I will start from the very beginnings of 2003 and what happened there. The events that took place at the end of 2002 and 2003 were preceded by the coup that took place at the beginning of 2002, the political sectors and the bosses were removed from power in the victory with the election of Hugo Chavez but they did not stop their attempts to plot the overthrow of Chavez. Even shortly after the victory of the masses against the coup d'état the bosses and the oligarchy started plotting against the democratic government and started some marches against the government. At the end of 2002 the imperialists and the local oligarchy tried to carry out some sabotage in the oil industry in order to stop the economy and try to prop up the resolve of the people against the Venezuelan government itself.
The ruling class in Venezuela did not understand that the defeat that they suffered on the 11th of April 2002 was just a show of strength of the popular and working classes in Venezuela. Because the masses identified themselves with the ongoing revolutionary process. Maybe it’s not what everyone expects, but it is the very beginning of something bigger.
While on the 11th April citizens came onto the streets in order to defend their democratic civil rights in December of the same year we could see how people as citizens as well as the working class tried to defend the revolution and the process.
We could see how the bosses were paying workers to stay at home in order to carry out the sabotage against the Venezuelan economy, we could see the answer of the working class in various cities and towns in Venezuela that continued to carry out their professional or working activity in order to defeat this sabotage that was carried out by the oligarchy and the imperialists.
We could see how in the countryside on the massive land estates and some sectors of industry and also in the oil industry the workers were producing under workers control. There were no bosses at all.
We could see how in a wide range of industry, some of them like the sugar producing industry and also the most important of all the oil industry we could see how the workers were producing under their own control. We could see the example of the oil refinery in Porto a la Cruz how the workers took over that and were carrying out economic activity themselves.
While in El Palito there was workers’ control in order to put down the machines but not to stop economic activity itself. And in the other refinery the workers produced during two months with no bosses and strict discipline in the company.
And once the lock out was defeated, the oil industry, they decided to extend the lockout to education. At once the parents and the pupils themselves saw that the schools were closed, they decided to reopen the schools, sometimes occupying the schools, asking the government to send pizzas to the schools and sometimes when they didn’t have pizzas the parents provided lessons to the pupils.
Meanwhile the imperialist forces of the local oligarchy did not give up in their attempt to create chaos they called demonstrations and marches which were answered by the Bolivarian movement with bigger marches, bigger demonstrations.
Let’s say that if the opposition were taking out on the streets ten thousand, the Bolivarians were taking out one hundred thousand, and if they took out onto the streets one hundred thousand we took out three hundred thousand - always outnumbering them.
Then the local and the mainstream media, all the newspapers, all the TV channels started a campaign to call for a recall referendum.
This referendum was defeated, what happened was that, when they saw that by illegal means they could not force it they decided to take the legal road, they decided to start again their campaign for a recall referendum, what happened was that the electoral commission of Venezuela gave up and said okay you can have the referendum.
The point is that it is true that this referendum was not well received among the masses and people were quite angry. When President Chavez said now is the time to unite forces and defeat the referendum, well, we did it and defeated this process.
Even if they were not happy with that they decided that they had to do it because that was a historical moment for the Venezuelan masses for the first time in history the Venezuelan people were going to organise an electoral process under their control and through popular organisations like the units of electoral battle and other popular organisations
1,200,000 people organised themselves, students, workers organised in these UEBs, units of electoral battle. Well, of course, workers from the neighbourhoods and students organised themselves they set up the structures to canvas in order to win this recall referendum.
The victory in this recall referendum for the no option against the recall of Hugo Chavez was the beginning of a new era in the Venezuelan revolution. Let’s say that the oligarchy could not cope with a defeat and they did lose lots of support from the middle classes. They suffered the process of the disbandment of their own forces and suddenly their own leaders did not show up anymore, TV, newspapers, and did not show up in public life.
After the success of the recall referendum the regional council elections took place and the opposition the oligarchy was once again cornered in just two states. Now the struggle of the opposition is based in the state of Zulia a region which shares the border with Colombia and is very rich area when we talk about oil. Even the governor of this state once he saw the results started to shift his position towards President Chavez
Defeat was Terrible for them. The umbrella group that they had to organise all the opposition parties has been disbanded. After the defeat Mendoza, the governor of the state of Carabobo, disappeared from public life after the defeat.
The smartest section of the bourgeoisie started to approach President Chavez in order to started to become more polite and less against Chavez and started to approach him. As the phrase says if you cannot beat them unite them until you have enough forces to defeat them this is the policy of imperialism and the local bourgeoisie in Venezuela nowadays.
After the great defeat that the labour movement suffered in the eighties started to recover in the nineties. At the beginning of the nineties they decided to set up a new trade union federation outside of the CTV.
2002 they decided to come out of the CTV and they decided to set up a new Venezuela TUC, it’s true that at the beginning they had loads of problems however they are overcoming these problems and now they are at the same level.
Due to the lock out that took place at the end of 2002 at the beginning of 2003 there were loads of companies that were closed down. That’s true that most of these companies closed down due to the tactics of imperialism to carry out sabotage in the economy, after the defeat of the lockouts those companies remained closed.
At that time lots of workers decided to reopen the factories, occupy the factories and run the factories for themselves and they demanded of the government to nationalise these factories under workers’ controls and other factories that produce perfumes and things like that.
Even those companies like Benepal and other companies like that not all of them were successful at that time it was the beginnings of the victory that took place at Benepal.
With regards to Benepal this company was closed down in 2001 the government helped the bosses to reopen the factory later on they closed down the factory the second victory of the Benepal workers the government decided the nationalise the company under workers control.
