Venezuelan Labor Leaders Call for Union Federation Elections

Various leaders of Venezuela's primary pro-government labor union, the National Workers Union of Venezuela (UNT), called on all sectors of the organization to join together and hold elections later this year.

Mérida, July 19, 2007 (— Various leaders of Venezuela’s primary pro-government labor union, the National Workers Union of Venezuela (UNT), called on all sectors of the organization to join together and hold elections later this year. At a press conference on Tuesday, labor leaders Marcela Máspero and Orlando Chirino invited all sectors of the UNT to a general meeting on July 26th to organize general elections and, in that way, unite the principal labor union of the country that has remained divided in recent years.

"Consolidation and Unity of the UNT’ is what the event will be called," said Máspero yesterday. "We will refine the discussion, from the grassroots, about the destiny of the UNT, in order to carry out the electoral process this year because there is an expressed desire among all the sectors involved."

Máspero said that the different sectors of the UNT want a democratic and transparent electoral process so that there will not remain any doubt about the legitimacy of the UNT. According to Máspero, the unification of the UNT will allow for the necessary transformation of the workers movement and adapt it to the times of the Bolivarian Revolution.

President Hugo Chavez has criticized the division of the workers movement and has said that its participation is essential in the construction of the revolutionary project. Promoters of the new United Socialist Party (PSUV) have also said the construction of the new united party of the Bolivarian Revolution cannot advance without the union of the workers.

"We must be conscious of the paralysis, the division, and the separation from the center and regional federations," said Chirino, head of the UNT sector C-CURA (Corriente Clasista, Unitaria, Revolucionaria y Autónoma) "[This division] has been used by the enemies of the workers to increase the plans of capitalist exploitation," he said.

Chirinos assured that his sector, C-CURA, is committed to the reorganization of the labor union into one united movement, and the development of the electoral process in order to overcome the recent crisis within the movement. Chirinos said that the workers will request urgent action with regards to the collective contracts in the public sector, mainly in the sectors of health and education. According to him, the workers in the health and education sectors have not been offered the same contract conditions as workers in other state sectors such as the oil and construction industries.

Leaders of the workers movement say that a lack of statutory reform and an electoral process to elect the union leaders has brought the UNT to a standstill. As the major workers union in Venezuela in recent years, replacing the earlier Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) after the 2002-2003 oil strike, the UNT has gone four years with no nationally elected leadership. For that reason, both Máspero and Chirinos emphasized the importance of organizing the electoral process.

"We are calling on all sectors to join the electoral process as it means the opening, after a long time, to begin to work with the electoral registry, with reforming the statutes, and to set a date for elections," said Chirinos.

On July 26th all the sectors should come together to prepare for the elections and plan for "what we want to do before next December," he said.

Representatives at the press conference also spoke about the situation with the collective contracts in the state sector, the reform of certain laws, and the planned constitutional reform and how it might affect workers rights. Also discussed was the possibility of calling for a workers constitutional assembly with the objective of unifying the workers movement under one constitution.

Representatives also criticized the government in its dealing with workers conflicts, the favoring of certain sectors of the workers movement over others, and what some see as the lack of concrete orientation in the construction of a socialist economy.

"For us it is very clear: without the working class there is no socialism, and there will be no possibility of creating it in this country," said Máspero. She emphasized the movement’s desire to participate in the political process being carried forward in the country and emphasized the importance of converting the "bourgeois" state into a "socialist" state.