Pro-Chavez Labor Leaders Call for Formation of New Venezuelan Union Federation

In a joint press conference with Venezuela's Labor Minister Jose Ramon Rivero on Sunday, National Assembly Deputy and coordinator of the Bolivarian Socialist Workers Force (FSBT) announced the formation of a new national union federation and called on unions to disaffiliate from the UNT.
National Assembly deputy Oswaldo Vera speaks to the press while Labor Minister José Ramon Rivero (center) looks on. (Prensa MINPPTRASS)

Caracas, April 15, 2008 ( – In a joint press conference with Venezuela's Labor Minister Jose Ramon Rivero on Sunday, National Assembly Deputy and coordinator of the Bolivarian Socialist Workers Force (FSBT), a faction with in the National Union of Workers (UNT), announced the formation of a new national union federation and called on unions to disaffiliate from the UNT.

Vera's announcement was preceded by a public attack on the UNT by Minister Rivero (also from the FSBT), who was quoted in an interview with regional daily Notitarde on April 11 as saying "the National Union of Workers does not represent the spirit of the Venezuelan revolutionary process."

The UNT was formed as a pro-revolution national federation on April 5, 2003 after the CTV became widely discredited for participating in the April 2002 military coup against the Chavez government carried out by rightwing opposition sectors and business elites, and later for siding with management in the 63 day oil industry shutdown again aimed at overthrowing Chavez in December 2002-January 2003.

With 24 national coordinators, the UNT was formed essentially as an alliance of union leaders that later came to represent five major currents within the Bolivarian labor movement (the FSBT, the Collective of Workers in Revolution (CTR), the United Revolutionary Autonomous Class Current (C-CURA), the Alfredo Maneiro current, and Union Autonomy, as well as a number of smaller currents).

It was promised that elections for the national leadership would be carried out within 3 months of the founding congress. However, after much internal wrangling over the modalities of the vote, they were repeatedly postponed and have so far never taken place.

The UNT "does not represent workers" and is "incapable" of responding to their demands Vera claimed.

Of Venezuela's 11 million workers, 3 million are unionized (the majority of which are affiliated to the UNT, though some still remain affiliated to the CTV). Of these 3 million, Vera said the new union federation aims to organize 2 million.

"Each one of the national federations and unions will be directly represented in the executive committee; there will be no professional union leaders who don't represent anyone, as has been the case until now," Vera claimed.

The Venezuelan union movement also has to overcome the "bad practice" of failing to hold elections he added in an interview on state owned television station VTV today.

However, Vera's current was instrumental in opposing elections proposed by C-CURA and others in the 2006 UNT congress. Critics have also accused the FBST of failing to hold elections in individual unions they control.

Vera also praised the formation of the United Federation of Venezuelan Oil Workers (FUTPV), in September last year as a great example of uniting three major oil worker's federations.

However, Jose Bodas, general secretary of the Fedepetral Anzoátegui responded saying, "this is a big lie, the FUTPV, the federation that will group oil workers still does not exist legitimately. Elections have not been held to form it and in reality there is only a provisional leadership handpicked by the Minister of Labor and the Minister of Energy."

Vera claimed the proposal to form the new national federation counts with the support of 17 out of 19 of the most important national sectoral unions, including the energy and oil, higher education, health, electricity, public service, transport, construction, flour production, education and telecommunications sectors, among others.

The 17 unions referred to currently belong to the National Union of Workers (UNT). However, Vera is calling on them to disaffiliate and join the new national federation being set up by the FSBT.

In addition, he said important non-federated unions in the companies Ferrominera, Metro de Caracas, Polar, CocaCola Femsa, PepsiCola and Cigarrera Bigott also supported the move to create a new federation. According to Vera this accounts for 80% of the Venezuelan union movement. The FSBT has claimed for some time that it represents 80% of the union movement after fusing with the Alfredo Monero current and Union Autonomy.

However, other national coordinators of the UNT, including Stalin Perez Borges, Marcela Maspero, and Orlando Chirino rejected Vera's claims that the majority of national sectoral unions support the new federation.

Chirino, a leader of C-CURA accused the "red bureaucrats" of the government of carrying out a "coup" via the FSBT "against the autonomous and democratic will of the Venezuelan workers."

For Chirino the proposed new federation is a sign that Venezuela is heading towards Stalinism because "the government wants to control the labor movement."

On the other hand, Máspero, the only female national coordinator of the UNT and leader of the of the CTR current, said this new federation "emerges from the endogenous right wing of the revolution" and accused the FSBT of implementing "the same bureaucratic practices as the CTV."

The proposal for the new union federation has to do with the "failure of the methods and practice of the Labor Minister in the SIDOR conflict," Máspero said.

On April 9 President Chavez nationalized Venezuela's largest steel plant, the Argentine controlled SIDOR, after a 14-month dispute for a collective contract. The United Steel Industry Workers Union (SUTISS) had roundly criticized the Labor Minister for "violating union autonomy" after he intervened in negotiations and attempted to impose a referendum of the company's final pay offer.

In contrast, during a speech on April 13, President Chavez praised the workers struggle and nationalization of SIDOR and called on the working class to assume a "protagonistic role" in the revolution.

Rivero has subsequently been sidelined from the collective contract negotiations between the government and the SIDOR workers, which will be carried out by Vice-president Ramon Carrizales.

"Vera as well as the Minister placed themselves on the side of the company, whilst SUTISS was able to defeat the hired labor contracting of employment and with that awoke a new consciousness within the workers," Máspero declared.

However, she added, "We have no fear either to incorporate ourselves into the new federation, or to remain in the UNT or to debate this, we are open to anything."

Perez Borges, a leader of C-CURA and of the new union current Socialist Tide, said the Labor Minister had received "a very big setback" when President Chavez withdrew him from negotiations in the Sidor conflict and was now trying to divide the union movement.

Perez Borges said Rivero was largely viewed as a "traitor" by workers and argued "if he had any dignity he would resign."

A Socialist Tide statement released yesterday called on President Chavez "in the same manner in which he intervened in the SIDOR conflict" to "listen to all the currents of the UNT to discuss the role of an autonomous and independent union federation in the revolutionary process."

Socialist Tide argued that it is necessary for the union movement to be reorganized from the grassroots, "because we are conscious that while we continue to be dispersed the bosses and the endogenous right win. As long as we are disarticulated the workers will not be the social subject in the revolutionary process that we are living through in Venezuela."