Venezuela Unions Conference
on Workers’ Co-Management
By Kelmer Colmenárez
More than 500 trade unionists from all over Venezuela have been taking part in a historical meeting over the last three days, together with international guests from a number of countries. As one of those present said, it is not possible to attend a trade union meeting anywhere in the world where Marx, Lenin and Trotsky are quoted so often and where the mood is clearly one of a firm conviction on the part of those present that the aim is to build socialism and that the only way to achieve it is for power to be in the hands of the workers.
The workshop was opened by its coordinator, Marcela Maspero, leader of the National Workers Union (UNT). After that, Alexis Hornebo, a worker elected to the Board of Directors of Invepal, the company previously known as Venepal which was expropriated by the government, went into the details of that historic struggle and how the workers are now organizing themselves. Several workers from the electricity company CADAFE, from the oil industry and from the basic industries in Guyana, spoke, explaining the process of co-management and workers' participation that is developing there.
Particularly significant was the intervention of an oil worker comrade from San Tome who explained graphically how the workers took over the running of the oil industry during the bosses' lock-out in December 2002 and January 2003 and how they managed several oil installations through mass meetings, showing that the working class is able to run industry and society. As the comrade explained, at that time, due to organizational and political weaknesses, and because of the lack of understanding of how this idea can be implemented and the lack of a unified organization of the workers throughout the country able to put this idea into practice, the opportunity to keep PDVSA-the key company in the country and one of the most important oil companies in the world-under workers' control was wasted.
Meeting with PDVSA oil workers
This has allowed a new techno-bureaucracy to develop which has taken control away from the workers, although there is a clear movement amongst the revolutionary vanguard of the oil workers' movement to draw conclusions from this experience and to struggle for the workers to take back control of the industry. In this respect, what is significant is the emergence of the Guiding Committees (organizations channeling political discussion and participation of the most left-wing layers of the workers' movement in the oil industry), the creation of a number of revolutionary political organizations amongst the oil workers-some of them present at the discussions-like Conductores del Pueblo Soberano [Leaders of the Sovereign People] in Maturin, and Opcion Clasista de Trabajadores [Class Struggle Workers' Option] in Anzoategui state, set up by many of the trade unionists from the Class Struggle La Jornada Movement together with other sections who also participated in the taking over of the Puerto La Cruz refinery during the pro-coup bosses' lock-out.
One of the most striking experiences was that of co-management in the [electricity company] CADAFE. Here the workers mobilized to ensure that this co-management would be a genuine participation of the workers in the running of all aspects of production and this provoked a clash with the managers of the company.
One of the interventions that got the most applause was that of Joaquin Osorio, trade union leader of the Electricity Workers' Union of CADAFE, who explained how the co-management models that have been implemented in other countries like Spain, Germany, Argentina, etc., were in general attempts to assimilate the workers' leaders into the capitalist production machine and, in the final analysis, to increase the exploitation of the working class. "We can learn from all those models, but the one we want to develop is a completely new one which we will use to build a different model of society, what we in CADAFE have called Bolivarian socialism, which will transform the capitalist relations of production, and where the workers themselves will have power."
This concept of co-management, which is much closer to workers' control and even to management of state-owned companies by the workers, was the common thread running through the majority of interventions and it enthused the audience. One of the more regular slogans shouted out during the meeting was that of "Sin cogestión no hay revolución" ("Without co-management there is no revolution").
Among the speeches of national and international speakers that intervened stood out the interventions of Carlos Lanz, theoretician of the Bolivarian left who defines himself as a Marxist and is the current director of the state-owed company ALCASA; Víctor Ríos, leader of the Spanish United Left coalition (IU) and presently advisor to President Chávez; Michael Lebowitz; Serge Goulart (co-ordinator of the Cipla and Interfibra companies taken over in Brazil), and of course, the speech of comrade Alan Woods on Socialism in the 21st century, which once again aroused the enthusiasm of the workers present.
