The League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) wishes to join our fellow workers in Venezuela and elsewhere who are protesting the dismissal of union leader Orlando Chirino on December 28, 2007 by the PDVSA of Venezuela, the state-owned oil company. Chirino has worked at the PDVSA of Venezuela, since 2003. He is a prominent left-wing union leader, and he has been a prominent left critic of President Hugo Chávez’s recent scheme to revise the Constitution. We agree with Chirino’s own declaration that his dismissal was an act of “discrimination and political persecution.”
The ruling Chávez regime, which totally controls the PDVSA, has made specific efforts to curtail the union movement. The regime especially wants to suppress militant and independent developments among workers in the pivotal oil industry. During recent contract negotiations, the regime refused to bargain with the four existing federations that already represent workers in the oil industry. It also refused to allow new elections whereby oil workers themselves could have selected a united bargaining slate. Rather the regime colluded with its hand-picked Minister of Labor and hand-picked union hacks that are totally under its control. It set up a new federation, the so-called United Oil Workers Federation of Venezuela (FUTPV), which was not elected by the ranks. Chirino and other union leaders and union militants demanded that the FUTPV hold elections immediately but the demand for elections was denied. Oil workers had even been attacked by state police forces when they mobilized to protest this process.
Through farcical “negotiations”, the regime forced a bad contract on the workers. Further the government declared that oil workers would from now on be represented only by the FUTPV. Chirino is part of the leadership of the Sindicato Nacional Unitario de Trabajadores Petroleros (Sinutrapetrol) one of the union federations which protested the regime’s maneuvers against the basic right of the ranks to chose their own leadership and organization, and present their own contract demands.
To date the FUTPV is still under pressure to hold elections. It is no accident that the FUTPV and the regime would want to get Chirino removed from the PDVSA workforce at this point. There has been a small but growing number of class confrontations between the regime and the workers in other industries as well.
Chávez was defeated in his attempt in early December to impose amendments to the constitution-via a “referendum” – whose main effect would have been to strengthen the ability of the capitalist state could repress working class struggle. Chirino advocated an abstention in the referendum. He also solidarized with those workers who would vote No against the referendum on a working class basis, the position which the LRP favors.
Chávez not only declared any type of opposition to his referendum as “counterrevolutionary” but even declared a campaign for abstention to be illegal. Nevertheless, for the first time since he took office, Chávez was defeated in a voting process. Large numbers of working class and poor people refused to back his proposals. Despite still great illusions in Chávez’s populist promises, many workers refused to back the idea of increased repression by the state and increased power in the hands of Chávez.
As the recent food and milk shortages have made painfully obvious, despite great oil wealth, Venezuela is operating in the interests of Venezuelan capitalism and the imperialists still dominate the economy. The firing of Chirino also takes place within a general context where the Chavez regime has recently granted amnesty to many of the coupsters and has moved in the direction of making other concessions to the rightwing opposition as well.
As revolutionary socialists we have always argued that Chavez’s pro-capitalist populism was fundamentally anti-working class. We believe that the situation in Venezuela will only be decisively reversed with workers’ socialist revolution. That requires the building of an international revolutionary vanguard party.
As articles on our website (www.lrp-cofi.org) have made clear, we have fundamental political differences with the perspective and policies that Chirino and his co-thinkers have carried out over the years in Venezuela and elsewhere. These differences are no obstacle to a united defense campaign, which in fact is the duty, not only of those of us who believe in workers’ revolution, but of all who wish to defend the working class and its basic rights.
February 12, 2008