There is no narrator, no music in the film. Only the voices of the workers and the whining, grinding, droning hum of the factories’ machines. And there is little doubt that the workers would ask for nothing less. After all, that is what the Venezuelan processes of cooperativism and co-management (co-gestion) are all about: giving voice and power to the workers. Or at least that’s what they propose to be.
On Monday, August 28th, the debut showing of 5 Factories, 2005, a film by Oliver Ressler and Dario Azzellinni, was held in the Terresa Carreño Theater in Caracas, Venezuela. It was attended by dozens of workers from the factories depicted in the film, along with other members of recuperated businesses, cooperatives, and state-owned enterprises attempting to work towards co-management with the workers.
After the film, the audience was invited to remain and enter into a dialogue about the film, and the current Venezuelan movements towards worker ownership and control. The following are excerpts of that dialogue.
Participant 1: Truly this motivates us to continue to work towards, and achieve our proposals, particularly the message to consolidate the revolution and achieve the goal of socialism of the 21st century. That’s it. The consolidation of this process will come with unity, and we are going to achieve it.
Alcasa worker:Good day. It appeared as though the workers themselves became the owners of the business Invepal, which means that they are actually heading towards capitalism, right? And if not, can you clarify that?
Nestor Rodriguez, Inveval worker: I also have a worry, like the companion of Alcasa, in all of these types of events, which focus on the worker’s ownership of the shareholding system, but wouldn’t it be better that in the shareholding system, there were better state representation and the better state representation be the spokesperson of the community council that represent the community, in order to first guarantee as good functioning of the business, and not permit that deterioration, but it would also mean a good use of the resources to ensure that they are more viable, more concise and do not create a repartition of these recourses by a board of directors that doesn’t have the same vision as the community. Many of the state officials have their own work within the government itself, and this makes the direct participation within the business itself impossible, so this has created a series of problems. And we say with co-responsibility there are certain weaknesses within the business that us as workers must learn to take on, and look for the solution.
Dario Azzellini (film director): Just to clarify so that everyone knows what the companion [from Alcasa] mentioned. In Invepal, there were absolutely problems, the companion from Invepal [in the film] said that they are not going to forget and are not going to contract people, but it turns out that, I guess [some of those responsible in Invepal] forgot and they contracted nearly 300 people that instead of forming part of the cooperative, they were given contracts as workers, and were even paid worse than the rest. We didn’t comment anything, and this case had not been discovered when we filmed. We didn’t make any comments, but just presented various examples of attempts that they are trying out, of co-management and of worker control, etc. I think it’s a very necessary debate and it’s very obvious that changing one owner for many owners doesn’t change much. It doesn’t change the structure of capitalism, of exploitation, of the logic of the production just because you change one owner for many. But we also know that the fact that the state is the owner of something also doesn’t guarantee us a lot. So I think it’s a very necessary debate to think how to organize control in the society. So the debate is open and I think it’s necessary to get to new models, new forms and experiment with that.
And of course there have been many failures in all of these processes, and there will continue to be, but on the other hand Capitalism has had failures for 400 years, so we are going to excuse a few errors of the workers’ movement.
Alcasa worker representative: In order to first answer the worry of the first comment, a paradigm shift does not happen overnight. We have Capitalist models, our education is Capitalist and all of our system is Capitalist, but we have a lot of experience in our businesses, Alcasa, in the co-management model. I can speak about the experience that we have there in the working groups, utilizing the system, the [horizontal] structure of the business, we have been able to impel working groups in the areas of production and business operations with all of the workers. In Alcasa, there are the operators of production and the supervisors. We have been able to integrate all of these operational workers with the shift manager and the general supervisors of the metal smelting bath, the baths that you saw in the video. There are some baths in the operational part in which three managers were elected, not through political appointment by any president, but rather through the will, the democratic system, through the direct and secret vote of the workers. This has been an experience in which we have been able to integrate in to the decisions that are made daily. And as our President Hugo Chavez Frias says, “the principal objective of the businesses are the workers.” As well as this experience, we are also pushing for the reduction of the workday, and our slogan is, “Work less to live more.”
Participant 6: Excellent work… In terms of the documentary, I liked the noise; I liked the constant noise of all of the machines. Very interesting. Secondly, we are advancing some working groups with companions and MINEP [Ministry of Popular Economy], MINTRA [Ministry of Work] and others are in a discussion over the concepts, about the conceptual management and in order to transform professional education. We need to understand these terms, concepts, because it is not the same to speak of competition from the Capitalist point of view as competition of the socialist point of view. We are looking for the way to make sense of the term competition under a different framework. And there are concepts that you can’t get out of a book, you can’t get from the text, you are going to get them from reality, and I would say that one of the things that you have done with this documentary, for those of us who haven’t had the chance to travel and visit these businesses, is connect with this reality. To have contact with this reality, and the workers themselves are the ones generating the concepts because they are the ones who are living this process, they are the ones that are living this reality and they are the ones who can talk about the concepts.
