Venezuelan Government Wins Victory at ILO in Geneva

A request to hold sanctions against the Venezuelan government for alleged labor violations, co-sponsored by the country’s employers’ association and the traditional labor federation was rejected this week at the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) meetings being held in Geneva, Switzerland.

Caracas, Venezuela, June 16, 2005—Venezuela received a favorable ruling at the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland this week, when the group rejected a request to investigate Venezuela for allegedly violating workers’ rights.  The accusation against the Venezuelan government was made by the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV)—Venezuela’s traditional labor federation—along with the country’s largest employer’s federation, Fedecamaras.

In this year’s ILO general assembly meeting the CTV was not invited as a member of the group’s administrative council.  This means that, “for the first time in many years … the administrative council will be able to act with increased objectivity when it comes to cases related to Venezuela,” said ILO delegate Marcela Maspero. 

Maspero is a leader of the National Union of Venezuelan Workers (UNT), which is a new Venezuelan union federation that was formed in May 2003, in the wake of the two-month 2002-2003 oil industry shutdown, when disaffected union leaders unhappy with the CTV’s prioritization of anti-Chávez politics over workers’ interests broke away.

“The CTV will no longer be able to use this space as a springboard to launch political attacks against the revolutionary government of Venezuela,” she added, reported Venezuela’s state news agency ABN.

For the last two years, the CTV has been forced to lobby ILO delegates from outside of the meetings, using Fedecamaras to submit proposals on their behalf.  This year, however, Fedecamaras/CTV requests to sanction the Venezuelan government fell on deaf ears.  Fedecamaras’ only delegate to the meeting, Bingen De Arbeloa, left early in protest.

“I did not receive a report from workers, nor from governments participating in the conference, in our attempts to hold sanctions against the Government of Venezuela,” said De Arbeloa.

In the view of the ILO general assembly, the Venezuelan government has demonstrated considerable progress in terms of trade union freedoms, according to Venezuela’s Vice-Minister of Labor Ricardo Dorado who is in Geneva.

Dorado noted that over the past 8 months Venezuela has made significant advances in labor policy, including the extension of a freeze on lay-offs, increases in the minimum wage, and a reform of the labor law.  Furthermore, the ILO recognized that Venezuela has consolidated a democratic dialogue with various groups representing workers in Venezuelan society, said Dorado.

Referring to the decades-long monopoly on labor issues held by Fedecamaras and the CTV, Dorado argued that Venezuela has “advanced in the idea that social dialogue is not exclusive or excluding.  On the contrary, we are promoting a dialogue in which all social actors can participate, in which the Government is the interlocutor of the interests of a pluralistic society.”  “As a consequence, we cannot endorse a mono-political position like what we have seen here in the past,” said the Vice-Minister.

Fedecamaras and the CTV have developed close links since the election of President Hugo Chávez in 1998, who signaled a shift away from the neoliberal policies pursued by previous governments with the approval and complicity of both Fedecamaras and the CTV.  In April 2002 a general strike called by both employers and CTV union leaders resulted in a short-lived coup against Chávez in which Fedecamaras President Pedro Carmona was named “Transitional President.”  Carmona’s first act was to abolish the Constitution, and dissolve Congress and the Supreme Court, and to order the Metropolitan Police to conduct a series of violent raids against Chávez-supporters in the shanty-towns around the capital, Caracas.

Since its inception in 2003, the UNT has competed with the CTV for affiliates, sometimes fighting pitched electoral battles in divided factories, thanks to a formerly little-used provision in Venezuela’s labor law allowing workers to call a referendum if two parallel unions are competing to represent a given factory.  The UNT has won nearly every such referendum, gaining considerable momentum for a national syndicalist project that prioritizes resistance to neoliberalism and support for workers’ control of factories.

Both the UNT and the CTV claim to represent the majority of Venezuelan workers.  Last year Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that the CTV was no longer the most representative labor federation in Venezuela.  Yet since the ruling did not say that the UNT was the most representative federation, the question remains open for debate. 

Another key to answering this question has been representation at the ILO.  Since its formation in 2003 the UNT has sent a delegation to the United Nations labor body, though until last year, the CTV did too.