Chavez Calls on Workers to Push for Workplace Democracy in Venezuela

President Chavez
recently announced a series of new nationalisations, but he also stressed the
need for workers' control, planning and socialism. What now needs to be
done is to act on these words and the only force that can do that is
the working class.

By Hermann Albrecht - In Defence of Marxism
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At a recent gathering in the State of Guayana President Chavez
announced a series of new nationalisations, but he also stressed the
need for workers' control, planning and socialism. What now needs to be
done is to act on these words and the only force that can do that is
the working class. Otherwise all the good proposals can be buried by
the myriad of reformists and bureaucrats who infest the movement.

On Thursday, May 21, at a workshop with the workers of the basic
industries in the state of Guayana, President Chavez announced the
nationalisation of the following iron briquette and steel companies:
Orinoco Iron, Venezolana de Prerreducidos of Caroní (VENPRECAR),
Materiales Siderúrgicos (MATESI), and the Complejo Siderúrgico de
Guayana (COMSIGUA), as well as Tubos de Acero de Venezuela (TAVSA) and
Cerámicas Carabobo.

He also confirmed the collective bargaining agreement of CVG
Ferrominera and spoke of the creation of an industrial steelworks
complex, indicating that, "These companies must be placed under
workers' control; that's how it has to be." He continued, "let's start
the process of nationalisation in order to create this industrial
complex," adding that these measures should have been taken a long time
ago.

The "Socialist Transformation" Workshop

The meeting, under the title of "Workshop of Socialist
Transformation," was held at the CVG Ferrominera complex in Puerto
Ordaz in the state of Bolivar, and was attended by some 400 workers,
200 from the aluminium sector and another 200 from the iron and steel
industries. As well as President Hugo Chavez, the government
representatives included the ministers Jorge Giordani, Rodolfo Sanz,
Rafael Ramírez, and Alí Rodríguez Araque, among others, as well as the
state governor, Francisco Rangel Gómez.

According to information provided by the ABN news agency, during the
meeting, 40 different work groups were organised, led by spokespersons
elected by the "Socialist Workers' Front," which proposed and agreed
upon the main lines of action to be taken. The main spokespersons put
forward a broad variety of recommendations, suggestions and solutions
that have emerged from the workers' struggles for their demands. The
Minister of Popular Power for Labour, María Cristina Iglesias, said
that this highlights the profound transformation that has taken place
in the working class, which for years was oppressed. President Chavez
himself added, "What is happening here today is very important, since
it is an example of the consciousness of the need for unity through
debate."

During the closing statements at the end of the workshop, Chavez
made important announcements which brought forth enthusiastic cheering
from the audience, as happened when he announced the ratification of
the collective bargaining agreement of CVG Ferrominera, as well as a 10
to 20% reduction in the salaries of the company managers. "Very well,
then! I send my congratulations, because this is a victory for
everyone! But especially of all of you, of the Union and of the
workers," affirmed Chavez.

He also spoke of the need to continue deepening the political
education of the workers, that now "every factory should be a school,
in order, as Che said, to create not only briquettes and sheets and
steel and aluminium, but also, above all, new men and women, a new
society, a socialist society." He also raised the idea of continuing
with political education schools, an initiative already tried at CVG
Alcasa, when it was under workers' co-management and Carlos Lanz was
its president. "I think it is very important that soon we inaugurate a
Workers' School here in Guayana, a School of Political Education for
Workers; that we begin to analyse various subjects at great length, on
Socialism and the World, on politics, culture, society, the economy."

Productive Development, Socialism and the Working Class

The workshop work groups expressed the need to develop
transformation industries for the natural resources extracted from
Guayana. The President expressed his agreement with the workers'
demands saying, "The technological development of Venezuela; the idea
is to have a pole of development in Guayana, an Integrated, Collective
Industrial Complex, a top-of-the-range Industrial Complex. The idea is
to develop transformation industries which add value to the products of
the Basic Industries. How long will we continue to import things that
we can produce here ourselves? For example, these aluminium chloride
projects, heavy petroleum, metalworking coke, the metal plants. We must
do this... So I ask you to give me the Projects that the workers have
been developing and presenting, so that we can start up these projects
straight away and develop them. We must begin looking for the resources
and we cannot waste another day in doing so."

