Venezuela: second march of the Revolutionary Front of Workers of Factories Occupied and under Workers' Control

On April 4, workers from occupied factories and factories under cogestión (workers' control) marched in Caracas from the National Assembly to the Miraflores presidential palace. The march had been organised by the recently created Revolutionary Front of Workers of Factories Occupied and under Workers' Control and included delegations from Inveval, Invepal (the two first factories to be expropriated and put in cogestión just one year ago), Invetex (a textile factory in Guarico), Sel-Fex (an occupied textile factory in Caracas), Droguerias RACE (a pharmaceutical plant in Caracas where workers are fighting for union recognition) and Moldes. The Revolutionary Front (FRETECO) had called the march with the aim of highlighting the demands of the different groups of workers involved and to give a coordinated expression to their struggles. Amongst the demands of the workers are the following:

Invetex: In this textile factory the government experimented with a tripartite management between the workers, Mishkin (the owner), and the state. The workers, who were keen to implement this idea, are now rejecting it and demanding that the factory be expropriated under workers' control. Out of their own experiences in the last year and in discussions with comrades from other occupied factories they have realised that the owner of the plant is not interested at all in production and maintenance of jobs, but only in getting money from the state and making quick profits. He is constantly sabotaging the restarting of production in order to force the state to buy it from him and thus profit from installations and machinery which he has not used for many years. For these reasons FRETECO is demanding expropriation without compensation. This is an important struggle because it actually proves in practice that tripartite management does not work and that in reality the capitalists are not interested in investing in production and that only the workers have a real interest in developing the economy. The only way this can be done is if they collectively own the means of production and control them democratically.

Sel-Fex: Here again the owners have no interest in resuming production since they declared the company bankrupt in December 2005. They are trying to divide the workers with the empty promise of paying benefits they owe them. The workers argue that there is no justification for destroying 240 jobs and are demanding expropriation without compensation under workers' control.

Invepal: After less than a year of functioning the workers’ assembly at the main plant in Moron decided to replace the workers they had elected to the directors' board, since they felt that they were moving away from the original project. They are demanding that this decision be recognised by the relevant ministries and that the three workers on the board, including the president, be elected by the workers’ assembly and with the right of recall. In a separate but related conflict FRETECO demands the reinstatement with full rights of all workers made redundant in the other Invepal plant in Maracay. The importance of this struggle is that it involves the right of the workers in factories under cogestion to actually control their elected representatives and for the decisions of the workers’ assembly to be recognised by government institutions.

Alfa Quartz: FRETECO is demanding the expropriation of these abandoned industrial warehouses in Charallave to be put under the control of a number of worker cooperatives in which have no premises from where to operate. This case shows clearly how worker cooperatives can only be a progressive development if they are linked to the wider struggle for the democratic ownership and planning of the economy by the workers. Otherwise, the cooperatives are squeezed by the pressure of the capitalist market, in which they have to compete, and the monopoly of credit controlled by a handful of capitalist banks.

Gotcha: FRETECO also demands the expropriation under workers’ control of this T-Shirt factory.

The importance of this march is that on the one hand it a conscious effort of the workers in struggle to give themselves a form of organisation which is democratic and under their own control. On the other hand it is an attempt to unify and coordinate the different struggles that are taking place in order to break the isolation of the various groups involved. The initiative for setting up the Front came from the workers of Inveval just over a month ago.

Freteco, the second battle of Santa Ines and the struggle for socialism

The struggle for workers' control and the factory occupations in Venezuela are the response of the workers against the wave of factory closures and bankruptcies declared by the bosses. This is the result, on the one hand of the crisis of capitalism in Venezuela, particularly the parasitical nature of the capitalist class in Venezuela, and on the other hand is a result of a conscious attempt to sabotage the economy in order to undermine Chavez and with him the Bolivarian revolution. For this reason, these struggles, which begin in each case as an immediate attempt to defend the jobs and livelihoods of the workers, very quickly becomes a political battle. The struggle against the individual owner of the factory is quickly linked to the struggle against the oligarchy as a whole and for the defence of the revolution. But then, the struggle of the occupied factories also becomes a struggle against the bureaucracy and the reformists within the Bolivarian movement itself, which at each stage try to limit and prevent the self-organisation of the working class.

