Caracas, May 2, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— Just as in previous years, two Venezuelan union federations organized competing demonstrations in support of the May 1 International Workers’ Day. While the pro-government demonstration attracted more marchers, it appeared more divided than the smaller anti-Chavez demonstration.
The pro-government demonstration was organized by unions that are members of the National Union of Workers of Venezuela (UNT) and took place throughout the country. The march in the capital of Caracas crossed the city from the South to the North-West under the slogan “In the Struggle for Socialism.”
Organizers explained on Venezuela’s state TV station that this march was organized by the UNT member unions and not be the union federation itself because the leaders of the UNT could not reach an agreement on the march’s details.
The lack of unity within the UNT was also reflected in that the pro-government march started from different locations, even though most of the route was the same. The UNT leadership has been seriously divided almost since its founding four years ago, mostly over the modalities for holding UNT leadership elections and the degree to which the federation should support the Chavez government.
Marcela Máspero, of the chemical workers’ union, and Orlando Chirino, of the C-CURA faction within the UNT marched together, even though the two had in the past been opposed to each other. The other faction of the march is represented by the more pro-Chavez Bolivarian Workers Force (FBT).
Meanwhile, the pro-opposition march of the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV) marched a relatively short route in the city’s center. Its application for permit for a slightly longer route that took it near the presidential palace had been rejected by the city government for security reasons.
The CTV leadership, criticized the Chavez government’s 20% minimum wage increase as being insufficient and instead said it demands a 30% increase for all salaries. “This salary increase is insufficient and we continue to insist that the entire salary scale be revised,” said CTV General Secretary Manuel Cova during the march.
Friction Between Chavez and UNT
President Chavez criticized some of the leaders of the UNT yesterday, saying that some leaders “resist unity and are placing the interests of a few directors ahead of [the people].” He then went on to say that he saw UNT leader Marcela Máspero on TV the previous day, who had expressed skepticism about the accuracy of the Labor Ministry’s new title “Ministry of Popular Power for Labor.”
Máspero, who has generally been quite supportive of Chavez, dismissed the comments saying she is “fascinated by the call for unity” and is working hard to get the UNT to hold elections for a unified leadership as soon as possible.
Asked about whether she is concerned about a possible loss of union autonomy, she denied that this is an issue.
More serious conflicts appear to be brewing in the Venezuelan state of Aragua, though, where unions that support the worker takeover of a bathroom ceramics factory, Sanitarios de Maracay, have been in open conflict with the pro-Chavez governor Didalco Bolivar. Recently, a worker demonstration in Maracay was violently broken up by the local police and the National Guard.
The UNT-Aragua issued a statement with ten points yesterday, in which it called for union autonomy, denounced the actions of the state security forces, and called for the governor’s resignation. It also stated that the UNT-Aragua is “concerned” about Chavez’s recent statements that questioned union autonomy, when he called for the unions that support the government to join the newly forming Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
Similarly, the UNT faction headed by Orlando Chirino, known as C-CURA (Classist Current, Unitary, Revolutionary, and Autonomous), sent an open letter to Chavez for May 1st, that insisted on the importance of union autonomy. Chavez had stated in early April, during a PSUV event, that “unions should not be autonomous, one must put an end to that.”
The letter cites Vladimir Lenin, who once stated that unions should be independent of the state and goes on to refer to Chavez’s comment that the PSUV will not be a Stalinist party. “When Stalinism took political power and led the state and the party, one of the first things it eliminated was the independence of the unions, precisely against the opinion of Lenin, who had already died.”