On September 14, 2005, the TUC (Britain’s Trade Union Congress) at its annual conference in Brighton, adopted unanimously a resolution in support of Venezuela (see full text below) which opens the way towards formal recognition of the Union Nacional de Trabajadores de Venezuela (UNT), the new Venezuelan trade union confederation, as well as establishing a clear framework for solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution.
The resolution (Nº79) was put forward by the university and college lecturers’ union, NATFHE, and moved by its president, John Wilkin. ASLEF, TSSA and the AUT unions submitted amendments that strengthened the resolution in crucial aspects. Orlando Chirino, member of the National Co-ordinating Committee of the UNT, was present and received a standing ovation when introduced to the conference by John Wilkin.
The interview with Chirinos was conducted while he was in Britain by the Venezuela Information Centre (VIC).
Q. What does the UNT want to achieve from solidarity in Europe?
A. It is important for us to work to help strengthen solidarity in Europe, particularly in the UK. The number one priority is to counter the disinformation being propagated by the mass media, which is subservient to US interests. It is important to promote more visits from the UNT to Europe; to facilitate contacts between Europeans and Venezuelans so that people become more aware of Venezuelan reality. We also need to explain that the UNT is working to build an autonomous trade union body in Venezuela, which is class-based and adheres to democratic principles. We also think it important to involve people in the debate on “socialism for the XXI century” which Chavez has initiated in Venezuela.
Q. What do you think of the NATFHE resolution on Venezuela?
A. This resolution is extremely important for the UNT. It comes from the TUC which has a membership of seven million. This is a major step forward for Venezuela (“una conquista para Venezuela”) – something which will open the way for discussion on Venezuelan trade unionism around the world. It will also hopefully stimulate further debate within British trade unions concerning TUC policy on Latin America. We also hope that the TUC resolution will be looked upon favourably by the government of Tony Blair. The resolution now makes it possible for future exchanges and visits between and among British and Venezuelan trade unions to take place.
Q. What do you think of a British trade union delegation to Venezuela?
A. We are delighted to learn of a British trade union delegation to Venezuela. We will pull out all the stops to organise visits for the delegation to the petroleum producing regions and other industrial regions such as the state of Bolivar. We will ensure that the British trade unions meet with a wide range of government and civil society representatives at the highest level.
Q. What are your general impressions of the TUC conference/what could you understand about its workings?
A. It was a bit difficult for me since I don’t have any English. I have had good meetings with the FBU, NUJ and the Gate Gourmet workers. I am impressed by the strength of the British trade unions, their great interest in discussing the NATFHE resolution and their desire to learn more about the Bolivarian Revolution.
I was surprised to learn that the anti-trade union legislation introduced by Thatcher in the 1980s is still in place under a Labour government. In this regard, I wondered why the TUC has not taken the issue of the UK’s anti-trade union legislation to the ILO. British trade unions could perhaps learn something from the Venezuelan’s experience in fighting neo-liberalism.
Mentioning the ILO, it is important to underline the major shift in ILO support away from the CTV and towards the UNT. In the ILO conference of June this year, the Fedecamaras/CTV complaint against the government of Venezuela was withdrawn and the CTV was voted off the ILO Governing Body.
Nevertheless, in November, Venezuela will again be on the agenda at the ILO conference in Geneva. We hope that the complaint relating to the dismissal of the PDVSA white collar/administrative workers (the people who did all they could to sabotage the oil industry and destroy the Venezuelan economy during the 2002/2003 employers’ lockout) that has been referred to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association – will be rejected. Things should certainly be easier for us with the new ILO Governing Body (i.e. without the presence of the CTV). Certain sectors within the ICFTU have been using the issue of the PDVSA dismissals to attack the Chavez government.
Q. What in your opinion are the main U.S. threats to the Bolivarian revolution?
A. The U.S. and the Venezuelan oligarchy have suffered a major defeat with the series of democratic elections/referenda which Chavez has won.
The danger now is that they will try to assassinate Chavez. What Pat Robertson said recently on TV (i.e. his call to assassinate Chavez) is what the U.S. administration really thinks. The U.S. with the support of President Uribe and his Plan Colombia/Plan Patriota could well utilize Colombian territory to invade Venezuela. They might try and link up with Venezuelan opposition forces which have influence in the border state of Zulia.