Thus the Manifesto of the Revolutionary Front makes it clear that there are "several dangers that threaten the Bolivarian revolution. These are the same dangers that threaten the process of cogestion and workers' control in the factories. The danger of bureaucracy, corruption and mismanagement." It then adds: "the working class and the people as a whole are not responsible for these ills. They have been imposed on them and come from the state apparatus which is overwhelmingly inherited from the IV Republic". After having identified the problems the Manifesto argues that the solution in the expropriated factories lies in "giving power to the workers. It is necessary that in the management of all these companies, including the directors' board, there is a majority elected by the workers’ assembly".

At the same time the Revolutionary Front makes it clear that they are part of the Bolivarian revolution and the struggle for the victory of Chavez in the December presidential elections. This relates also to the debates that are taking place within the National Workers’ Union (UNT) regarding the convening of its second national congress. While the left wing of the UNT argues correctly that a national congress is long overdue (the first one having taken place in August 2003), some bureaucratic and more moderate sectors use the argument of this year’s presidential elections to say that the congress should be delayed in order to concentrate forces on the presidential election. In answer to this the Front argues that the best way to fight the battle of Santa Ines 2 (as the struggle for the victory of Chavez in the elections is known) is precisely to link it up with the struggle for socialism and the concrete problems the workers are facing and that a congress of the UNT is needed in order to discuss a plan of struggle. It is now nearly a year since Chavez announced a list of 800 companies that are paralysed by its owners and the Front argues that the "leadership of the UNT should have put this point at the centre of its programme and organised a nationwide campaign of factory occupations". This would have put the working class clearly at the head of the revolution and would have shown a clear way forward in the struggle for socialism: nationalisation of the economy under workers’ control.

At the demonstration slogans for the target of 10 million votes for Chavez in the presidential election were combined with socialist slogans: "yes to communism, no to imperialism", "here we are, workers without bosses", amongst others. At a certain point the metropolitan police tried to prevent the march from reaching the presidential palace, despite having been authorised by Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto. The workers simply "disbanded" and regrouped on the other side of the police line and continued until the gates of Miraflores.

There a delegation from the Front was received by Liutenant Colonel Jesus Zambrano, national director of cogestion at the Ministry of Light Industry and Commerce (MILCO), which deals with expropriated companies. He had been delegated by MILCO minister Maria Cristina Iglesias (formerly Minister of Labour), who promised to meet with the Front at a later date. Regarding the different demands of FRETECO, he said that a delegate from the ministry had been sent to Sel-Fex to evaluate the situation to see how it could be reopened. Regarding the conflict over the directors' board at Invepal, he said that for an interim period of three months minister Maria Cristina would be the president of the company in order to make an audit and clarify the situation. He also announced that the minister was ready to meet with the workers at Invepal Maracay to discuss their reinstatement.

The march had a big impact and was broadcast by ViveTV, the second state TV channel. A team of reporters from ViveTV has been following the whole conflict of the occupied factories and has given the workers open spaces to broadcast their problems and demands. After the march the station broadcast a one-hour programme at peak time about FRETECO. The programme was recorded at the occupied installations of Sel-Fex and workers from both Sel-Fex and Invepal Maracay where interviewed about their struggle, together with a representative of the textile workers union Sutratex, and a representative from the Revolutionary Marxist Current, which was instrumental in setting up the Front through its cells at Inveval.

The demonstration was a small but very significant step forward in the workers’ struggle in Venezuela. You can support the workers by signing the statement they have issued with the main demands of the Front.