as if we were not part of the same system. These are the internal contradictions of the same global capitalist system in which we are immersed.
It is this that allows elements of the bureaucracy, in the name of confronting the United States, to say: “Look, you shouldn’t say anything to me, because we are the revolutionaries confronting the United States”. “I want to continue with that easy attitude of ‘I command and you obey,’ a “we’re replacing you with me” (thus maintaining the same structures as before). From the nationalist point of view, any Perez-Jimenista could say that [translator: in reference to Venezuelan nationalist-dictator Perez Jimenez, Venezuela president 1952- 1958]. Any bourgeois nationalist could say that the Bolivarian revolution involves state capitalism, nationalism from the point of view of the capitalist bourgeoisie. .
Therefore that concept, deployed by those who aim to protect themselves - that there’s no need to say anything [critical] - is an important theoretical element for me. Precisely what we are doing in Guayana is that we are in the historical human process of historical materialism, that makes human beings relate between one another. Those relations between ourselves and those relations with nature through water, air, iron, oil, and aluminium, those relations with nature and with each other should allow us the perpetuation and development of the species, individually and socially.
Now, these relations which we have been having as human beings are the societies which we have been constructing historically and through which we relate to each other; from slavery and the nature of those relations, and those relations of that society based in nature, the nature of those relations within feudalism and also in capitalism. What relations are we looking to construct within the globalised system within which we are immersed?
So here is where the concept of mutual responsibility comes into play, described perfectly by our commander (Chávez) when he talks about the patriotic pole, when he talks about the mutual responsibility of popular power within workers’ control; precisely because right in the middle of the crisis of this system, humanity is defining itself – our structural relations; it’s either I order and you obey, or we get involved in the solution that is being demanded by humanity, and that is where the element of workers’ control breaks with those differences that exist within the government.
That’s why, when the president said “I play on the side of the workers” and he approved the Socialist Guayana Plan, many bureaucrats within the government said that the workers were unprepared. I say that it is they who are prepared, with an ideology and a working diagram of the very system that is in crisis, and they don’t have the humility or the openness to allow themselves to learn how to construct the new social relations that are being demanded by society.
Just as revolutions arose within slavery and feudalism, we are constructing the revolution that is a point of reference for humanity on a global level, and a revolution precisely within the arena of the development of productive forces and the transformation of the social relations of production, which is exactly what we are discussing and collectively constructing.
LC: What is the particular situation in Alcasa?
Sayago: We knew that the previous administration at Alcasa had plans to close it down, using the excuse that Alcasa was running at a loss for 26 years, which is true. They were planning to close it in order to make agreements with transnational companies. Alcasa should function at its installed capacity of more or less 396 cells [translator: the units used to separate aluminium from oxygen at extremely high temperatures is a process known as “reduction”], of these 396 cells they left us with 236, 250 of which were past their use-by date, code red, high risk.
They also lumbered us with the suppliers of input materials for the production of aluminium, all of which are international. They left us in debt, showing us three documents signed by the previous administration pledging to pay the guys that had sent the material, but they hadn’t paid them, plus, when those suppliers came to the country, they wouldn’t even meet with them. Just imagine the situation!
With our cash flow restricted, paying the workers their fortnightly salaries was delayed, generating conflicts all over the place. This is how they justified the intervention by the transnational, with a view to re-launching the factory. Well, this situation was overcome by the workers. Right away we began discussions in the company’s common room, showing a video, we explained: What is going on? What have we got? What are we going to do? And from that, everyone knew what was going to be done and what couldn’t be done, what we could pay and what we couldn’t pay.
This method allowed for a general trust to develop, as much with national suppliers as with international. We were presented with the problem that some international suppliers didn’t want to supply us with material. We had to go to suppliers with whom we didn’t have a commercial relationship and, as we didn’t have any debt with them, begin to buy material. The others [translator: with whom Alcasa already had debt], obviously said we had to pay back the debt, and due to the fact they didn’t trust us, that we should pay everything in advance.
We managed to broker an agreement with the small amount that we were generating, which meant that the traditional suppliers began saying “without giving these guys anything, they are moving six, eight, twelve million dollars a month. Then they listened to a proposal that we made to them; if you give us three years without charging any interest on our debt, then within a year and a half we will pay that debt back and you will be supplying us with material, and what little we are getting will be permanently being given back to yourselves, which also acted as a guarantee for them to generate trust.
