The Criminalisation of the Popular Struggle: An Interview with Félix Martínez

In this interview, Martínez discusses the recently formed "Committee Against the Criminalisation of the Popular Struggle", in reference to the attacks and murders carried out against social activists, often with impunity.

“The Social movements should keep constructing a Unified Front in the streets, in order to fight for a revolutionary programme that channels the policies of our Bolivarian government towards socialism”

After the unified march, staged by peasants, workers and the revolutionary bases, calling for the defence of the revolution and the end of bureaucracy, hired assassinations and the criminalisation of the popular struggle on the 7th of June this year, a committee against the criminalisation of the popular struggle and social movements was formed, made up of representatives from the District Attorney’s Office and delegates from revolutionary organisations, including the National Ezequiel Zamora Peasant Front (FNCEZ), the Inhabitant’s Movement and the National Workers’ Union (UNETE). We interviewed Felix Martinez, General Secretary of the New Generation of Mitsubishi Workers Union (SINGETRAM) and member of the National Provisional Board of UNETE, who has been chosen to act as a representative to the Committee Against Criminalisation by the national UNETE board.

How did this Committee come about? Who are members and what work are you hoping to carry out through its creation?

The Committee Against the Criminalisation of the Popular Struggle has been in the pipeline for a long time and is a product of the countless hired assassinations and the demonisation of the unions’ struggles and social conflicts between the people and capitalism, its system and the bourgeois state, which still rules over our society and tries to make the revolutionary people tow that line. However, the act of creating the committee was realised after the extensive march that was carried out on the 7th of June, in which numerous social organisations participated, such as the National Ezequiel Zamora Peasant Front, the Inhabitant’s Movement and the National Workers’ Union, amongst others which also constitute this commission.

For me, it’s very important to have taken up this great responsibility, through which I hope to help coordinate work, alongside the aforementioned movements and organisations, in order to advance the plans and demands of the bases.  I hope to be a negotiator and a spokesperson between the popular movement and the institutions, where we might make headway with regards to the much anticipated responses that our affected comrades have been waiting for for so long. Comrades who are being criminally charged for the act of having fought for labour rights, health and job security, or for having fought against the large landed estate owner in order to make land more productive or to obtain a solution for dignified housing. It’s not right that, for having assumed a leadership role within these struggles, we are assassinated by the system, and the architects of the crimes remain free and go unpunished.  

You know this criminalisation and these attacks against the popular workers’ movement on a first hand basis. In MMC Automotriz, (Mitsubishi Motors) the workers are currently being persecuted and have been harassed for years, which has cost the lives of two comrades, the dismissal of more than 300 workers and now the possibility of a prison sentence for 7 workers. What is the situation right now in the MMC? What other cases exist where the workers and other revolutionary collectives are suffering from similar attacks?

The owner of MMC has chosen to develop policies which are identical to those used against the working class in Colombia. It’s important to highlight that there are now rumours that this transnational company has hired mafia criminals that are currently working in the construction sector as police officers, of all different ranks, that are working together in order to impose a kind of labour terrorism inside and outside of the company. For instance, everyday, but particularly on a Friday, they are dismissing workers that dare to complain, adding to this a huge level of exploitation which is serving to increase work related illnesses. Some of these workers are putting up with this great humiliation in silence, because they are scared of getting fired, and because they don’t receive a response from institutions. It’s also important to state that the management of this company, along with the labour ministry, are possibly creating another management union, apart from the actually existing union that they promoted from within the same company, (the United Workers’ Union of MMC – SUTREMMC) in order to create confrontations that will act to discredit the union organisations and allow for the non-fulfilment of the conventional benefits, when there  is no access to representation. Finally, this multi-million dollar transnational company, with the help of bureaucracy and state agencies, intends to try and imprison seven workers, including myself.

You participated in the first meeting of the Committee Against the Criminalisation of the Popular Struggle and social movements on the 19th of August this year, and were subsequently chosen by UNETE to act as a representative on behalf of that organisation. What conclusions did you take from that first meeting?

That first meeting confirms something that we have been upholding for a while. The situation that we are experiencing at MMC is not something exceptional, rather it forms part of a reality that thousands of workers, peasants, inhabitants, and revolutionary activists are being subjected to. In the workers’ movement we have relevant cases such as that in Guayana, where more than 100 workers have been assassinated. There are no answers to what is happening, much less any signs that the situation will let up. There are also the cases of the preventative delegates (elected representatives responsible for defending workers’ rights to dignified working conditions, as of 2003) who are being harassed and threatened with jail for defending the right to health and job security, using the standard alibis with the women’s’ rights law. Another case is that of Pedro Suarez and Javier Marcano, (comrades who were assassinated and the architects of the crime never identified or charged) the case of Argenis Vásquez in Toyota- Cumaná, (assassinated union leader) which has been going on for two years and is still not resolved, the same as the cases of Richard Gallardo (union leader – also assassinated) and the other union leaders in Maracay. This behaviour, from companies, landowners, counterrevolutionary sectors, bureaucrats and the “fifth column” which is like a cyst within state institutions [translator’s note: the fifth column is an expression coined by General Emilio Mola during the Spanish Civil War and refers to a supposedly loyal group which is secretly conspiring with the enemy] and that has extended to other indigenous and rural regions where more than 400 crimes and assassinations have been reported. Also, within the inhabitant’s movement, we are seeing how social activists are threatened and attacked for demanding a fundamental right, such as that of dignified housing. And just like those cases, there are many isolated incidents which need to be unified in order to fight together against this abhorrent situation.

