It is 1pm on Tuesday, April 19. The Struggle Committee of the CNV workers and the CMR (Revolutionary Marxist Current) cell in Los Teques have organised a meeting with Alan Woods on “Socialism and the role of the working class in the revolution” in the factory premises, that have been occupied by the workers for nearly two years.
Slowly the workers arrive at the factory, while the workers on the morning shift prepare food for their comrades who are arriving. Rice, black beans and meat. Everybody congratulates the cook.
Alan arrives, together with Pablo Cormenzana, from the CMR national leadership, member of the Los Teques CMR cell and of the CNV Struggle Support Committee. Pablo, together with several leaders of the struggle (Jorge Paredes, José Quintero, Rosalio Castro and other workers) explains to Alan the different aspects of the day to day organisation of the occupation: how to get water, electricity, and all the necessary means for survival. The workers have even improvised a very useful and ingenious toilet.
This worker’s collective, composed at the moment by some 68 workers, has managed to keep the occupation alive against all odds. One of the workers remembers the night in which a wind and rainstorm took away the tent that they had set up outside the main gate to protect themselves against the weather. “We spent the whole night recovering the tarpaulins and we installed them under the hurricane wind and rain. We could not let everything fall apart in one night.”
The courage, creativity and the fighting spirit of the working class, once again on the move, that is what you sense when you go through the gates of the CNV. And this feeling does not abandon you once you leave. Pablo Cormenzana comments: “The first time we organised medical assistance for the workers, my wife, who is a doctor, and myself, were really impressed. We had agreed with the workers that they would prepare a room and we would bring the medical personnel, but what we found is that they themselves had organised and set up a surgery that many doctors would be proud to have.”
The mood amongst the workers is one of hope and enthusiasm. There is a generalised feeling that victory may be near. Some of them remember episodes of this extremely hard struggle, which has lasted nothing less than two years and four months.
More than two years of struggle
The struggle started after the bosses’ lock out in December 2002 and January 2003. Andres Sosa Pietri, owner of the CNV, set up this factory that makes valves for the state owned oil industry PDVSA, when he was the president of PDVSA. A good example of the “entrepreneurial” and generous (particularly with their own pockets) character of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie! Sosa Pietri backed the bosses’ lock out of December 2002 and January 2003, but the workers of the CNV were already in opposition to it, but were not yet organised. “The union we had was led by bureaucrats”. The workers surrounded the factory and expressed their wish to return to work.
When the bosses’ lock out finally ended, the owner tried to make the workers pay for it, by reducing their wages and through other means. The workers said NO and mobilised, and the pro-coup boss then replied by stopping the payment of wages outright and closing the factory. In the first months of 2003 the workers occupied the factory for the first time with the main aim that the owner should not take away any machinery. “None of us thought at that time that this would become a permanent occupation and even less that that conflict would last for over two years”, says one of the workers involved.
Since then the struggle has been extremely harsh. “I remember a number of occasions in which we thought all was lost”, says one of the leaders of the struggle. “When there was the threat of eviction for instance”. Furthermore, at that time the State governor and the police were in the pockets of a leader of the counter-revolutionary opposition, Enrique Mendoza. It was the joint mobilisation with workers from other factories, neighbourhoods and activists from rank and file revolutionary organisations that prevented the eviction. At that time the comrades of the international Marxist tendency organised the first international solidarity campaign with the CNV workers. “Hundreds of messages of support arrived from all over the world, from workers, trade unions, many of them we could not understand, but that gave a bit morale boost to all of us”. Those same messages were also sent to the Presidency and the Ministry of Labour, asking them to intervene to stop the eviction and to expropriate the factory to nationalise it under workers’ control.
That was a dress rehearsal of the campaign that was later organised in solidarity with the Venepal workers, which had an important impact. Several state institutions took initiatives, but all the proposals of the workers seemed to come up against a brick wall. The Commission of Victims of the Lock-out – a body to which the workers of the CNV and of the Industrial de Perfumes-Cristine Carol, another factory then occupied by its workers in the centre of Caracas appealed – seemed not to be interested in their conflict. Recalling the lads from Perfumes, the faces of some of the workers who had been at the forefront and had more direct contact with the comrades of that factory, a sister in struggle, became sombre. “They were evicted, and now there are only a handful of them in struggle. In these moments when it seems we might be victorious, we must remember them.”
The workers of the CNV and of Perfumes organised a number of joint marches and demanded the nationalisation of both companies under workers’ control. The march, called jointly with the UNT in Caracas, with the participation of workers and unions from Aragua, Carabobo and even further beyond, showed that there was great potential for organising solidarity with the struggle and transforming it into a victorious national struggle. However, the struggle remained isolated and without a solution and tiredness started to set in. The workers were still not being paid and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to resist.
The main leaders of the struggle at Perfumes are still fighting, claiming social security contributions owed to the workers, demanding the Supreme Court of Justice rules in their favour so that it will at least force the auction of some of the warehouses of the owner who abandoned the company, and this money could be used to pay the workers what is legitimately owed to them. But in this instance, the boss and the bureaucracy seem to have achieved their aims. It is a good example, on a small scale, of what could happen if this revolutionary process does not solve the problems of the masses that support it. A group of workers who support the revolution, who want to work and carry on production, ask the state to expropriate a pro-coup employer who has closed down the industry. Months go by, the proposal of the workers, blocked by the bureaucracy, does not receive an answer and a section of the workers falls into despair. The most conscious elements try to resist, but they are too few and they are isolated; and the organisations or bodies that could help them do not take their struggle up in a serious way, for a variety of reasons.
