Venezuelan union leaders call for federation elections

Various leaders of Venezuela's primary pro-government labour union, the National Workers Union (UNT), have called on all sectors of the organisation to join together and hold elections later this year. At a press conference on July 17, labour leaders Marcela Maspero and Orlando Chirino invited all sectors of the UNT to a general meeting on July 26 to organise general elections and, in that way, unite the principal labour union of the country that has remained divided in recent years.

"'Consolidation and Unity of the UNT' is what the event will be called", said Maspero on July 18. "We will refine the discussion, from the grassroots, about the destiny of the UNT, in order to carry out the electoral process this year because there is an expressed desire among all the sectors involved."

Maspero said that the different sectors of the UNT want a democratic and transparent electoral process so that there will not remain any doubt about the legitimacy of the UNT. According to Maspero, the unification of the UNT will allow for the necessary transformation of the workers' movement and adapt it to the times of the Bolivarian revolution.

President Hugo Chavez has criticised the division of the workers' movement and has said that its participation is essential in the construction of the revolutionary project. Promoters of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela have also said the construction of the new united party of the Bolivarian revolution cannot advance without the union of the workers.

"We must be conscious of the paralysis, the division, and the separation from the centre and regional federations", said Chirino, head of the UNT current Class Current, Unity, Autonomy and Revolution (C-CURA). "[This division] has been used by the enemies of the workers to increase the plans of capitalist exploitation."

Chirino assured that C-CURA is committed to the reorganisation of the unions into one united movement, and the development of the electoral process in order to overcome the recent crisis within the movement. Chirino said that the workers will request urgent action with regards to the collective contracts in the public sector, mainly in the sectors of health and education.

According to Chirino, the workers in the health and education sectors have not been offered the same contract conditions as workers in other state sectors such as the oil and construction industries.

As the major workers union in Venezuela in recent years, replacing the earlier Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) after the 2002-2003 oil strike, the UNT has gone four years with no nationally elected leadership. For that reason, both Maspero and Chirino emphasized the importance of organising the electoral process.

Representatives at the press conference also discussed the possibility of calling for a workers' constitutional assembly with the objective of unifying the workers' movement under one constitution. Representatives also criticised the government in its dealing with workers' conflicts, the favouring of certain sectors of the workers' movement over others, and what some see as the lack of concrete orientation in the construction of a socialist economy.

"For us it is very clear: without the working class there is no socialism, and there will be no possibility of creating it in this country", said Maspero. She emphasised the movement's desire to participate in the political process being carried forward in the country and emphasised the importance of converting the "bourgeois" state into a "socialist" state.

[Abridged from]