Chavez reiterated the fact that, "The only way Venezuela can become
a Power is by building Venezuelan Socialism! There is no other way, it
is Bolivarian Socialism, and in this, the Working Class has a
fundamental role to play! A crucial role!" It was then, clearly
influenced by the proposals made by the workers, that he announced:
"Encouraged by the experience of the workers, with the proposals that
have been made, proposals that have emerged from the depths of the
working class, let us make real this plan for a Great Integrated,
Collective Industrial Complex. Now, let's nationalise the iron
briquette sector! There is nothing to discuss! We have been on this
path for a long time, and we should have done this long ago! Let us
begin the process of nationalisation straight away in order to create
this Industrial Complex!"

These measures were met with great enthusiasm and cries of "That's
the way! That's the way to govern!" ("Así, así, así es que se
gobierna"). The workers' and union leaders' faces were full of surprise
and jubilation... some of the ministers also seemed surprised.

The Need for Workers' Control

Along with the need to develop transformation industries, the
president also emphasized the need for this new industrial complex to
break with the old structures and be operated on principles of
transparency and with a strategic vision. It was in this context that
Chavez issued an appeal for "responsibility and to struggle against the
mafias, corruption, bad management, against the deviations and vices of
the 4th Republic," as these are a "threat to the socialist revolution."

Chavez also made an important announcement to the enthusiastic
workers: the need for workers' control in these companies and in the
industrial sector in general. He said: "The plan is an integrated plan.
And we want you to carry it out, of course! We must raise all of these
companies' productivity, efficiency, and transparency. As you say, and
you are right when you say it: it cannot be that you are working in the
factory, and yet you don't know how things are going with the company!
What are the plans? What is the administration? What are resources
being spent on? Who do we buy raw materials from and how much is paid
for them? Who are the products sold to and how are they sold? All of
that... The entire productive process... And getting the products to
the market... All of this needs to be under workers' control! I agree!
That is how it must be!"

Contrary to the desperate cries of the bourgeoisie and their
apologists, of the reformists and bureaucrats who are against workers'
management, the President emphasized the superiority of workers'
control as compared to bureaucratic management of the factories. "I am
sure, that inasmuch as you are given more responsibility, the more
efficient things will be," said Chavez. And just as it is crucial that
the management and recovery of the basic industries be the result of
the conscious participation of the workers, Chavez emphasized the fact
that we need to participate in all aspects of planning during the
transition to socialism: "I want us to discuss and design the system.
Just as we speak of the 'transition' politically, we must do the same
here. We need to plan the transition, even the smallest detail!"

Concretely, the proposal outlined by Chavez in the workshop included
the participation of the workers in the election of the management
positions in the company: "I am prepared that we, all together, but
with your initiative, pick and elect the management of the companies."
Moments earlier, during the discussion preceding the President's
closing comments, the workers had denounced the fact that in the basic
industries, as well as in the recently nationalised SIDOR, there remain
many counter-revolutionaries in leading management positions who
sabotage all aspects of these companies and who are working hard to
ensure the failure of the examples of nationalisation and
co-management, as was the case in CVG Alcasa, especially after Carlos
Lanz left the company, or as they did with Invepal, and as they are now
doing with Inveval.

In addition to this, Chavez called on the workers to form workers'
militias: "in every factory there must be a workers' battalion... with
the weapons kept there... just in case someone makes a mistake with us."

Profitability and sustainability of socialist enterprises

In his speech, he spoke about the sustainability of basic industries
and highlighted the fact that the workers themselves, in the work
groups, mentioned the fact that the country lacks a fully developed
industrial processing which converts raw materials into finished
products, including Iron, Aluminium, Petrochemicals, etc. "A few years
back I noticed plainly that no basic industry, be it iron or steel,
bauxite and aluminium, or petrochemicals, none of them can be
sustainable in the medium or long term if they are not brought together
into a centralized network of industries of social property from raw
materials to finished goods," emphasized Chavez.

This is an old question in the debates against the reformists and
bureaucrats. Time and again they have used the need for
"sustainability" and "profitability" to attack the experiences of
workers' management, especially in Guayana. The important case of the
experience of workers' co-management in CVG Alcasa is always compared
to the productivity of CVG Venalum because this is also an aluminium
producing company. But this ignores the technological backwardness and
de-investment that Alcasa has suffered for more than twenty years has
exacerbated the problem of dependence on a fluctuating market such as
the raw materials market.

