Venezuela: Push to re-launch union federation

Venezuela’s principal trade union federation, the National Union of Workers (Unete), held the second session of its extraordinary congress on April 24, in a push to re-launch the federation.

Hundreds of trade union delegates from around the country gathered in Union House in El Paraiso to discuss and vote on new set of statutes for the federation and a plan to organise nationwide elections scheduled for July.

Sectors represented at the congress included electrical workers, pharmaceutical workers, teachers, fire-fighters, and workers from the gas, construction petrochemical, oil, automotive, basic industries, public administration, banking and finance, textile, hotels, food and health sectors. Dockworkers, airports and toll workers and others were also present.

The Unete was founded in 2003 after the right wing, corrupt traditional labour federation, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), took part in the 2002 US-backed military coup against the government of President Hugo Chavez. The CTV also backed a management-led shutdown of the oil industry over December 2002 to January 2003 — again in an attempt to overthrow the Chavez government.

Unete rapidly outstripped the CTV as the country’s principal labour federation, with approximately 80%of the Venezuelan unions affiliated to it. However, at its 2006 congress the federation collapsed in disarray as a result of factional infighting.

Four main trade union currents have come behind the push to re-launch the federation. Three of them, Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide), the Bolivarian Educators and the Collective of Workers in Revolution (CTR), are affiliated to Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

The fourth current is the Cruz Villegas Class Current, which is aligned with the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV).

A key focus throughout the congress was the need to unify the workers’ movement in Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, which is aimed at building “socialism of the 21st century”.

Marcela Maspero from the CTR gave a fiery speech saying that the creation of a powerful and united trade union federation was necessary to deepen the struggle for socialism, She said it would be “a strong blow to bureaucratic sectors that want to hold back this revolutionary process”.

Orlando Perez of the Bolivarian Educators emphasised that under socialism, “workers must control the means of production”.

Marea Socialista leader, Stalin Perez Borges, pointed to the example of the workers in the electrical sector, led by their union Fetraelec, who won a collective contract after a long struggle against management. Now they are pushing forward with workers’ control to implement a plan, together with the government, to resolve problems in the electricity sector.

Pedro Eusse of the Cruz Villegas current spoke of the need to build a mass campaign to pass a new “revolutionary labour law”.

After hours of deliberation and debate the congress approved a new set of statutes and a schedule to hold, for the first time in its history, nation-wide elections for Unete’s national leadership, by rank and file workers.

Also approved unanimously were a series of resolutions including a motion in solidarity with the 14-month struggle of Mitsubishi workers to demand that the labour minister put an end to illegal sackings in the plant and reinstate 170 workers, including the 11-member board of the workers’ union.

A motion of “unconditional support and solidarity” was passed with the workers from the United National Union of the Caracas University Hospital, Suntra-HUC, who were physically attacked on April 23 by members of the CTV-aligned Hospital and Clinics Union.

Public sector unions also resolved to hold state-based workers’ assemblies to elect a national assembly of spokespeople in order to address issues of concern to public sector workers with the national government.

In the face of increased US aggression towards Venezuela, Unete representatives asked trade unions from around the world to help build solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution.

[Reprinted from Venezuela Analysis