A real concern is the political situation in the state of Zulia (N.B. capital Maracaibo, wealthiest state in Venezuela and the centre of Venezuela’s petroleum industry). Zulia is run by opposition leader Governor Manuel Rosales. They are talking of autonomy for Zulia – for Zulia to break away from the rest of Venezuela – as is currently happening in the province of Santa Cruz in Bolivia – and this is alarming.
The opposition cannot win elections. Chavez will win the general elections in December 2006. At the moment the polls show 72% popular support for Chavez. The social programmes or “misiones” are very popular. Of note is the “Misión Vuelvan Caras” and the move to worker co-management in the factories. Factories that have been shut down are being re-opened and social benefits are being restored to the workers.
It’s important for Venezuela to strengthen political alliances throughout Latin America. There is massive support from the peoples of Latin America for the Bolivarian Revolution. The recent World Youth and Student Festival in Caracas was a manifestation of the worldwide support for the Bolivarian Revolution. Of deep concern however are the threats to the Lula government in Brazil. We need to defend Lula and to continue to work to strengthen the Chavez-Kirchner-Lula-Tabare alliance in South America.
A big challenge for the Bolivarian Revolution is to reform the inefficient bureaucratic state institutions and eradicate corruption. We need to strengthen peoples’ participation in decision-making processes at all levels of government – a sort of ongoing social-based audit (“Controlaria Social”). Our Constitution allows for this to take place. The Chavez government is encouraging the formation of local planning councils with grassroots participation. A new initiative is that of the “Mobile Cabinet” (“Gabinete Móbil”) where the president and his ministers are making visits all over the country and are talking to people at all levels (state governors, mayors, local communities, etc.).
Q. What should the British trade union movement do to support Venezuela?
A. British trade unions should stay loyal to the NATFHE resolution and work to put into practice all its recommendations. We need to overcome differing ideologies in order to build a strong solidarity movement with Venezuela. A solidarity movement should embrace all the different sectors in a similar way that the Bolivarian Revolution is doing in Venezuela (e.g. with women’s groups, indigenous groups, workers, peasant organisation, etc.). It is important to link up these different sectors in Venezuela with their counterparts in Britain.
TUC resolution, including the AUT, ASLEF and TESSA amendments
Congress congratulates and supports the Venezuelan government for its utilization of the country’s wealth and resources for reforms to benefit working people, the poor and the landless.
Congress notes the results of the referendum last August in Venezuela that gave President Hugo Chávez an overwhelming victory and a strengthened democratic mandate.
Congress further notes that these results confirm that there is overwhelming support among working people and the poor for the social programme of the Chávez government in relation to education, literacy, job training, health care, land reform and subsidised food.
However, Congress views with alarm the bellicose statements being made by the US Administration and its allies in Columbia and the oligarchy in Venezuela which pose a real threat to these reforms.
Congress deplores the attempts of the United States administration to intervene in the internal life of Venezuela and agrees to raise these concerns with the British government.
Congress expresses its solidarity with trade unionists in Venezuela and rejects any outside interference in their affairs.
Congress agrees to support wider trade union initiatives to highlight the issue of Venezuela within the British labour movement, including the organisation of a trade union delegation to meet and build links with Venezuelan trade unionists.
Furthermore, Congress will build and work with trade union endorsed organisations in the UK working to provide solidarity to Venezuela.
Congress is concerned about the lack of media coverage of events in Venezuela and urges the General Council to establish relations with the Venezuelan National Union of Workers (UNT) to ensure that news of trade union issues, at least, is more widely reported.
Congress notes the independent poll in July that showed over 70% support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. It also notes the Venezuelan threat to suspend oil exports to the US if attacks on its government continue.
Congress resolves to support the Venezuelan people’s efforts to preserve their democratically elected government.
The Venezuela Information Centre (VIC) is a broad-based UK campaign in solidarity with the people of Venezuela. It was launched on 25th May 2005 at a meeting sponsored by trade unions (UNISON, TGWU, GMB, RMT, AUT, CWU, FBU, ASLEF and the General Secretaries of NATFHE and NUJ), NGOs and media organisations. The meeting of 300 people included, NGOs, academics, students and media, as well as trade unionists. VIC aims are to:
- Provide objective and accurate information about all trade union, social movement and political organisations in Venezuela;
- Counteract misrepresentation and distorted reporting on the situation in Venezuela;
- Support the right of the Venezuelan people to determine their own future free from external intervention
Contact VIC at [email protected].For more information about Venezuela and VIC visit www.vicuk.org