If I need material in august, as the majority of the input material comes from China, you should have it sent to me in July, but I have to deposit [the money] to you in August; it was that part of the agreement which allowed us to operate and continue paying off the debt.
Well, we started to work within that framework and it has yielded results. We have suffered from a weakness in our cash flow to buy primary material and start to put away labour benefits that naturally had been generated over the last few years, where absolutely no one was paid anything, neither savings, nor their food tickets, social security, or housing benefit, absolutely nothing.
In order to do what we call putting the company books in order, we made a proposal to put in order those books that had not even been maintained with all those debts. Working in this fashion the suppliers, meeting every week with the administration, made a repayment schedule, and little by little we gained their trust and they gave us a permanent solution.
So we made plans. One of the first was in November and December, when production was limited due to inoperative cells as has been previously described. We began to recover and stabilise production, because in the production of aluminium you have to insert and remove the cells which are already past their use-by date, and so in this process you don’t increase production but rather you maintain it, it is very slow to increase production; it’s not like an oven that you turn on and off.
However the reduction workers have made an extraordinary effort. Our plans were to stabilise [production] in December and January, and then in February we started to incorporate cells. Unfortunately, given the context of political conflicts, some confrontations against worker control were generated from those sectors who disguised themselves as red (Leftist/Chavista).
They saw that worker control was being materialised in Alcasa; and that after twenty six years of running at a loss, the Alcasa plant was re-emerging under workers’ control. Of course that was deadly for a bureaucrat who is trying to refute history, because obviously we are going to go over his head: that bureaucrat isn’t stupid and he is going to defend the interests and privileges that he has obtained in this process.
And so began the conflict of the thirty four day strike, [translator: a strike in January – Febuary 2011 ostensibly over pay, by a sector regarded by other union currents in Alcasa as a “fifth column” – opposition sectors posing as Chavistas attempting to destabilise Alcasa’s experiment in worker control] you were witnesses at the gates, of how these political trade union sectors behaved (were violent towards other workers); as with a follow worker dead in Ferrominero, those wounded by shots in Bauxilum, and the Alcasa workers wounded by blows. Of course, this attack was combined with strikes and the financial weakness of the company, which generated an operative crisis. At the moment, it has not been possible for us to stabilise Alcasa in order to start to re-launch it again.
Obviously it’s a permanent struggle, and against all adversity, we gained the confidence of national clients. It’s important to highlight this because Alcasa is the only company that isn’t complying with a contract of future sale, which has resulted in the sinking of companies by Glencoe and Noble. [translator: “future sales” refers to contracts where parties agree a price the producer will be paid for aluminium, but months in advance of the aluminium being produced. This can mean with inflation and the rising worth of aluminium that the transnational supply chain manager (Glencoe and Noble) pays less in currency value to the producer (Alcasa) for aluminium than originally agreed]
You have a national and international legal discussion and those contracts are classified as scams: conditions where the transnational puts down money that is paid for with primary aluminium, but at a higher price than what they were going to pay for the aluminium. What they were going to pay the company is from a deal made three months earlier, and that hides what the LMG was like. The transnational can hide the price it wants, but on top of that, it is also only going to pay half of the premium, 18% of the loan interest, and you pay them the cost of the transport to carry the material.
Evidently we discussed this contract politically in an assembly and with the Board of Directors, and we at Alcasa decided that its application wasn’t viable, and until now we haven’t complied with this contract. Alcasa is the only company that has taken this decision. So in the field of operations we managed to meet with national clients, and through an open discussion with everyone, we succeeded in getting them to raise the payment for premiums that historically weren’t charged as a premium. They used to be charged at twenty dollars [per ton of aluminium].
We managed to get them to raise the premiums by one hundred, one hundred and fifty dollars per ton. We also managed to get them to put up more than 30 million dollars for the incorporation of the cells, that is to say that Alcasa have come up with solutions in the field of production, but we have had a restricted cash flow.