It is not clear what form of workers’ control this company is going to adopt. Whether it is going to be a co-op, direct control of the workers or a shared control of the company by workers and the state. However, it’s true that the plan the government is going to undertake is the plan of the workers of the company. It is a massive victory, the decision of the government to take this company.
It is true that the government has not expressed a will to nationalise all companies they say that is not going to be the trend but the Benepal example is going to be used again for the companies that have closed down and have not reopened yet. Also it boosts the confidence of the labour movement in Venezuela because they can see the possibility of working for a company where the boss is not a coup plotter.
All these measures, the nationalisation, the war against the big land estates, the latifundia, the process of land reform and also the deepening of the revolution, this social program into the neighbourhoods with regards to health care. By the way, they announced the building of six hundred hospitals across the country all of that is such a victory, a step forward.
These are the questions that worry imperialism they are the ones behind the Venezuelan opposition. We should recall that the US is suffering from the Cuba syndrome since 1961. At that time 1961, the revolution that started just with lots of democratic demands full stop it crossed the boundaries of capitalism it had to take socialist or non capitalistic measures.
These things are worrying the imperialists which pushed us into this new Rodrigo Granda [FARC Foreign minister] case. He is a Colombian citizen who came to Venezuela and naturalised himself in Venezuela, he had both nationalities, Colombian and Venezuelan.
He was not living in underground conditions he was living with his family he was under his own name, he was not in underground conditions at all. This man was kidnapped by Venezuelan policeman that were bribed before hand by Colombian authorities. Now, the imperialists are staging a stunt against terrorism and so forth.
Where the Venezuelan opposition has tried to gather its forces again and launched another march that took place on the 23rd of January in order to heat things up. They were not successful. The march was a complete failure. In order to make things worse for the opposition. The government called another march – there were hundreds of thousands of people out in the streets.
The government just gave notice of four or five days to call this demonstration. That shows that as opposed to the forces of reaction of the opposition that are completely demoralised and disbanded the Venezuelan people support the process for deepening democracy and revolution they are very active and have the ability to mobilise themselves.
It’s true that the opposition has been defeated more than once, however, the imperialists are behind the same things they are staging more actions against the Venezuelan revolution. The imperialists are active and are looking for the easiest way to create trouble.
The imperialists are active, but we are also active we are pushing for things like nationalisation, land reform, the deepening of the social programmes and trying to fix up all the problems we’ve got and to carry on.
I think that from the point of view of all the people who are involved in the trade union the only way to achieve victory for the Venezuelan revolution is to cross the boundaries of capitalism and to install socialism in Venezuela.
“I was just wondering it was very interesting to hear about the occupied factories. I was wondering if the ones in Venezuela had much contact with the ones in Argentina and I hadn’t realised it had been happening in other countries as well, had they been in contact with each other?”
Nowadays there is no such communication between Argentinean factories and ones in Venezuela however two years ago when the process was alive the workers started to occupy the factories a delegation of Argentineans invited by the secretary of labour in Venezuela went over to visit the occupied factories.
At that time when we had some activities, they exchanged experiences at the end of this visit the ministry of labour drafted a plan based on the Argentinean case and now they are going to use this plan to implement all the action necessary for the reopening of Venezuelan factories. Even now that we have Benepal nationalised we should invite workers from Argentineans factories to go over to Venezuela to share more experiences.
How does the organisation operate at a grass roots level because there are so many people involved, I’m interested in how communication goes on between all of them within that I’m not entirely clear how much the policy like land reform is driven by the government and how much by the mass movement making the government do it.
Right now it is true that the government is leading the process however we can see that from below there is a force. There are a massive group of people that are pushing to have their demands heard the demands of the community on the government. There are also land committees, a kind of grass roots organisation that tries to implement land reform not only in the countryside also in the cities. There are also community labour groups that have achieve the building works that are going to take place new social buildings and stuff like that are going to be controlled by the community.
You mentioned workers control, it interested me, you read it in the papers that the paper industry is coming under workers’ control. Its clear that this is far deeper than the nationalisation we see here, but it is not the total economy – how does it actually work – if you are working in a factory that takes workers’ control what would that mean for me about how I influence what goes on?
Right now in Venezuela they already have experience of workers’ control in the sugar factories. The company that the government nationalised the government gave the company to the workers and also to the cane sugar workers, the ones who carry the cane sugar. The company has been working well. The workers elect their own representatives for the administration board of the company. But at the same time they are also organising their own trade union. Nowadays this company, in spite of all the problems, they are the most productive company in Venezuela the workers of the old state own oil company in 2002, 2003. Those workers through meetings in the factories they decided what to produce, how to produce and when to produce it.
The oil workers have had the support of the armed forces and the community was there offering them support. They have the power to decide production, distribution, supply and so forth. If they tried to go back to a ‘normal situation’ where the workers are asked how to do things when this thing was not done before.
The activists in the area think that the workers are in a normal situation they should go to this not normal situation, they actually decided. The workers of Benepal produced a project, a book with 200 to 300 pages, in that book the workers explain all these little details concerning the production like you know machines, sheets, everything is in there. Even the tea machine. And that best when the company was first closed when the government pumped some money into the company the first time in 2001.
At that time they kept a right, it was a kind of shared control of the company. There was a piece that was needed to produce power, to produce electricity. This machine that produces electricity was broken so they called a technician from Germany where the machine was originally from. Well the workers decided to fix up the thing without asking the management and nowadays this machine is still there producing more power.