VENEZUELA: A million march on May Day

May 10, 2006

Jim McIlroy & Coral Wynter, Caracas

More than a million workers from throughout Venezuela marched through city streets in Caracas on May 1. The theme of the May Day demonstration was "No to imperialism, no to corruption, no to bureaucracy; for socialism of the 21st century!" Other marches took place in Merida, Maracaibo, Ciudad Guyana and other parts of the country.

The Caracas march, organised by the major progressive union federation, the National Union of Workers (UNT), filled the highway with colourful banners, flags and people wearing red T-shirts with a myriad of slogans in support of the Bolivarian revolution led by President Hugo Chavez. People chanted, "Uh, ah, Chavez no se va!" ("Uh, ah, Chavez will not go!"), and other slogans throughout the march.

Placards carried by marchers condemned the US government for interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela. This theme was developed further by Nicolas Maduro, president of the National Assembly, who told the crowd massed near Miraflores (the presidential palace) at the end of the march, "If the mad terrorists in the United States try to put a foot in this country, millions of Venezuelans will confront them, defeat them and expel them. The time of imperialism has now passed. The time of the peoples has now come."

He called on Washington to recognise the sovereignty and independence of governments in Latin America. He also praised measures announced by Chavez on April 28 that raised the minimum wage in Venezuela by 10% and gave a wage increase of 30% to teachers, which will be followed by an additional rise of 10% in October. Overtime pay for holiday and Sunday work will also now be guaranteed.

Maduro told the crowd that the CTV (the corrupt union federation that supported a US-backed coup against Chavez in 2002) had never helped workers in the fight for wages to be adjusted for inflation and said the federation was dead. He also said that it was important to have a convincing triumph for Chavez in the December 3 presidential elections, otherwise the social programs and processes for workers' co-management would cease to exist.

Maduro declared: "This demonstration of popular power of the workers is most impressive. The CTV has died because a new democratic movement has been born, based on the activity of workers, participants in cooperatives and people owning small businesses. We are in the best of times, because it is the worst of times for imperialism."

UNT leader Orlando Castillo told the rally, "We are demonstrating that we are the majority ... This May Day has an anti-imperialist character. We want to fight for the construction of socialism, and affirm that the UNT be a force that defends our rights."

William Lara, the Chavez government's minister for communications and information, told the crowd that "Today there are tremendous demonstrations of popular power all over the world, as for example in Peru [where Ollanta Humala, who describes himself as an indigenous revolutionary, has made it to the second round of the presidential elections]. We want to express our desire that the Peruvian workers enjoy social and political success, as in Venezuela. This is possible with ALBA [the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas — the Venezuelan-initiated, cooperation-based alternative to the US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas].

"May 1 of 1886 [the date of a general strike in Chicago demanding an eight-hour day] was the result of the strength of workers standing up. Today in the United States these workers are standing up in support of their rights. Here [in Venezuela] the popular force is reaffirming its consolidation and the victory of the workers, who today have better living conditions. This is a continuing process, because the wealth of the country must favor the working class and all the people."

The UNT-organised mass march contrasted sharply with a separate CTV rally and march of a few thousand held nearby in Caracas. The CTV's May Day mobilisations have declined progressively over the past few years as its popular base has shrunk.

From Green Left Weekly, May 10, 2006.
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