This preoccupation with unifying the different cases of criminalisation and persecution that we are subjected to, I think is common to the comrades of the other movements which constitute the Committee (the Ezequiel Zamora National Peasant’s Front, the Inhabitant’s Movement etc.). We have decided that our greatest need is to coordinate ourselves better, to prepare meetings with the various comrades that are suffering from this same situation and collect their demands and proposals and to unify them in order to present them before the Committee and condemn these acts publically. With this goal in mind, and as UNETE representative within the Committee, we have opened up an e-mail account – unetecontralacriminalizació[email protected] – in order to collect all of the cases that affect the workers’ collectives. We call for all the class-based unions and struggling workers’ collectives suffering from this situation to get in touch with us at that e-mail address and organise a unified national response to all of those cases of repression, criminalisation or persecution that are being produced.

It is also true that many conflicts exist at the moment which are receiving the same treatment as the Mitsubishi case, for example, the conflict in the transnational company Toyota Cumaná, the case of Alcasa, (aluminium company) amongst other companies in Bolivar state. That’s why it is both necessary and urgent for us to unite all of these situations and struggles in a Unified Front of the popular revolutionary movements against the aggression of the capitalist system and its lackeys. This is the route that will help us to deepen the revolution, to put an end to and eliminate the mafias which have existed and those that are reproducing.

What is the cause of this offensive against the workers’ and popular movements’ struggle, carried out by companies and sectors of the bureaucratic state? How do you think we, the workers’ movement and the rest of the affected revolutionary collectives (peasants, inhabitants, communal councils etc), should go about confronting it?

Undoubtedly this situation is a product of worsening class contradictions, it is a class struggle that is developing, where the revolutionary peoples, alongside the working class, are fighting to socialise the means of production which satisfy our basic necessities, and the capitalists are seeing that their interests are being affected and they are trying to protect private property. That is why we are seeing that the offensive being used by the companies and the oligarchy is to sabotage the economy, speculate, hoard, and in the last instance murder our people, with the objective of putting an end to the revolution and president Chávez. We, the working class, the peasants, the communal councils, must respond with all of our might by driving workers’ control forward within all institutions and within private and  public companies. We must install the workers’ councils, with the communes and popular power, as the administrator and director of expropriated businesses, and promote the new type of revolutionary unions, in which the principal organ of all these bodies is the power of public assembly, where decisions relating to eligibility and the immediate revocation of the coordinators are made, as well as the assignment of their salaries, which shouldn’t surpass those of a qualified worker. These are important elements in the fight against the bureaucracy and corruption that can absorb many leaders.

One of the demands of the unified workers’, inhabitants’ and peasants’ march, which took place on the 7th of June this year in Caracas, was precisely the condemnation of hired assassinations and the criminalisation of the popular struggle. As well as this; the need to defend the Bolivarian Revolution from any offensive on the part of the counterrevolutionary right and imperialism was also put forward, and the danger of bureaucracy was also condemned. Do you believe that this mobilisation should be given continuity?  What about others put forward by UNETE, the movement for health at work, the meetings and marches for workers’ control? How do you think all of these struggles can be linked and unified?

We are victims of the global crisis of capitalism, with the increase of imperialist aggressions, victims of the stances taken by businesses, which we have heard and that have been felt recently with the increase in the price of products, a decline in production or stockpiling. We are victims of the political opposition’s clowns, in conjunction with the bureaucrats, the fifth column that is attempting to finish off the revolution and president Chávez. It is extremely important that the social movements do not leave the streets, and that we get out there and mobilise in order to bring to fruition the construction of a unified front that can fight for a revolutionary programme that channels the policies of our Bolivarian government, and that genuinely helps to deepen the revolution, converting itself into a global example for those people that find themselves suffering at the hands of capitalism’s offensive. We cannot keep allowing the reformists to put our process at risk, betting on a mixed economy which in 11 years has not provided any kind of answer. In this sense, from the Revolutionary Marxist Current, we propose a “Congress of Social Movements and Revolutionary Unions”, which needs to take place urgently this month (September). In this congress we need to discuss and define that fighting programme and begin to mobilise within the coming months and offer all of our support to our commander in chief so that he can push forward the revolution with even more force, putting an end to the bourgeois state and its lackeys, and begin to construct socialism, with the coordination of the economy in the hands of the working class and popular power.

It is also important to announce that, in the name of the struggle against criminalisation and the situation that the workers are living in the transnational company Mitsubishi, we have begun a solidarity campaign carrying out public acts of debate on “the crisis of capitalism and the criminalisation of the workers’ movement”. We will be developing one of the first events this Thursday, September 1st 2011, in the “TEMISTOCLES MAZA” library Boulevard 5 Julio, Barcelona, Anzoátegui state at3:30PM. We invite all of the revolutionary comrades that support these popular revolutionary struggles.

Translated by Rachael Boothroyd for Venezuelanalysis