Mérida, May 2nd 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Thousands marched in Caracas and across Venezuela yesterday to celebrate the International Workers' Day. Sectors of a small opposition march in Caracas caused violence, clashes with police, and minor injuries.
The pro-government mayor of Caracas, Jorge Rodriguez, approved two march routes in Caracas: one by the National Front of Bolivarian Workers, and the other by the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV), the opposition associated trade union federation.
The National Front of Bolivarian Workers march, supported by the National Union of Workers (Unete, which split from the CTV after it supported the coup against Chávez in April 2002), the Socialist Confederation of Workers (CST) and the Cruz Villegas current of the Confederation of United Venezuelan Workers (CUTV), began at three different points in Caracas then converged on Avenue Urdaneta, extending a kilometer and half as participants listened to a range of speakers and bands.
Marchers interviewed by national channel VTV expressed repeatedly that they were out marching in order to support the revolutionary process and the Chávez government.
President Hugo Chávez, addressing the large crowd said, "There's no socialism without the working class... solid, conscientious, and committed to what is being born in Venezuela, which is Socialism."
"The happiness and passion in the streets of Caracas [today] and the excellent transmission by [community and government run media] VTV, TeleSur, TVes, Radio Nacional, YVKE Mundial...affected me so much that although it wasn't planned that I would speak today, the enthusiasm motivated me."
Retired army general Melven Lopez said unlike before Chávez's presidency, when May Day was a time of "violent protests against the abuses of capitalism, under the Bolivarian Revolution we celebrate this important day."
However Orlando Chirino, a coordinator of Unete and a leader of the United, Revolutionary, Autonomous, Classist Current (C-CURA), said his current wouldn't participate in either the pro-government or opposition marches because the "government, its ministers, its workers, its political party, its governors and mayors, maintain a brutal offensive against the workers to give up their rights that belong to them as a social class and that they have gained over many years of hard battles," reported Laclase.info.
Examples he cited in which he believes the government has "acted against the rights of unions" included some unfair dismissals, unrenewed contracts, various public sectors who are still negotiating collective agreements, and a "growing criminalization of protests."
Meanwhile, the opposition march clashed with police after some sectors tried to breach barricades set up to mark their route. According to the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN), while the CTV was prepared to follow the approved route, which was specifically designed so that the two marches would not meet or clash, some opposition members called for the march to follow a different route and go to the National Assembly, with opposition TV channel, Globovision, confirming such a route.
When opposition marchers attempted to pull down the barricading fence, the police tried to block them. According to a range of news sources, they were encouraged to break down the fencing and march to the assembly by opposition Metropolitan Mayor, Antonio Ledezma. Photos and video footage also confirm that they damaged a Pdval food distribution point (where the government sells food at solidarity prices).
Police and the National Guard used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the violent sectors. The police and ABN report that such sectors threw rocks and glass bottles at police and that two police officers were injured. Opposition press then carried headlines claiming the Chávez government had repressed the opposition march.
Pablo Castro, a CTV leader and a national leader of the opposition party, A New Time (UNT) said before the march that they were marching "not just for the defense of the rights of the workers but also for all the democratic rights of the country."
In his speech to the other rally that afternoon, Chávez commented on the opposition march saying it was "almost non-existent... The march wasn't workers precisely, but a march of conspirators, and widows of the Pact of Punto Fijo and of capitalism." The Pact of Punto Fijo was a cooperation agreement made between major Venezuelan governing parties in 1958.
Speaking at an event yesterday, commemorating the workers' day and in which 173 workers from various sectors were awarded with medals of the "Work Order of Merit", Chávez also said, "Workers will never again be slaves." He emphasized that its necessary to use education to consolidate the "liberated worker" and that "workers can't be slaves to work" and reiterated his support for the reduction of the working week, one of the proposals in the constitutional referendum of November 2007.
According to Chávez, the unemployment rate (which does not include informal workers) was 7.3% in March, down from 7.4% in February. He pointed out that this is despite the fall in the price of oil, Venezuela's principal export, and compared the statistics to the rest of the world where unemployment is generally increasing.
He also ratified a decision to intervene in a sardine factory in Sucre state and said, "When you all see a private company, a capitalist company that is exploiting workers and not complying with the law...denounce it, as the government is prepared to intervene where necessary." He also emphasized that state companies must be transformed and not operated like capitalist companies.
"They have to be socialist companies where the workers have a fundamental and active role and where the privileges of the managers are no more."
As Chávez announced recently, beginning on May 1st, a 10% increase in the minimum wage will come into effect. Another 10% increase will be implemented later this year. According to Panorama Digital, around half of Venezuelan workers are receiving the minimum wage. Chávez also confirmed yesterday that teachers would receive a wage increase.