Carlos Russe, (member of Cacao cooperative from state of Sucre): I’m a Cacao producer and we have a great Cacao-producing family in the state of Sucre, and united with the processors who are now in the plant, we form a great team, but as our friend said, I also say that we have 500 years living this history, because until now the producers have been seen as the workers and the producer has been seen as the man who produces a lot of Cacao. Today, we are now seeing the man of the Cacao, a more humanized vision of the people that are in the country and that produce the things that are going to form part of the program. Today, the man of the Cacao is taking over terrain that was closed to him. The processors and the producers of Cacao are now united, and we are also united in the concept of the commercialization of the Cacao. So we are taking a comprehensive vision of all that is Cacao. We aren’t thinking of converting into new rich, no that’s not the idea. The idea is that us, who are producing the Cacao, can have the right to be involved in the transformation and processing, and in this way give greater aggregated value to the product, and contribute to the development of our state and the development of the nation, and in this way we can support everyone around us, because we are all Venezuelans, and we all deserve to have a better quality of life because we are all people of the earth. This is a clear demonstration that yes we can do it, but we are going to have to work.
Jose Pintero, Inveval worker: I hope that this documentary can arrive to the hands of Chavez so that it can be televised and all of the people of Venezuela can have the opportunity to see this, because what it shows is that the workers are capable of managing businesses and we are capable of managing a country, that is the construction of socialism of the 21st century.
Jorge Baretiz, Inveval worker: Good evening. I feel truly proud, because we have participated in many events and truly we believe that the worker masses are what move the country. The worker masses, were for many years, exploited, and for years a change had to arrive and this change is occurring here in Venezuela. This change where the workers have to practically assume the control of the businesses and the owners- exploiters -never valued the workers. Right now, they are seeing that participation and protagonism is profoundly important for the country, because through us, the workers, we can truly construct the socialism of the 21st century and we should build on this revolution- that is what we want. And we must do it from the base, because the bases are clear that this revolution must consolidate, so that all our families have a dignified life, which we all deserve. We are truly proud that we are being taken in to account because we come from a capitalist model, and this model is suffering in this moment of change, which is socialism, but we must have an ideological education and be conscious that if we want to construct a country like we want, we need to add our grain of sand, and change the mentality.
After struggling for three years, we have learned that we have to lend our solidarity, and in this moment we are standing in solidarity with the companions from Cumanacoa, these people that also want their own business, and right now with this Sugar Union Cumanacoa, this is a good project where they are attempting to generate employment for these comrades. We need to send them our support, for these workers and the community. To support them and this country. The manufacturing needs to be here- national, not imported. And that’s what we have to do with our great strength from all of the workers- to make change and show everyone that yes we can.
Alcasa worker: First, congratulations on this initiative and to the companions that are here who also contributed to make this documentary possible. I have a question, and I’m going to take advantage of the fact that our companion here is from the recuperated businesses. You mentioned something that’s worrisome, where you said that if it passes from being traditionally one or a couple of owners to a collective ownership of the workers, it multiplies the ownership of the business. I would like to hear from companions in the recuperated businesses that could tell me honestly if they feel like share holders of the recuperated business, because we need to open up a serious debate about this, because I believe in particular, as far as I understand, that you can be owner of the management during the time that you are within the factory, then afterwards if we are talking about socialism, it would become a popular business, where really no-one is owner of anything. Here we are owners of the management throughout the time that we are in the factory. That’s the understanding that I have, if we are headed towards socialism.
Member of Textileros de Tachira: Good evening, what our companion has just commented is called cooperativism, in which we are not owners of the business, but in which we are participants in the work and management of the business, where we are not business partners but associates and in which each of us has certain participation.
I am pretty emotional by the documentary and in the name of Textileros de Tachira, which with a lot of force, a lot of sweat, and a lot of work we were able to recuperate a business that for more than forty years we were exploited as employees and workers, and now we are in this paradigm shift. We received our first loans in May 2005, and when this documentary was filmed we had only been producing for three months, and we began to work because we were unemployed and that was the goal of the business- to recuperate all of the workers that we had. But if today you go to Textileros de Tachira, after one year of production, you will see us with our new uniforms, with our security regulations, following the series of security laws. Also, Textileros de Tachira, is working today with 65% product of the effort and sacrifice of all of it’s workers, where we began to recuperate this business without covering half [of our earnings], utilizing the money provided by the state in the best and most efficient way possible. Our logo is ‘Actions not words.”
Member of Intevep: A board of directors does no guarantee that you maintain a socialist system or a participative system within a business. We have seen this on various cases in co-management, for instance one example is a businesses that is very close to us, which is a co-managed businesses between business-cooperative. The business has 35% and the cooperative 65%, but because of our ignorance as the working class, we don’t always know how to do things, and we don’t know what corresponds to the 65% of the shares of the business. In our case of Inveval, the general vision of the industry is not reflected in the board of directors. The focus and future rather, is managed by the productive part and those of use in the machinery, and if we want to ensure that socialism flourishes in the future, we need to realize that Chavez is not going to be with us forever. In the future, the guarantee of power resides in the people themselves, and that’s why we are talking about the participation of the community in the business, so that they make the right decisions towards the construction of the base of socialism. So, I think in terms of the planning and direction of the business, it is fundamental that the organized community with a level of consciousness participate in order to guarantee that this process is socialist, a revolutionary process that withstands time, and not a process like in other revolutions that only lasts while the leaders are in power.