On the Ferrominera Elections: Defeat of Bureaucratic and Pro-Boss Trade Unionism

The defeat of the official United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidate in recent trade union elections in state company Ferrominera has generated great media interest in Venezuela in light of the upcoming presidential elections. Roberto Lopez Sanchez of Socialist Tide, a radical current within the PSUV, gives his view as to the current situation in the Venezuelan labour movement.


Translator: On 29 July Ruben Gonzalez, a dissident member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV),[i] was elected as general secretary of the state-owned iron ore company Ferrominera’s trade union. He beat the official PSUV candidate Alfredo Spooner 2,727 to 2,461 votes, with over 90% turnout of workers eligible to vote. The result has generated a lot of media coverage in Venezuela in the context of the coming presidential elections on 7 October, with both conservative candidate Capriles Radonski and radical left candidate Orlando Chirino claiming the result as support for their respective political positions, and a sign of shifting opinion in the state – owned companies in the eastern Guayana region as a whole. Here, Venezuelanalysis.com brings the view of Roberto Lopez Sanchez, a member of Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide), a radical current within the PSUV.

The recent trade union elections in Ferrominera del Orinoco produced an adverse result for the candidate slate supported by the FBT [the Bolivarian Workers Force, a pro-government trade union], governor Rangel Gomez [the pro-Chavez governor of Bolivar state], and a good part of the upper Chavista leadership, resulting in the victory of an opposition political force, headed by Ruben Gonzalez, who was sentenced and arrested in previous years for leading worker protests in the state company.

This result is an open paradox. A government like that of Chavez, that has just promulgated one of the most advanced labour laws in the world, and has promoted the Plan Socialist Guayana in the heavy industries, which includes models of democratic participation and worker management in the factories that perhaps aren’t repeated in any other country in the world currently, isn’t capable of winning union elections in said companies in Bolivar state.

We have a “pro-worker” discourse, as the government likes to describe itself; we have labour policies that vindicate rights that today are being guillotined in the main capitalist countries; a socialist proposal that although is embryonic, places itself to the forefront in the context of a globalised world; and we have a very deficient practical performance by the governmental team and worker leaders who enjoy “official” support. Anyone would say in this case: you ’de need to be very bad in government to lose elections despite all the factors in our favour.

The candidate slates that support the Bolivarian government have also lost in recent years in the union elections in the factories Alcasa and Carbonorca (having won in Sidor and Venalum) [translator: all of which are state-owned factories in the Guayana region]. A half-organised workers movement, with the political support of a government that stands up for the most advanced labour policy on the planet, should sweep elections and win the majority support of workers in these companies and the rest of the Venezuelan trade union movement. But it’s not happening like that. This result in Ferrominera sets off alarm bells and again brings up a debate that we have maintained throughout this Bolivarian process.

We refer to the question of the autonomy or subordination of the labour movement with relation to the state, bosses and political parties. To not extensively go into an analysis that we’ve already made, we point out the following:

1) After the oil stoppage (Dec 2002 – Feb 2003), the governmental bureaucracy has promoted a worker’s force, the FBT, as the only “legitimate representative” of Chavism in the labour movement. At the same time, it has made every necessary effort to crush and make revolutionary union tendencies disappear that refuse to subordinate themselves to the bureaucracy of the FBT.

2) A principal tool used by the bureaucracy has been the Ministry of Labour, as much to promote the FBT as to destroy the rest of the Bolivarian worker tendencies. This objective of the bureaucracy made a significant achievement when they almost dismantled the National Union of Workers (UNETE) last year, and formed, by way of imposition, the “new socialist union federation” the CBST [the Socialist Bolivarian Workers Central].

3) Chavism is repeating the same errors that the Adecos developed in the CTV [translator: Adecos refers to the party Democratic Action (AD), one of two dominant political parties in Venezuela before the election of Chavez in 1998, and the CTV is the Venezuelan Workers Confederation, a pro-opposition union organisation]. They [the bureaucracy] only promote subordination and brown-nosing in the labour movement. They don’t respect union forces that maintain autonomous positions and that support the Bolivarian government without giving a blank cheque for their labour rights to be violated.

4) Every critical position has been disqualified with epithets that go from being an agent of the enemy, the next turn-coat, an anarchist or extremist without reason, or infiltrator who will soon reveal their true colours.  With these arguments the destruction of all [revolutionary] unions not controlled by the FBT has been promoted, even though they were supported by other revolutionary forces. This has happened with unions promoted by the PCV (Venezuelan Communist Party), the CTR (linked to the UNETE), the Marea Socialista, the CMR (Revolutionary Marxist Current), and other revolutionary currents not related to the bureaucracy of the FBT. These unions have been practically dismantled by the joint action of the FBT, the bosses and the labour ministry.

5) Another key aspect where the Bolivarian government has been messing up is in not respecting the labour rights that the same state guarantees through the Bolivarian Constitution and the new Labour Law. Despite having progressive labour legislation that has made significant advances in these 14 years of revolution, the concrete performance of labour relations in state companies hasn’t distanced itself much from the old bourgeoisie management that imposed adecos and Copeyanos in public administration [translator: Copeyanos refers to the party COPEI, the other dominant political party before 1998] .

6) In Guayana, we are seeing the result of this “neo-adeco” operation that the FBT and the labour ministry have imposed upon the Venezuelan workers movement The workers end up supporting the forces of the opposition, because the revolutionary message of Bolivarian leaders is diluted between so many manoeuvres and mistaken policies.

7) Today the government has a brand new socialist workers federation that could probably lose the majority of union elections in which its leaders are involved.

We think that these serious errors committed in the labour management of the Bolivarian government won’t influence the [presidential] election result in October, but they are generating a situation of labour conflict in the country that could burst out next year.

The triumph of President Chavez is indispensable to give continuity to the revolutionary program that includes fundamental rights of the working class and proposals that, like workers’ councils, aim toward the construction of socialism. Due to that, and in order to promote the unity of action of the forces of Bolivarian workers, we promote joint work with the new Socialist Bolivarian Workers Central, while recognising that other union federations like the UNETE exist that represent important sectors of organised workers that support the revolution.

Sectarianism, divisiveness, tripping up others to get ahead, and assuming pro-boss and conciliatory positions in labour struggles have not been characteristic of our work in workers’ organisations; as it has been, lamentably, of almost all the important leaders of the FBT. Despite that, and in order to guarantee the electoral triumph [of Chavez] of 7 October, we think that united work inside the Venezuelan labour movement is indispensable.

Those who govern have the word [the right to speak] and until now have closed all doors to united work. Our disposition, as with our revolutionary convictions, is intact.[ii]

Maracaibo, Tierra del Sol Amada. 31 of July 2012.

Translated by Ewan Robertson for Venezuelanalysis.com

[ii] On Sunday 5 August, the Marea Socialista current unanimously voted to join the CBST, with the right to maintain autonomous within that union federation.

Source: Aporrea.org