Since December 2010, we have presented a proposal to the ministry (of Mining and Basic Industries) to import aluminium, give it added value in Alcasa’s production installations, and to sell it to clients who have been asking us for 65,000 tonnes monthly since last year. This business of importing and adding value was going to allow us to have monthly earnings of at least 20 million BsF (US$4.65 million), that is for October this year we would have managed to earn 200 million BsF (US$46.5 million) and in the whole year 240 million BsF (US$55.8 million), that’s even with the company’s financial weaknesses. Historically, Alcasa has generated policies so that even when it is only running at half its production capacity, the government has to permanently be paying the interest on social benefits (for workers) and make up minimum earnings. (Translator: social benefits paid by the company to workers are put into a bank account for 5 days of each month, which generates interest. The government covers the cost of the interest when the company is not earning enough to meet it independently. As a state company, when Alcasa is not meeting its own running costs, the state is also obliged to make up the difference)
We have 121 million BsF (US$28 million) to pay in social benefits and 90 million (US$21 million) to attain in minimum earnings (to maintain production). That is, we need 211 million BsF (US$49 million). If the deal that we have been proposing since December 2010 were given the go ahead, Alcasa would be in the conditions to pay its own social benefits to workers and meet its minimum running costs for the first time ever, and up to now they haven’t approved it.
Here is where we enter the political realm. As we have already demonstrated, Alcasa has made concrete proposals in order to be able to return to financial operation, so why have these proposals not been given the go ahead? Because when we are going to transform the mode of production, the dialectics of the transformation include; the means of production, the productive forces and the social relations of production. This transformation is expressed in three ways:
1) Power relations
2) Commercial relations
3) Relations relating to the very division of labour, or the fragmentation of knowledge according to which industry acts and is managed.
In the political realm, there is the trade union sector linked to the state with deputies and ex-ministers, which receive support even from the State Department. Even though the President of the Republic named me for this post (President of Alcasa) on Saturday 15th of May 2010, that very Monday, that trade union sector released an official statement rejecting my position as Company President.
Back and forth between those social relations of production, which are about power, is obviously where we find the crux of the matter. The great battle continues to follow the designated structure of ‘you command and the others obey’. Workers’ control and mutual responsibility has to be implemented.
In that sense, Alcasa has been consolidating work groups through operative management, where the concept that we are pursuing is that knowledge is linked to the reduction (of aluminium) through those who undertake the work, those who control the variables of work, those who plan the work combined with logistics, finance and environment; they make a work group in which decisions are then taken according to that knowledge.
Mathematically, when you make a decision, you make a decision to do something; and in doing that something, you are immersed within the action of carrying that activity through, but you are also immersed in the different variables that are involved in that activity, the planning of the activity, the logistics of it, the observations and consequences of doing it. Plan Simon Bolivar was conceived from this concept. [translator: Venezuelan’s national economic and social plan, geared toward the socialist development of the nation]
In Socialist Plan Guayana, with the aim of achieving technical sovereignty within the revolution, the best actions and decisions are made when you are in a work group, with respect and cooperation. This action brings together all the knowledge from carrying through all the different variables involved in the planning stage. Therefore, a better decision will be taken.
So the work groups and administration support groups were conceived of from within this framework, we support them so that their work can come to fruition, so that in the area of reduction, lamination and melting, the other workers are a support network. We also formed a Procedural Coordination Body (CPP), which includes the operative administration, the union, the hygiene and security committee, and the (company) presidency.
This is a holistic vision of the plant in order to be able to prioritise when you are facing a shortage in something, but also to be able to define what we are going to do in relation to the demands that exist within the factory. This is what we are consolidating. We are even running an exercise right now with work groups in the areas where workers should participate and forming a relationship with the other workers on duty.
As a worker on duty in a specific area knows what is happening in management, in the CPP, the work group should guarantee an organic relationship in the maintenance area. For example, so that the CPP can develop an approach towards maintenance, melting, lamination etc; we create a production system at an intermediate level which obliges the production sector to meet (with other sectors) in order to share spare parts, supplies, experience, planning techniques and then the factory is just one thing, just one process, although it might be separated into several sub-processes.
That is how we go about creating a holistic culture within the process, as we are organising and stabilising the productive forces and social relations of production. When we talk about man, there needs to be a system which plans for the transformation of man. That is where the management of communication, of personnel, of structure, organisation and methods, culture and sport, everything linked to being human should be, so that there is a central plan to transform the human being, the worker, in three fundamental aspects, which is the essential development of the human being within the material realm, called quality of life.
In the intellectual realm is the quest to achieve technological sovereignty and also control over what we are doing as a society, from what society we came and where we are going. There is also a spiritual development; as Jesus Christ said “treat your neighbour as you would have yourself treated.” This isn’t theory, and to treat a neighbour as you would have yourself be treated involves mutual responsibility and the taking of collective decisions.
If you don’t undertake an exercise in participation, then it is a lie that you are going to generate a different type of consciousness. The essence and strength of capitalism is that the structures beneath which we work oblige a worker to compete with another worker in order to bring food home for his family, because there’s a little promotion that’s going to allow him to have a little higher salary.
