As May Day approaches once again, Federico Fuentes from www.greenleft.org.au interviews Stalin Pérez Borges (SPB), national coordinator of the National Union of Workers (UNT) and member of the editorial board of the newspaper Marea Socialista and Marcos Garcia (MG), national coordinator of the public sector federation, FENTRASEP and member also of Marea Socialista. [Both are militants in the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela].
How is Marea Socialista preparing for May Day?
SPB: We believe that this year May Day is very special because a historic change has been produced in the country. The re-nationalisation of SIDOR has changed the political map for various reasons. President Chavez understood that the nationalisation was a fair demand of the SIDOR workers and the revolutionary people of Guayana and Venezuela. And the struggle, without quarter, of the workers and comrades of SIDOR was an example of unity and commitment for the entire worker’s movement around the country. In this manner a new opportunity has been opened; for the workers so that we can be protagonists of the first order in the changes that are necessary to be carried out; for the government to reunite with the workers and for the revolutionary process it has ignited a powerful motor and gives more strength to the famous five motors that many have spoken of recently.
MG: The political change that this measure signifies has given a new boost to the working class and now the increased involvement of the workers is notable in the sense of fighting for the deepening the revolutionary process. This is why this May Day is different. For us the change that has been produced is truly historic. I don’t want to say that everything is assured. Of course not, but yes, today the conditions to achieve our demands and political objectives are much better. I can now say that in my sector in particular, the public sector, we have been injected with more energy to continue fighting for our collective contract for which we have been waiting for more than four years and we see that now this could be fulfilled soon, as well as the elections in our federation.
SPB: To answer your question, in regard to how we in Marea are preparing ourselves for this historic date, I can say to you that we are internationalists and are very worried about the situation in Bolivia. It is a fact that the Bolivian bourgeois is extremely racist, and retrograde, the child of North American imperialism, and has the intention to destroy the revolutionary process in Bolivia and the government of Evo Morales using whatever type of violence. We are ready for any campaign and solidarity action to defeat the Bolivian rightwing, which is to defeat the North American rightwing and the rightwing of the entire continent. And as May Day comes around we look back to remember once again, that the 1st of May is a very important day for workers around the world. This year we commemorate 122 years since those heroic fighters, the martyrs of Chicago, were assassinated. Their crime was to demand the 8 hour day in a world in which even women and children suffered the worst slavery. They did not lower their banners, they did not capitulate and they made history. This demonstration of consistency clearly shows that when your struggle is just sooner or later you will win. The proof is that this year in Colombia, in the United Status itself, where they were assassinated, they established the 8 hour day for all public employees and those of private companies that contract with the State. Without doubt it is necessary to commemorate this date, but we in Venezuela also commemorate what we have achieved and what we are still fighting for. This May Day we are going for those victories that are still outstanding.
What can you tell us about what has been achieved and what remains unresolved?
MG: For us this May Day is very important and we consider it the first step to renew the struggle for the demands that the workers movement still has not obtained. First a general increase in salaries for all workers is necessary. The basic increase announced by President Chavez every year is not enough, today we, together with many others demand a general emergency increase, higher than the indices of inflation. This is an increase that will serve to relieve millions who have not yet been able to discuss their collective contracts, their socio-economic necessities. That is the first thing. The second is the issue of casualization. We cannot continue tolerating these contracts; continue allowing the bosses, the national government itself and the state and municipal governments to fail to comply with the law and without any sanction. It appears that this will change with SIDOR, we hope this is so. Until now, the previous minister of Labor and the inspectors (of the Labor Ministry) did nothing to stop this. And in the case of SIDOR we hope that the government understands that we cannot repeat the same failed experiences of co-management or aim to implement the same type of management they are doing in CANTV or Electricidad de Caracas. The steel plant must have a new productive model, truly socialist.
SPB: For us, the reduction of the work day is very important also. The 6-hour day can and should be established by presidential decree, this is an issue not only of work conditions, but a political issue of the highest important. We need a working class with the time to dedicate themselves to the management of affairs of state and government. That has time to participate democratically in the planning and implementation of the socialism that we want. The reduction of the work day is more time to rest and live and care for nature and our environment, it is the possibility of creating more sources of employment, with salaries that satisfy the basic food basket. And the president can do it, he has all the tools to carry it out at his hand and the workers also can win this right. For this reason we will also march on the 1st of May, to win the reduction of the working day.
Can you talk about the situation of the worker’s movement, the union movement....?
MG: Together with the nationalization of SIDOR, another fundamental step that we won was that the president has thrown out the ex - minister of Labor, as he deserved, this was a demand of the majority of workers. José Ramón Rivero dedicated himself, while he was minister, to strengthening his own union current, of course he did not achieve it, as it is not representative, neither is this phantom of a new union federation that he is proposing. The two acts, the nationalization of SIDOR and the dismissal of the minister, open up a great opportunity to overcome the dispersion of the union movement. From Marea Socialista we are calling for everyone to take the necessary steps, we call all the union currents that defend the revolutionary process to unite. To leave aside the differences that have us so divided and to put forward the points that unite us, there are many and they are very important. And this way give the workers the union organisation that they need. In this sense on the 1st of May, we are going to march in every place, in Caracas and around the country, under these banners. We call on all the workers to take over the streets on the 1st of May and make it a great day of struggle.
Translated by Kiraz Janicke for Venezuelanalysis.com