Venezuelans March for May Day as Maduro Raises Minimum Wage by 30%

Thousands took to the streets of Caracas this Sunday to commemorate International Workers Day and manifest their support for the beleaguered Chavista government of President Nicolas Maduro amidst a severe recession and a possible recall referendum.

By Lucas Koerner and Jonas Holldack

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"May of Workers' Rebellion". (Jonas Holldack/Venezuelanalysis)
"May of Workers' Rebellion". (Jonas Holldack/Venezuelanalysis)

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Nancy Guzman: "Education Workers' Front, Baruta Municipality, supporting our president, Nicolas Maduro. Chavez lives. (Jonas Holldack/Venezuelanalysis)
Nancy Guzman: "Education Workers' Front, Baruta Municipality, supporting our president, Nicolas Maduro. Chavez lives. (Jonas Holldack/Venezuelanalysis)

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Workers from Venezuela's state aluminum company VENALUM. (Jonas Holldack/Venezuelanalysis)
Workers from Venezuela's state aluminum company VENALUM. (Jonas Holldack/Venezuelanalysis)
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Caracas, May 2, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets on Sunday to commemorate International Workers Day and manifest their support for the Chavista government of President Nicolas Maduro.

The march comes amid a deep economic crisis that has sapped support for Maduro and fueled an opposition-led campaign for a recall referendum that could be held later this year.

Nonetheless, in the face of the adverse circumstances, many Chavistas remain adamant in defense of their revolution and Maduro, who is often referred to as the “worker president” for his working class roots as a bus driver and trade union leader.

“We face the recall for various reasons, including the economic crisis, exhaustion of the rentier model, and the economic war,” explained Commerce Minister Jesus Faria, referring to the process for a recall referendum that was initiated last week and has already collected over 2.3 million signatures in favor of Maduro’s ouster.

“The opposition is taking advantage of these factors and have every constitutional right to do so, but we are ready for them, in the streets, in the electoral arena, even in armed struggle,” he told Venezuelanalysis.

Others attributed the present crisis to sabotage by the private sector and called for renewed labor militancy and workers’ control.

“The crisis comes from the businessmen. The only way to combat the economic war is to take over the factories and put them at the service of the people,” Maria Fernanda Romero told Venezuelanalysis.

However, for the Central University of Venezuela student and member of the revolutionary group Avanzada Popular, policies such as nationalization of unproductive private firms must be accompanied by stronger organization from below.

“More radical measures are only possible with more popular and workers’ organization…Too much faith is placed in pro-boss unions. We need new unions that work with the communities surrounding the factories!”

For Nancy Guzman, a teacher from the Caracas municipality of Baruta, May 1st is a day to celebrate the gains of the working class under the Bolivarian Revolution, including the Organic Work and Workers’ Law (LOTTT), which guarantees a host of progressive labor protections such as social security for domestic laborers, free labor-related legal services, and a ban on subcontracting.

“Today we celebrate the LOTTT, we celebrate that we have a workers’ government. We are six or seven million people who support Maduro. Make no mistake!”

Speaking to a mass of supporters outside Miraflores presidential palace, Maduro confirmed a Saturday night announcement that his government would increase the national minimum wage and pensions by 30%– sorely-needed measures in a country estimated to reach 700% inflation by year end, according to the IMF.

In response to right-wing efforts to depose him, the leftist head of state called on workers to rise up in a “popular constitutional rebellion” in the event of his ouster and initiate an “indefinite general strike until victory is won”.

Maduro also railed against Washington, blasting the US Senate over its recent approval of a bill extending sanctions against top Venezuelan officials– including current cabinet members–  until 2019.

“The United States Senate in violation of international law approved sanctions for three years against our beloved Venezuela,” he declared.

In particular, the president took aim at a visit by a group of right-wing legislators to Washington last week, where they met with the bill’s authors, senators Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio.

Maduro denounced the lawmakers as “traitors” and called for legal action to strip them of their parliamentary immunity.

According to the independent polling firm Hinterlaces, 71% of Venezuelans reject US sanctions against their nation.

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Reporting by Jonas Holldack. 

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