Of course, a worker isn’t going to say to others: “here is my knowledge so that you can learn”, that’s a lie, but it (capitalism) is designed in such a way as that you have to be individualist and compete with your colleagues in order to take a bit more salary home, this is precisely when we don’t work together collectively, make collective decisions, resolve our housing situation collectively.
Of course Marx pointed it out, existence determines consciousness. An existence based on individualistic behaviour, what type of consciousness is that going to create? Some people complain and say the workers don’t have a consciousness. I say to them: you’re stupid. What type of consciousness is capitalism going to generate? How are you going to ask capitalism to generate a consciousness of solidarity for you if that’s a negation of itself? And that’s precisely where it is; in practice, in doing something concrete, in how we do it: that is where the secret of consciousness lies and what conditions that consciousness.
That’s the structure that we have in the organisational realm and furthermore in the assembly we discuss plans; for example financial deals with the clients. All of that is discussed, approved and defined in the assembly, because in the end it’s the workers who are going to produce, and if we make commitments without consulting them, everything gets complicated and doesn’t work, it doesn’t make sense.
We would be denying what we want to construct, which is that element of mutual responsibility within the sphere of power in the social relations of production, through which those who support the old system and those who believe it is necessary to transform, but through action, come into conflict. As such, that union and political sector began a confrontation two days after my naming as company president in 2010, with the story of the payment for mobile equipment that is contracted and cooperative.
Demanding things is normal, natural and necessary, nobody has denied the workers their right to the benefits of their labour. But what is evident is that, beyond that arena of making demands, they decided to strike when the President of the Republic was giving us the factory. And there was a strike against this revolutionary government, from the very same people who call themselves revolutionary, it’s like saying to the people “Chávez is against your interests, and that’s why I have to strike, so that they pay me my dues”.
LC: What was the intention of the strike?
Sayago: The message which they themselves are giving is the excuse that the Minister hadn’t approved some money [translator: of mining and basic industries]. Those who were losing out were Alcasa, the workers, the city, the country, the economy. There was a conflict in January and February with the tale that those guys were triumphant in the conflict, so it was better for them to ask for resources and then for the executive to give them BsF 136 million BsF (US $31.6 million) so that they could be seen as the victors before the coming electoral process. [translator: refers to the Alcasa trade union elections held in August 2011, see below].
That was the political excuse, because in reality they were trying to generate a crisis through the strike, so that the workers’ control project at Alcasa couldn’t get past all of those hold ups we’re talking about. And that was the nature of that conflict that you witnessed, those 34 days were hard, from a business point of view. Well, you saw the chancellor (Nicolas Maduro) and the minister (of Minam, Jose Khan) putting an end to the strike in Venalum (translator: another nationalised aluminium production company overseen by CVG) but letting the one in Alcasa continue, that action was public and notorious, as if the Alcasa strike was a revolutionary strike.
The strike in Venelum was counterrevolutionary, because it was a [right-wing] opposition-union. A group in power were also shown to have been complicit in it. But not only that, they also sent people from that movement to China to represent the presidency of Alcasa and to negotiate with the Chinese. They started inventing things and making agreements which were out of touch with the concrete reality of Alcasa, unrelated to the needs of Alcasa.
So when we began institutionally to have that relationship (with the Chinese), obviously the constant confrontation meant that the presidency went unrecognised for those 34 days. You could see a union from the company appearing in the media with the Chinalco Company, a representative of the Chinese state, who are the investors. So you have part of just any old union accompanying the representatives of the Chinese state, when that wasn’t their responsibility, you just can’t do that!
Well, that’s what happened. It was in the press and the media. As they didn’t manage to achieve what they wanted through violence, they came up with another strategy. By this time the workers were so tired of so much violence that they recovered the presidency after 25 days. As soon as they recovered the presidency, these guys invent another story about a disabled woman, and they were denouncing me for physically hitting her. They went to the press looking to reach those in power within the region, they went to the courts, to the prosecution, but in the end they didn’t get any results from the accusation.
The fact that they have power would mean making me a prisoner, but that strategy was defeated. Then the chancellor and the minister take me to Cuba, where they have the cheek to tell me that the president is going to undertake a restructuration of the company in the name of the Republic, and that I have to put him (the chancellor) in charge of this. My response was to tell them that I would undertake an assessment (of Alcasa) and then present it to the president so that he could then decide. So that strategy didn’t work for them either.