Let us remember, for example, that the COMSIGUA company has among
its shareholders the Japanese companies Kobe Steel, Mitsui and Sojitz,
and a large part of iron production is sold to Asia, Europe and the
United States. For its part, TAVSA, an Argentine subsidiary of Tenaris,
the world's largest manufacturer of seamless steel tubes for the oil
industry, produces about 80,000 tonnes of pipes. In the case of Orinoco
Iron, VENPRECAR and its affiliate International Briquettes Holding
(IBH), a unit of the steel SIVENSA briquettes, has interests in the
Belgian multinational Bekaert Corporation. Between them, these three
firms produce around 3 million tonnes of reduced iron briquettes, used
as a substitute for high quality scrap in the steel production process.
IBH had a net loss of $20million in its first fiscal quarter, which
ended in December 2008, compared to a profit of $12million during the
same period the previous year. Also worth mentioning is the fact that
FERROMINERA CVG is a shareholder of IBH.

Chavez insisted that the profitability of companies should not be
looked at in capitalist terms, that the productivity of an enterprise
under socialism is much more than simply substantial income, big
dividends, etc. "Under capitalism they have their methods for making
companies profitable. That's why I put 'profitable' in inverted commas.
They sack thousands of workers, exploit them, deny them benefits,
employment rights, and outsource the workers... In different ways, as
happened here ‑ and it has been going on throughout all these years ‑
they get governments, which are subordinate to the bourgeois state and
the bourgeoisie and imperialism, to subsidize their energy sources, to
sell them cheap iron, raw materials, and then sell very expensive
products and by-products, with the maximum surplus value. Ah, well,
that way any business is profitable!" stressed Chavez.

Guayana at the forefront of the construction of Socialism

Chavez also emphasized the role of the Guayana region in the
building of socialism, as it has the heavy battalions of the industrial
working class, iron and steel workers. "I am sure that Guayana and the
Guayana Massif... Guayana is to become the massive platform of
socialism, of the building of Socialism, its the working class as the
vanguard, with the working class as the protagonist. And Guayana, will
be ‑ this is how I see it ‑ a Socialist school, "said Chavez.

Finally, Chavez highlighted the pioneering role that the Bolivarian
Revolution is playing globally and in the first ranks of the
revolution, the Venezuelan working class: "Workers in Venezuela are
going to give a lesson to the world on how the working class has arisen
again on this planet! The working class has risen again to make a
Revolution! You will set an example of greatness! I know, so my heart
tells me, so do all my senses, and so does all of your passion. Under
these guidelines: here you are in command and you will command. You are
the ones in command! (...) You are called to greatness, and to build
the Socialist nation. Long live the working class! Long live free
Guyana! Long live the workers! Long live the Socialist country! Patria,
Socialismo o Muerte! Venceremos!"

The task of the working class is to go from words to deeds

The President himself put it very well during his speech: the
construction and planning of this transitional process requires the
conscious participation of the working class. The speech he gave was a
step forward, but it must be completed and acted on through concrete
actions by the workers themselves. We have seen how many times, the
President has outlined plans and given direct orders to his ministers,
and how these have then ignored and buried them. To go from words to
deeds is, in the first place, the responsibility of the industrial
proletariat of Guayana, its heavy industrial battalions, such as the
iron and steel workers, but also of the entire Venezuelan working class.

We workers should take a decisive step forward and take concrete
action, in the election and recall of management and leadership
positions in the basic industries. We should form committees of elected
and recallable delegates in order to have genuine workers' control over
the administration and accounts of these companies, take control over
the account books in order stop the pilfering of the surplus value we
produce, which goes into the pockets of the bureaucracy. The
experiences presented in the workshops by the comrades from Alcasa is
of crucial importance. We must have collective and accountable
management in every division and department of industry, control all
aspects of the productive process, including sales, and firmly
establish workers' control.

The integration of the entire productive process of the iron and
aluminium sectors under workers' control can only be a first step
towards the democratic planning of the entire economy. The recent
nationalisations must be extended to all the occupied factories and
those in dispute, such as Vivex, Gotcha T-Shirts, INAF, MDS Transport,
etc. Why nationalise Cerámicas Carabobo and not these other companies?
And following on from that, the banks must be nationalised, in order to
put their enormous resources ‑ most of which were originally generated
by the state in the first place ‑ at the services of the rational
development of the Venezuelan economy, in the interests of the majority
of the population. In the same manner, all the main national and
multinational companies that operate in the country should be
nationalised, in order to democratically plan the economy under
workers' control.

President Chavez clearly stated: "I am throwing my lot in with you."
The working class must respond resolutely, not only in Guayana, but
also throughout the country. If our trade union leaders are not
willing, we in the rank and file must seize the initiative and replace
them with others who respond directly to the desires of the working
class.