One of the most vital features of the Bolivarian revolution underway in Venezuela is the development by workers and their organisations of different forms of workers’ control in their workplaces and communities.
The increasing participation and control by workers is taking place at the same time as hundreds of companies have been nationalised.
Nationalisations have included supermarkets, electricity, steel and aluminium companies, glass, paper and textile firms, telecommunications, agricultural companies and large housing complexes. Big parts of Venezuela’s economy are now in public hands.
Many workers’ struggles for better wages and conditions have, in the face of intransigent bosses, developed into struggles for nationalisation of the companies concerned.
In the process, workers have begun to ask questions. Who should actually run the enterprise? What should the relationship between the new government managers and the workers be?
Can the managers be dispensed with entirely? In whose interests should the enterprise be run — as a cooperative where the worker-members share the profits, or in a way that benefits the whole community?
In this context, discussion and debate about different systems of workers’ control and participatory democracy have flourished. There are now practical experiments in implementing workers’ control.
The have been some problems arise. With forming cooperatives, for example, too often the capitalist boss was simply replaced by a group of worker-managers who made similar decisions to safeguard the business “bottom line” rather than meeting community needs. There is now a strong push towards a model in which enterprises are 100% state owned, but 100% worker controlled.
In this model, the workers make decisions about how the enterprise is run, but the owner is the state so it redistributes any profits.
The concept of “workers’ councils” is also being developed, in which workers’ assemblies make important production decisions.
At Inveval, a valve-making factory, the workers’ council is composed of the workers and community representatives, and local education and health services are provided through the factory.
To give workers in Australia an opportunity to observe these remarkable struggles and achievements, the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) is organising a May Day solidarity brigade to Venezuela from April 25 to May 4, 2011.
The brigade will include visits to worker-run factories and cooperatives, and meetings with trade union and community representatives in several sectors and regions.
Participants will also visit and speak to activists in the free public health and education services; sustainable development projects; community controlled media; and women’s and indigenous groups. A highlight will be attending the huge May Day rally in Caracas.
John Cleary, a former Electrical Trades Union organiser who has led several AVSN brigades, says: “Any Australian worker who has a chance to visit Venezuela should grab the opportunity with both hands.
“The Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela offers a genuine alternative to a world in which the market rules and profits always come before people.
“Being part of a brigade makes it possible to meet the workers who are reshaping their workplaces in this new environment.
“Many are involved in the democratic renewal of their unions … Others are creating cooperatives to re-open factories closed by bosses or developing new models of workers’ control. The energy and enthusiasm for change that is benefiting workers in Venezuela is truly inspiring.”