Venezuela: After the Oil Union Elections the Real Battle is for Worker’s Control

Prensa Marea
Socialista
interviewed Stalin Perez Borges, National coordinator of the National Union of Workers (UNT) for his opinion on the recent
elections in the important oil workers federation and the discussions over the
collective contract.

By Stalin Pérez Borges - Marea Socialista
Short URL

At the
insistence of many union leaders who are seeking explanations regarding two
recent statements made by Wills Rangel, president of the United Federation of
Venezuelan Oil Workers (FUTPV) and one offered by José Bodas, secretary-general
of the same federation, Prensa Marea
Socialista
viewed it necessary to interview Stalin Perez Borges, [National
coordinator of the National Union of Workers (UNT)] for his opinion on the
elections in the important oil workers federation and the discussions over the
collective contract. This is what he told us...

How do you assess the recent election in
the oil federation?

I think
this election gives us an overall snapshot of the situation in the Venezuelan
labour movement. First, the important turnout that almost reached 80% of the
eligible voters reflects a very important level of participation despite all
the difficulties presented in carrying out the election. Second, the
distribution of votes, fundamentally, presents a much more complex reality than
can be read at first glance. That is, the 54% of votes obtained by Platform 7
[1] cannot put a lid on the present discontent against PDVSA's [Venezuela's state-owned
oil company] management, particularly in the refineries and neither can the
questioning of a lot of leaders within the platform be hidden. Ultimately, the
triumph of Platform 7 is due to the support there is for President Chavez and
is due to the efforts made by the PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela].

I do not
think all of these issues can be dismissed with the simple explanation that
this election legitimizes the leadership of the federation, as the two sectors
that received the most votes have said. On the contrary, to believe that the
results represent the static political will of oil workers is superficial, what
is beginning now is a real process of legitimizing the leadership or not. And I
have a lot of doubts about that, due to the way the two main sectors that were
elected to the executive committee are behaving.

Why do you say that?

Look, now
comes the discussion of the collective contract, and in the debate between the
internal sectors of the federation it is crucial to be clear about who should
participate and decide what is being agreed to or not in the discussion. What
is striking so far in the statements the president and secretary-general have
given is that it seems that those who most deny the participation of the rank
and file workers, of the elected delegates are members of what was Platform
1[2] which supposedly claims to stand for democracy, participation and
autonomy. On the part of those that form VOS or Platform 7, which a little over
a month ago originally held the view that the discussion should involve elected
delegates, are now stalling on this, giving the impression that only the
federation will discuss the contract. Ultimately, the two sectors end up
coinciding on this because they believe that the federation is totally
legitimized by the elections. I think it would be highly simplistic to believe
that the leaders who were elected are the owners of the political will of the
rank and file workers.

The
Venezuelan labour movement, and the oil workers are no exception, is in deep
crisis, it is fragmented and dispersed. An election outcome does not change
that reality. The direct participation of the rank and file is more important
now more than ever before, not as mere cheer squads in meetings or "informative
assemblies" but as ultimate and indisputable decision makers of any agreement
reached, as a true constituent power. Moreover, the debate that has occurred
via the statements of the president and secretary-general of the FUTPV, both of
who I have a personal appreciation for, only indicates a dispute for quotas of
power and not the will for unity and participation sought by workers. That is
really worrying to begin with.

Turning specifically to the topic of the
collective contract, what's your opinion on this issue?

Here, too,
the leaders of the former Platform 1 do not show many differences to those of
Platform 7. The two sectors hold that what has to be discussed is the draft
submitted in January 2008. The debate seems to be over Wills Rangel's
statements on the subject of a supposed socialist wage and that what are most
important are social gains, a position that is criticized by the other sector
which only calls for a wage of 70 Bs F [per day], which of course is necessary
but not the only thing. Left at this, it would be misguided.

