Venezuelan Trade Union Congress Proposes Industrial and Economic Strategy

Venezuela’s largest pro-government trade union federation will today hand President Nicolas Maduro a series of proposals for the greater industrialisation of the economy and strategies to overcome current economic difficulties.

By Ewan Robertson
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The closure of the Bolivarian Socialist Union of Workers (CBST) congress on 8 November (agencies).
The closure of the Bolivarian Socialist Union of Workers (CBST) congress on 8 November (agencies).

Mérida, 17th November 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s largest pro-government trade union federation will today hand President Nicolas Maduro a series of proposals for the greater industrialisation of the economy and strategies to overcome current economic difficulties.

The Bolivarian Socialist Union of Workers (CBST), which represents 1.3 million workers, held a major congress from August to November this year, with national and local meetings taking place.

During the congress seven key areas were discussed including the current political and economic situation, the productivity of public and private sector companies, the structure of the state, and international links among the working class.

Debates addressed on-going economic problems in the South American OPEC nation of 30 million, particularly the shortages of basic goods, 63% annual inflation, and an overvalued fixed-rate currency.

Ahead of today’s meeting with President Maduro, CBST conference coordinator Oswaldo Vera said that the union has designed a plan to ensure the sufficient supply of basic goods in the short term, and a strategy to increase production and exportation in the medium term.

“We have the potential to achieve [higher] levels of industrialisation and be self-sustainable. The working class also commits itself to achieving industrialisation,” said Vera, according to newspaper Ultimas Noticias.

At the congress’ closure on 8 November, Vera said that the CBST defended the social, economic and political project promoted by the Bolivarian government. However, it was argued that the state required fundamental transformation to achieve programmatic goals.

“It was debated that the state continues to be very slow, a state that we inherited from the 4th Republic [pre-1998] and that despite all efforts still maintains fundamental vices. We workers take on the challenge of transforming the state, to create the socialist state, the worker state for the wellbeing of the whole Venezuelan people,” the trade unionist told fellow delegates.

Vera, who is also a lawmaker for the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), added that the CBST was planning to introduce worker militias into workplaces to “defend the homeland and the legacy of our liberators”.

Meanwhile the president of the CBST, Wills Rangel, said at the closing event that “proposals have been made to increase productivity, for example, in state companies. These are things we’re going to put before the country and I’m sure that the president [Nicolas Maduro] will approve them”.

Under the governments of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, a land and industry nationalisation drive has been carried out in a bid to increase the state’s role in the economy and promote greater production and diversification.

According to statistics held by the Venezuelan Industry Federation and quoted in regional newspaper El Tiempo, the Bolivarian government has nationalised 1,314 enterprises in this time, especially in the construction, industry and oil sectors.

However opponents have argued that the nationalisations have not achieved their aims, with the percentage of export earnings coming from oil sales increasing to almost 95%, while manufacturing as a percentage of GDP has fallen from 17.3% in 1998 to 13.9% currently. Critics blame government economic policies for this, especially fixed-rate currency exchange controls which they say maintain a subsidised and overvalued local currency which reduces the competitiveness of domestic industry.

Authorities counter that production of some products, such as in the agricultural sector, has significantly increased in recent years, while greater state control over the oil industry has allowed for a large expansion of spending on social programs and infrastructure. Over the previous decade poverty has been halved and inequality has also significantly reduced. Unemployment is also at a record low of 7%.

Trade union supporters of the government also point to improved labour rights and social security under the Chavez and Maduro administrations, enshrined within the new 2012 Labour Law.

CBST officials reported yesterday that significant progress had also been made in the agreement of a new collective contract for public sector workers.

Other trade union groups have also met recently to discuss and propose strategies for the country’s development. Last week one union organisation, the National Workers’ Front for the Deepening of the Bolivarian Revolution, met in the headquarters of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) in Caracas.

Composed mainly of oil and steel workers, in addition to several PCV leaders, the organisation called for no more preferential foreign currency to be granted to the private sector, implying that the state should take sole responsibility for imports.

The workers also called for the elimination or reduction of Value Added Tax (VAT), regarding it as a regressive tax. Further, they declared their opposition to “conciliatory and reformist” tendencies within the union movement.   

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