Venezuelan Trade Unionists Organise to Defend the “Bolivarian Revolution”

Venezuelan trade unionists are organising to re-found the National Union of Workers (UNT) through a national congress scheduled for December 5 in order to “defend and deepen the gains of the Bolivarian revolution.”

UNT East regional congress (Aporrea)

Caracas, November 11th 2009 ( — Venezuelan trade unionists are organising to re-found the National Union of Workers (UNT) through a national congress scheduled for December 5 in order to “defend and deepen the gains of the Bolivarian revolution.”

President Hugo Chavez, has stated that the aim of revolution is “Socialism of the 21st Century.” Among the workers who are organising the congress, however, there is general agreement on the need to build a unified national union federation to confront a pro-capitalist state bureaucracy that threatens to derail the revolution.

Regional and sector-based meetings are being held throughout the country in order to facilitate debate and discussion among rank and file workers in preparation for the national congress.

The UNT already held an East congress over November 6-7, with 250 workers representing unions from the states of Anzoategui, Bolivar, Sucre, Nueva Esparta, Monagas. A November 11 report about the congress on the pro-revolution website said:

“This congress took place amid a surge in working class struggle in all of Venezuela to defend their rights against the capitalists and the bureaucracy that threatens the achievements of the revolution.”

“Throughout the congress you could feel the discontent of workers about the alarming growth of bureaucracy and the need for a joint struggle by all workers to confront reformism and the bosses,” the report continued.

Regional meetings have also been held in Zulia, the Central Region (representing workers from Caracas, Miranda and Vargas), the Andean region (representing Tachira, Trujillo, Merida, and Falcon) and Carabobo, with plans for further preparatory meetings in the Plains region (including Barinas and Lara), among others.

The UNT was formed in April 2003 after the country’s traditional labour federation, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), together with the country’s largest employer federation, Fedecamaras, participated in the 2002 military coup against Chavez as well as a management-led shut down of the oil industry over December 2002-January 2003 – again in an attempt to overthrow the Chavez government.

Despite general agreement on program and principles at the founding congress, elections for the new federation were postponed and a provisional leadership of 21 national coordinators was formed.

Discredited over its role in the coup and bosses lockout, the CTV all but collapsed as unions disaffiliated en masse. In turn UNT affiliation grew dramatically, representing 76.5% of all collective agreements signed in 2003-2004, rapidly overtaking the CTV as Venezuela’s principal labour federation.

Five major political currents emerged within the new federation: the FSBT (initially the Bolivarian Worker’s Force, which predates the UNT as a current within the CTV) led by Oswaldo Vera; the Alfredo Maneiro current, whose key leaders included Ramon Machuca in the steel industry and Franklin Rondon in the public sector; the Collective of Workers in Revolution (CTR), lead by Marcela Maspero; the United Revolutionary Autonomous Class Current (C-CURA), headed by Orlando Chirino and Stalin Perez Borges; and the smaller Union Autonomy, lead by Orlando Castillo.

In 2005 the UNT led a million strong march of workers in Caracas under the banner of “Co-management is revolution,” and “Venezuelan workers are building Bolivarian Socialism.”

However, factional infighting reached such a point that blows were exchanged at the UNT’s 2nd congress in 2006. The congress collapsed in disarray, elections were postponed again and the federation effectively ceased functioning at a national level despite a number of strong regional sections.

Since then, ongoing political developments have led to further divisions and realignments in the union movement.

In 2007 the CCURA current split over whether to join Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), with one wing led by Chirino opposing this and another majority wing, led by Perez Borges opting to join the PSUV and forming the Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide) current.

The appointment of Jose Ramon Rivero, a leader of the FSBT faction who often sides with the management and not the workers, as Labour Minister also led to clashes within the union movement.

In 2008 the FSBT and the Alfredo Maneiro current formed a new national federation, the Socialist Workers Federation (CNT in its Spanish acronym) and called on unions to disaffiliate from the UNT. However, the CNT does not have legal recognition as a trade union federation.

Despite the divisions, the UNT continues to be the principle union federation in the country with eighty percent of active unions legally affiliated to it including most major sector-based federations as well as numerous small individual unions.

The push to re-found the national federation is being lead by Marea Socialista, the CTR, and the Bolivarian Educators. The Communist Party of Venezuela’s (PCV) aligned union current, the Cruz Villegas Current, which had previously opted to stay outside of the UNT due to its lack of democratic structure, has also come behind the push to re-found the UNT, while Castillo’s Union Autonomy current has all but disappeared.

The UNT leaders are calling for all of the ad-hoc provisional leaders of the UNT to resign their national coordinator positions at the start of the congress. An interim leadership and an electoral commission would then be elected from the congress to organise nation-wide grassroots elections, provisionally scheduled for February next year.

Chirino, who withdrew from the UNT and formed the Labour Solidarity Movement in coalition with the remnants of the CTV, is opposed to the upcoming UNT conference claiming the UNT leaders who are calling it “do not have the moral authority” because they were not democratically elected by the workers.

A statement by 400 workers who attended the UNT regional conference in Zulia said that the position of Chirino “who today heads the Labor Solidarity Movement (MSL), a coalition with the most backward and reactionary sectors (including those linked to the military coup…), of the CTV,” is a “position that presents workers with a dead end, without any possibility of joining forces with popular social movements, that divides the Bolivarian socialist workers and presents no alternative for the construction of an urgently needed instrument of struggle: a democratic, revolutionary and class conscious trade union federation.”