VENEZUELA: Unionists call for international support

March 2, 2005

Roberto Jorquera, Caracas

The national coordinators of Venezuela's largest union federation, the National Union of Workers (UNT), issued an open letter on February 22 appealing to the trade unions around the world that are represented in the Workers' Group of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for support against an attack being mounted by Fedecamaras, Venezuela's main employers' association.

Last June, Fedecamaras — with the full support of the right-wing Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), the International Organisation of Employers and representatives from employers' organisations in 22 countries — invoking article 26 of the ILO constitution, proposed that a commission of inquiry be established to investigate alleged violations of the rights of trade unions by the radical left-wing government of President Hugo Chavez. Fedecamaras' request is due to be decided on by the governing body of the ILO at its March 8-24 meeting.

In their open letter, the national co-ordinators of the UNT — Orlando Chirino, Marcela Maspero, Stalin Perez Borges and Ruben Linares — note it is curious that a bosses' organisation is appealing to the ILO to investigate alleged violations of trade union rights, including the right to strike. However, they explain that the Fedecamaras complaint "can be understood only in the context of the unfolding political situation in Venezuela, in which Fedecamaras and the top leadership of the CTV participated directly in the attempted military coup of April 2002, together with the opposition political parties and with the encouragement of the US embassy".

This coup briefly overthrew Chavez's government but was defeated within 48 hours by a massive working-class uprising.

They go on to point out that in "December 2002 and January 2003, Fedecamaras — together with the same leaders of the CTV — organised an employer lockout/work stoppage that was political in nature and that sought to bring down the government through the sabotage of the country's main source of income: the oil industry. In both the attempted coup and the bosses' lockout/work stoppage, the CTV leadership took actions that were repudiated by the overwhelming majority of the workers of Venezuela."

The CTV's anti-worker actions in alliance with the Venezuelan bosses have widely discredited it in the eyes of Venezuelan workers, and led to the formation of the UNT in early 2003. Since then, the UNT has grown to represent more workers than the CTV.

The UNT leaders explain that they "have been part of the effort by the working class to create a trade union federation that is built from the bottom up by the rank and file and that is rooted in the principles of class independence, trade union democracy and full autonomy in relation to the state and all political parties".

They explain that the Fedecamaras motion is part of a campaign to undermine the Chavez government, the popularity of which was confirmed by the rejection by 60% of voters of a presidential recall referendum in August. They note that the Chavez government has "wide popular support to advance its agrarian reform program and, with the aim of guaranteeing jobs and wages, to take over factories abandoned or bankrupted by their employers".

The UNT leaders' open letter calls on all trade unionists around the world to "reject the proposal by Fedecamaras and its cohorts to sanction Venezuela and to conduct an ILO commission of inquiry. Such an action is not called for, nor does it correspond to the real situation of trade union freedoms in Venezuela...

"We invite trade unions from all around the world to come to Venezuela to see for yourselves the reality of our country, where even the CTV — which participated directly in the attempted coup of April 2002 and the lockout/work stoppage of December 2002-January 2003 — enjoys full trade union freedoms."

The full text of the UNT leaders' open letter is available at <>.

From Green Left Weekly, March 2, 2005.
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