So then they opted for administrative isolation. Since December we have been asking for a contract in which we are proposing to national investors, under the conditions that we have established with them, an investment of over US$30 million, which they would give to us over a period of time so that we can start reactivating the cells.
Three dead months. Whilst we bought the materials and everything necessary for the incorporation of this, after upping production levels by an additional 33% so that we could pay back the debt and pay for the materials. But at what price? At the normal market price. So we, what we are producing and selling, works out like a loan with no interest, with 3 months when natural and normal production was dead, because they refused to approve the contract.
On the 6th of October, an evaluation was being conducted in Socialist Plan Guayana, and I, as part of the Sub-Commission that had been named by the President of the Republic, wasn’t allowed entry to a meeting of all the CVG company presidents.
María Cristina Iglesia, Giordani and the chancellor were present at this meeting. The Minister had the cheek to say to me that the other three would not allow me to enter, and that if I went in, the other three would leave. That’s what they said to the workers who were demanding that I attend, because not allowing me to attend an evaluation of the Socialist Guayana Plan, which is what we have been constructing, is not only ignoring the president of the republic, but also the workers of Guayana.
Doing that is like saying “I’ll do what I like”. “He can enter if I feel like it, or he can’t if I don’t”. This is part of that game of expressing political differences - which is what emerges from the facts of the discussion - over the historic contradictions which the Bolivarian Revolution is living right now, and that can be summed up in the question of making workers’ control and mutual responsibility a reality.
LC: How is it that the people of the MUD won the union elections?
[Translator: MUD refers to the right-wing opposition political coalition to Chavez, “Roundtable for Democratic Unity”].
Sayago: We have to look at reality through what it is in essence, not from how it seems. It appears that the representatives of the revolution lost, which was the 21 Movement (the same movement which seized the company’s front gates), and that the union leader of the MUD won. But in essence, as relations in a social process, what we saw was this; simply a response to those days of the lockout, the abuses...it was a punishment vote. That’s what the voting history of Alcasa is like. Throughout the 44 years of its electoral history, there has never been such a wide margin of difference between the first and second (candidates in the union elections).
In the history of the companies in Guayana, there has always been a difference of 30-40 votes. In Alcasa’s case, there were over 400 votes between the candidates. That is a measure of the level of the workers’ rejection. We also saw that the union sector at Venalum, which had also pursued that path, was also defeated in the union elections.
LC: To conclude, what are the challenges facing the struggle for workers’ control in Guyana?
Sayago: It is a historical question for everybody. Are state functionaries willing to share power with the workers and organised communities? Yes or no? Power with no half measures. With regards to the conflict here, they get annoyed because they’re playing ball with the transnational companies, and we’re saying, it’s not a problem with staff, but a problem of political ideology.
Those who unite to defend the old model, the transnational companies, the opposition and those sectors inside the government, put the brakes on the revolutionary process in order to maintain the “we’re replacing you with me”, to maintain this structure of power.
The fundamental contradiction is how to relate to each other in order to effect a real change in the midst of the prevailing system, which has global characteristics, such as the imperial-state relationship. But the fundamental contradiction is our relationships as human beings, which will allow us to resolve the issue of the state, and stand against imperialism. Right now, that is the only way in which the human being can attack the disease which is enveloping the planet, which is a matter of individual interests versus defending the interests of humanity. The development and defence of nature itself, and precisely that historical process of relationships between ourselves which relates to nature, evident in this situation and in a concrete form through all these discussions that we are having.
Alcasa has lived through all of these contradictions, and despite operative-financial weaknesses, it is constructing workers’ control.
Translated by Ewan Robertson and Rachael Boothroyd for Venezuelanalysis
- 10/07/2011: Venezuela & Revolutionary Vignettes. Part 1: Workers' Control vs Bureaucrats, Mafia and Multinationals in Bolivar
- 05/08/2011: Revolutionary Vignettes. Part 2: Venezuelan Workers' Councils Sabotaged by Bureaucracy
- 26/08/2011: Revolutionary Vignettes. Part 3: Chirino and Chomsky, Ultraleft and Bourgeois Critics of the Bolivarian Revolution
- 25/09/2011: Venezuela: Revolutionary Vignettes. Part 4: Chavez’s Health, the 2012 Elections and the Future of the Venezuelan Revolution
- 11/10/2011: Workers in Nationalised Companies in Venezuela Demand More Worker Control
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