Two Day Worker Summit Expresses Content and Discontent

The Venezuelan labor union confederation, the National Union of Workers (UNETE), organized a two-day meeting in Caracas on radical workplace organization last week in the run up to the National Assembly elections.

The National Meeting on Workers’ Control and the Socialist Management Model was well attended by over 200 worker representatives from unions, government-expropriated businesses and worker-occupied factories across the country.

UNETE leader Marcela Maspero opened the event by arguing that the Bolivarian Revolution was at a critical phase and that workers in Venezuelan industry had a leading role to play in the push for a socialist economy and in the vote on September 26th.

Maspero said, “Next Sunday, let’s all get up very early and vote for candidates of the Revolution because they are who will guarantee that the working class is respected”.

“Through the Revolution, workers have been dignified. We have better salaries, benefits and active and leading participation”, she added. “The national government is working to eliminate the contracting out that exists in different companies, especially in private firms like Polar Group”, Maspero announced, referring to workershired as contractors instead of full-time employees in order to avoid the extra cost of benefits.

Firms that have been renationalized after a period of privatization, such as Cemento Andino, Cementos de Venezuela, Sidor steel works, CANTV and Cafe Venezuela spoke of their experiences since the government intervened in their industries.

These workers agreed with Maspero that the state has improved pay and conditions. However, in their attempts to move beyond top-down hierarchical decision-making by state managers to socialist forms of organization, they expressed frustration.

Cemento Andino delegate Alexander Santo commented, “The state management is trying to divide the workers in Cemento Andino and prevent a collective bargaining contract between workers and management from taking place”.

The union that represents workers at Japanese factory Mitsubishi also complained of inaction and indifference from certain representatives in the Ministry of Labor. The workers have endured a struggle for over a year to fight against the firing of union leaders and 250 other workers, alongside representatives from Vivex, an automobile parts company, where workers have been occupying their workplace for 21 months now without intervention from the state.

Workers from Pescalba, a fishing and marine company owned jointly by the Venezuelan and Cuban governments were also in attendance at the event. In its economic performance, the firm has increased tuna fishing stocks by 100% since it was taken out of private hands.

Company union leader Jhonny Esparragoza explained, “In 2008, 91,759 kilos of tuna were fished and in 2009, 14,892 kilos. This year, already we’ve fished 296,487 kilos, an increase of more than 100% in relation to past years”.

Esparragoza spoke of the importance of the meeting to discuss workers control. He said it was essential to divide discussions into two themes. First, the shape, organization and structure of unions and, second, how productive workplaces are managed and run.

Esparragoza argued that workers organizations must be drivers for change and be democratic and free of exploitation so they could be in a position to control factories.

“To achieve this objective means the organizations of workers have structures where there are people in charge of production, purchasing, marketing, accounting, maintenance, links with the community, environment and security, control and defending humane working practices”.

The distinct situations of these workers in the battle against management – both private and state – is an expression of the difficulties in moving beyond capitalist relations of production. Despite the many progressive steps made by the Chavez government, industries that generates some 75% of domestic GDP still remain in private hands.

UNETE was formed in 2003 after it split from the old Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), which was always in alliance with big business and is today an important arm of the opposition.

UNETE has been divided over the past several years, preventing the union from playing a lead role in the Bolivarian revolution.

Some within UNETE have argued for uniting behind the government and keeping unions reformist, such as collective bargaining over pay and conditions. Other more radical elements in the organization push for state-owned industry under worker control and the end of private ownership of the means of production.