The two
sectors, in my view, are not discussing the substantive issue. Which, in my
opinion, should be what type of company should PDVSA be from now on? Should it
simply be a state company in the framework of the capitalism that prevails in
our country, with the managerial structure it has today or should its workers
control it? This is a great debate today in the revolutionary process. This is
the case with the electrical workers, for example, who without giving up wage
demands have proposed as the first clause of their collective contract workers
participation in the control and management of CORPOELEC [the state-owned
electricity company], or the work being done by workers in the basic industries
located in Guayana, or the demands made by the workers in the denominated
socialist companies.

So it seems
that the socialist wage that the president-elect of the federation speaks of
would be a way to adapt the wage claims to the possibilities that the top
management of the company says it can grant. Meanwhile, the other sector has an
economist attitude without discussing the need for the company to be at the
same time controlled and managed with direct and democratic participation of
workers. That is the only way to put the company at the service of the country
and the revolution, if we want a socialist revolution in Venezuela. Moreover,
no one is raising, as an immediate demand, an end once and for all to the
aberrant wage differentiation between workers and managers.

Few or none
question the privileges of management, all these unproductive expenditures that
put a heavy burden on PDVSA and consolidate a bureaucratic sector that only
defends its privileges. On the contrary, I read that Wills Rangel said, I think
in the economics newspaper El Mundo,
that they should give the federation the positions in the directorate of PDVSA,
that were held in the recent past by Rafael Rosales and Nelson Nunez of the
formerly existing federations.

But workers must be interested in the issue of
wages?

No doubt,
and also about how to maintain their purchasing power, and the issue of health
and workplace safety as well as many other
social and socio-economic issues, all of which should be discussed in the
collective contract. But no sector of the union leadership proposes, for
example, the need for a contractual clause guaranteeing the regular updating of
wages, for example quarterly, according to inflation. Even the Finance Minister
Ali Rodriguez Araque has acknowledged (see Correo
del Orinoco
, Sunday, 11/10/09) that inflation is a brutal tax that, we
might add, is always paid most by the workers and the poor. Therefore, an
agreement in the oil industry that is negotiated for two years, but ends up
being 30 or more months, must take into account that we are talking about an
average inflation of 30% or more annually, if we talk about basic products for
the working family. Inflation during the year that the contract was extended
for and in the first year that it came into effect was far higher than this
rate.

In your opinion, what do the two positions
represent?

They
express more general political positions. One is that of the president of the
federation, which is more sensitive to pressure from the technocracy and the
wishes of the president of PDVSA, [Rafael]
Ramirez. It is
functional to the needs of the technocracy. And the other is that of the
current expressed by Bodas, secretary-general-elect, who view the government of
the revolutionary process as a normal bourgeois and anti-worker government.
Which is why, in reality, although they say otherwise, they are allied to the
old national bureaucracy of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV),
masked in what is now called the Labour Solidarity Movement. They locate
themselves from a simply economist point of view, without opting to develop a
process of political mobilization that can conquer workers control in the
country's main industry. These are the models that have already failed and that
led to the present dispersion of the Venezuelan labour movement; they are two
models that have passed their use-by date.

In my point
of view, after the discussion of the collective contract or in the middle of
this discussion, the time for a true oil workers constituent assembly has
arrived, so that the workers and the people can democratically decide what
should be done and how PDVSA should be run.

Translator's
Notes:

[1]
Platform 7 or the Socialist Workers Vanguard (Vanguardia Obrera Socialista -
VOS): a pro-Chavez union platform that won 54% of the vote in the October 1
elections for the United Federation of Venezuelan Oil Workers (FUTPV).

[2]
Platform 1: headed by Jose Bodas from the United Revolutionary Autonomous Class
Current (C-CURA). C-CURA, which employs a militant far-left discourse, has
formed a national union coalition called "Labor Solidarity" with far-right
sectors aligned with the largely discredited Confederation of Venezuelan
Workers (CTV), which supported the coup against the elected president Hugo
Chavez in 2002.

Translated
by Kiraz Janicke for Venezuelanalysis.com