Venezuela: A small big step for the labor movement

 40 trade unions form the National Workers’ Front


The new labor front has already planned a march for December 11

On November 14, 40 trade unions gathered at a labor assembly convened by the beverage and food union from Polar beer company. Among some of the labor union sectors present at the event were Polar, Pepsi, oil, Alcasa (aluminum), electrical, healthcare as well as leaders from the United Autonomous Revolutionary Class Current  (CCURA, for its Spanish initials) within the National Workers Union(UNT, for its Spanish initials). The assembly was attended by 1000 workers mostly from Polar and led by Frank Quijada, a unionist leader from Polar.

The event was held at Polar workers’ club in the Guarenas-Guatire plant located in the Miranda state on the outskirts of Caracas. By 10am, the place was overflowing with Polar brewery workers. Workers from 14 Polar unions who have been mobilizing to reject the threat of expropriation by the Chavez government organized the trade union assembly. Workers oppose the Venezuelan government’s expropriations since the government carry out these measures without consulting workers in an attempt to negotiate and settle collective agreements with the bourgeois class connected to Chavez and dismantle working class gains. (These wealthy businessmen and politicians are known as bolibourgeois as in the Bolivarian bourgeoisie).

Meanwhile, Chavez ‘s socialist posture is just rhetoric, a rhetoric and a political farce to cover up shady business deals and government corruption of this new bourgeoisie in Venezuela that has made a pact with the multinational oil companies by turning the state oil company (PDVSA, for its Spanish initials) into a mixed joint venture with both private and state capital.

In Venezuela, strikes and demonstrations by workers who, in many cases, have not renewed their collective bargaining agreements in four or five years and who do not receive wage increases are on the rise. That is how this trade union assembly came into being and took a step forward by voting unanimously to form a National Workers’ Front which will defend jobs, oppose government expropriations, fight for just salaries and organize workers in a united manner to respond to government abuse.

The trade union event was very democratic, giving a voice to all the leaders present who were from different political  organizations and unions. Among some of those who attended were Frank Quijada, president of the Polar workers union; Orlando Chirino, National Coordinator CCURA, Henry Arias, Secretary of Sintralcasa from  Alcasa (state-owned aluminum from Guayana); Jhonny Magdaleno Jose “Chivo” Ruiz both representing Polar; unionists from the oil industry such as José Bodas, Secretary General of  FUTPV, Fran Luna of the executive board of the union; Luis Diaz, Aldo Torres from Fetralec (in representation of electrical workers); Francisco Sanchez and Victor Armas from the Pepsi plant in Villa de Cura, Aragua; and Esperanza Hermida former leader of the court workers among other union leaders.

The unification of more than 40 unions takes place at a time when union and popular struggles against anti-worker policies of the Chavez government are growing. There are many labor struggles taking place simultaneously. For example, workers at Polar from Owen Agroisleña and Illinois brewery and food processing plants are mobilizing to reject expropriations without consultations that get rid of workers’ rights. In the healthcare sector, nurses go on strike to demand fair wages and state workers from basic industries and oil tankers (INTI) in Guyana state. All of these workers are demanding that their collective contracts be respected and that they are also fighting for job security in defense of old working class gains achieved by years of struggle that the government wants to dismantle. Additionally, these workers fight against the criminalization of protest that has put unionist Rubén González behind bars due to his labor activism and the arrest of subway users who recently protested at the Metro by disrupting service.

With the formation of the National Workers’ Front all of these labor struggles can start to break their isolation . The new labor front stands in opposition to bureaucratic union leaders who do not support struggles and who organize demonstrations in support of the government’s policies. On the same token, the remnants of the old bureaucratic CTV (Confederation of Venezuelan Workers) support right wing politicians and do not support labor struggles.

This is why there is a need to unify the Venezuelan labor movement, uniting all the currents and sectors that are willing to take on the Chavez government policies, a government that talks about being a “workers government” but does not respect their demands and has gone as far as to split in three installments the annual Christmas bonus for public employees.

So the first step of the National Workers’ Front was to call for a big march on December 11 to show workers’ unity. This is a workers’ march that is independent from the government but also from the MUD, the right wing opposition that wants to take credit for workers’ demands and to confuse with workers their political mobilizations. Do not be fooled since MUD leaders are part of the old country’s political leadership that ruled against the people. So the only march is the one being organized by this new labor front on 11 December, which will start in Parque del Este towards Los Cortijos.

CCURA (United Autonomous Revolutionary Class Current), the working class current led by Orlando Chirino and José Bodas, calls on all workers to support the ongoing struggles and organize assemblies. CCURA calls on worker organize meetings to coordinate and prepare to participate massively in this working long march that will tell the government enough is enough and demand that the government respect working class demands; to demand a wage increase; say no to splitting up the bonus and not to settle for expropriation without consultation and collective contracts; and in defense of labor autonomy and against the criminalization of protest.