Venezuela: Thousands demand passing of radical labour law

Banner demanding workers’ control and socialist management of industry. Caracas, November 9. Photo: Janet Duckworth
Saturday, November 13, 2010

More than 5000 workers from across Venezuela marched to the Venezuelan National Assembly in Caracas on November 9. The rally was organised by the National Workers’ Union (UNT).

The central demand of the rally was that a radical new labour law currently tabled in parliament, which would greatly benefit Venezuelan workers, be passed. The September 26 election resulted in the pro-revolutionary forces losing the required two-thirds majority required in parliament to pass entirely new (organic) laws, although they still have an overall majority.

The UNT wants the labour law passed before the new parliament comes into being next year.

On component of the law would recognise workers’ councils, which currently have no legal status. This is a huge stumbling block in the way of any progress towards workers’ control. In the past, workers have taken over factories and tried to negotiate either with owners or bureaucrats. The councils’ lack of legal status has made this impossible.

The law would also reduce the legal working day from eight to six hours, allowing paid time for workers’ councils and political education and abolish the “subcontracted worker” category — forcing employers to give workers their benefits.

It also proposes setting up a national fund for “workers” stability, so thousands of workers denied their rights by employers, including in the period before the Bolivarian revolution, would be eligible for payment.

Other demands at the rally were for a salary increase to keep up with inflation, further nationalisations, and for collective contracts for public sector workers, after negotiations stalled for two years.

Another important demand, proclaimed on many banners, was for workers’ control and socialist management.

Marcela Maspero, a UNT national co-ordinator, said: “The objective [of the march] is to ensure that the National Assembly approve the new labour law, meant to bring dignity to our relations of production and place in the hands of Venezuela’s workers the direction of this revolutionary process.”

The UNT also put forward proposals to eradicate speculative inflation and make terrorism by capitalists a criminal offence.

Led by Maspero, the crowd chanted: “They’ve kidnapped the labour law and the united working class wants it set free.” Many unionists are disappointed and frustrated that the pro-revolutionary forces in the assembly, with such a large majority over the past five years, have not moved to pass it.

Moreover, former union leaders such as Osvaldo Vera, now a deputy in the National Assembly and head of the commission assigned to draft the new law, have explicitly called for any approval of the law to be deferred until the new assembly starts in January.

From the National Assembly, the crowd marched along Urdaneta Avenue, one of Caracas’ main thoroughfares, chanting: “Let’s take over Urdaneta!”

The rally moved to the vice president’s office, where workers demanded a delegation representing various sectors of the working class be allowed to enter to meet with a vice-presidential commission.

A group of marchers crowded around the entrance chanting the names of workers they wanted to be part of the delegation. When the person named was allowed in, there were loud cheers of approval. Twenty representatives were let in to meet the commission.

The rally voiced its enthusiastic support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, condemned the state bureaucracy, widely seen as a major roadblock to the advance of the revolution in general, and called for workers’ control of industry.

Among the many banners were ones demanding justice for murdered unionists from the Mitsubishi plant and for workers’ control and socialist management of industry. A dentists’ banner demanded a contract, saying dentists wanted to “put a smile on the face of the revolution”.

The marchers came from every state; many were women and young people. One well-known face in the crowd was Eduardo Saman, a former trade minister who has recently proposed creating a “radical current” inside the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the mass party led by Chavez.

Stalin Perez Borges, also a UNT national coordinator and a member of the Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide) current said he was satisfied with the march and said it was only the first of more to come.