Carlos Lanz stressed that the kind of co-management adopted at ALCASA is not the classic co-management consisting merely of electing the worker directors, but is based on permanent workers' assemblies made up of teams of workers and managers who decide on all matters concerning production (wages, labor conditions and organization, tendering, etc.). He also warned that the struggle is against the mafia and the oligarchy who continue to control the economy at the state and national level, against bureaucratism and against the trade union bureaucracy who continue to oppose the revolutionary process.
Alan Woods listed the conditions for building a workers' state as described by Lenin in The State and Revolution: the right to elect and recall at any time all public officials, for these to receive the same wages as a skilled worker, no permanent army but the people in arms organized in workers' and people's militias, and that gradually all bureaucratic and administrative tasks to be carried out in rotation by all the workers.
These ideas were enthusiastically applauded by the public. Alan also insisted on the power of the working class and how often it is the lack of awareness of its own strength that prevents the workers from taking power. Here the responsibility of the leadership is key. Its task is to make the workers aware of their strength and not to hold them back or to tell them again and again that they are not powerful enough.
Alan reiterated the idea, already explained in other forums and meetings, that the revolution is not yet irreversible, that it is still only half way and that it can only be completed with the nationalization of the banks, the monopolies and the large estates under workers' control and by removing the state apparatus created by the capitalists and replacing it with a workers' state based on the election and recall of all positions. These proposals were received with great enthusiasm by the workers and trade union activists present at the meeting. Alan explained that today more than ever the dilemma is either socialism or barbarism, "either the greatest of victories for the revolution with its spreading internationally or the worst of defeats if the revolution does not go to the very end to genuine socialism."
Víctor Ríos in his intervention quoted extensively from the workers' control decree passed by the Bolsheviks after they took power and also from the interview with Trotsky by a journalist in 1918 on workers' control. He insisted on the need for workers' management understood as the first step towards workers' control, the participation of the workers through assemblies in all decision-making. The interest in these ideas was reflected-apart from the ovations and congratulations received by these two speakers-in the fact that all Trotsky's books and documents that the Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Marxist Current) had on sale at their stall were practically sold out.
Michael Lebowitz developed further the experience of self-management in the former Yugoslavia and outlined the lessons that could be drawn from it.
A very interesting intervention was that of Serge Goulart's-together with those of other speakers who explained the experience of the occupied factories in Argentina (Eduardo Murúa) or workers' participation in Cuba (Isabel Rauder). Goulart explained how the workers occupied several factories in the Brazilian industrial city of Jointville and how this helped the process of radicalization, which brought Lula to power.
However, now Lula does not want to nationalize these companies, as the workers have demanded. He aims to transform them into co-operatives and he is even trying to use repressive measures against the main leaders of these factory occupations, including Serge himself. The leaders of these factory occupations, who are mainly members of the PT and the CUT, are organizing a campaign to collect signatures at the rank-and-file level of both organizations and are mobilizing around the demand for nationalization under workers' control.
Goulart warned against the use of co-operatives to outsource the workforce, to reduce wages and to worsen working conditions and also warned against the elimination of trade unions in these companies. Several Venezuelan workers intervened along the same lines and warned the Invepal workers against the decision to dissolve the trade unions at the plant, something which is being raised within that company.
The meeting was closed with the intervention of four Venezuelan workers' leaders who represented the main currents within the Bolivarian trade union movement: Pedro Euce (PCV and CUTV), Ramón Machuca (leader of the SIDOR trade union), Luis Primo (Autonomía Sindical, and also a member of the Revolutionary Marxist Current) and Joaquín Osorio (CADAFE).
At the end, José Angel Rivero outlined the Co-management Bill which the UNT is going to present, and the Minister of Labor, María Cristina Iglesias, closed the meeting. She started her intervention by referring to the slogan "empresa paralizada, empresa ocupada y empresa ocupada empresa estatizada" (paralyzed company, occupied company and occupied company, nationalized company) raised in Serge Goulart's book on the occupied factories in Brazil.
A reflection of the thirst for ideas and the mood of the gathering was seen in the enthusiasm expressed by everyone attending and the fact that the Marxist literature of the Revolutionary Marxist Current was sold out, with the raising of Bs. 800,000 which will allow us to publish more material. The most widely sold document was our Introduction to Socialism and more in general, anything by Trotsky was most in demand.
—Caracas, April 18, 2005