At that time, the struggle of the CNV was also very close to facing a final defeat. Jorge Paredes, spokesperson of the Conflict Committee, explains: “The year 2004 was a year of reflection. We had almost abandoned the occupation and with that any hope that the factory would even be ours. I was asking myself many questions, I read a lot and I thought a lot”. The victory on August 15, the eagerness of the masses to make “the revolution within the revolution”, to complete it and, obviously, the victory of the Venepal comrades, opened up a new situation. “After that, we reached the conclusion that now was the time, and if we occupied the factory again we could win”.
Alan Woods’ discussion with the workers
Slowly a good number of workers and some of their relatives, together with some supporters and comrades of the Los Teques CMR and other organisations (such as Utopia) arrive, and some 50 people are gathered together.
In the place set up by the workers for Alan’s meeting, a blackboard shows the education courses the workers have been organising together with personnel from the Ministry of Labour and other comrades from the revolutionary movement who have put themselves at the disposal of the workers to carry out this task. “Cooperatives, labour law, Bolivarian Constitution, labour rights” are some of the subjects. But interestingly, there are also other subjects: “Historical Materialism, Political Economy”.
On the same blackboard the latest notes are on the organisation of the march to the National Assembly planned for Friday 22 (eventually postponed to Monday 25) in support of declaring the CNV as a company of “public interest” – a measure previously applied to Venepal — which would prepare it for expropriation. Under that note there is one announcing the forum with Alan Woods, which is about to start. “It is very important that all should attend” it says in brackets next to the details of the meeting.
Jorge Paredes introduces the meeting, explains its importance and thanks the support given to the struggle by different comrades. He particularly singles out some of the CMR comrades present and also thanks Alan for his support for the struggle of the CNV. Alan starts by explaining the enormous power of the working class. “I see you and I see the real face of the working class”. He gives different examples, ranging from the struggle of the oil workers against sabotage to the experience of the CNV itself, of this power of the working class.
“Who knows best how the company works? Who knows all the secrets and organises production on a day-to-day basis? The workers. They, the capitalists, need us to make production work, but we do not need them at all. Without them we can produce, as was shown by the oil workers during the bosses’ lock out. This does not mean that we do not need technicians, scientists and so on, but on one condition: all decisions and control over the company must be in the hands of the workers. And it is not only a question of the power in one company. The control over all the sources of wealth in society, over the means of production, must be under the control of all the workers. This is the only way to make possible the democratic planning of the economy”.
Alan, born in a working class family from South Wales, gives several anecdotes that reflect the class instinct of the workers. The audience, composed of workers, identifies completely with his words, especially when — as he has done in other meetings — he goes through the different turning points of the Venezuelan revolution and stresses the enormous power and capacity to struggle that the workers and the people have shown.
“The working class has an enormous power, unprecedented in history. The only thing that allows the exploiters to continue to rule is that the class does not know it has such power. We are not aware of this enormous power. Their strength is only the result of our weakness, but this weakness is not an objective one, it is subjective. It is the absence of a revolutionary leadership making the working class conscious of this enormous power, that for now prevents its victory, and not only in this country but internationally. This is why the most urgent task for the revolutionary movement is to build such a leadership, to build a mass revolutionary Marxist current within the Bolivarian movement, fighting for a genuine socialist programme”.
“During the course of the International Solidarity Gathering last year I had a chance to meet with President Chavez, and he asked me: ‘Alan, what do you think of the Bolivarian movement?’ ‘It is an inspiration for the whole of the revolutionary movement, President’ I said. ‘Yes, but don’t you have some criticism? What are its mistakes or weaknesses in your opinion?’ And I replied: ‘Fundamentally two, the lack of a clear and concrete revolutionary programme on what to do, where to go, which in my opinion can only be a socialist programme, and the lack of cadres to carry out this programme.’ And he nodded”.
“A real democracy, the participation and leading role of the working people in the taking of all decisions, is impossible while man is condemned to struggle for survival and has to work so many hours as is the case today. Any worker in any country of the world, arrives home tired, exhausted, and this is the best weapon of the capitalists against the participation of the workers. The first step for the masses, for the workers, to be able to participate in politics and rule their own destiny is to drastically shorten the working day and improve the living conditions of the population. As Aristotle already said, man, in order to think, must first have all his fundamental needs seen to.”
“Under a system like capitalism, this is impossible. Capitalism is based on anarchy, the exploitation of man by man and puts the profits of the few before the well being of the majority. Only in a society which puts the fundamental resources in the hands of all is it possible to democratically plan the economy, but that demands the nationalisation of the means of production, the main resources of the country, the land, the banks and the big companies”. Alan explains how the private property of the means of production is an obstacle which blocks this.
The questions and observations of the workers were a good example of the capacity of the working class to understand in an instinctive way what their tasks are within the revolution. Several workers explained their own concrete experiences, the difficulties they are facing, as Alan had explained, in participating in politics when their economic needs are not met and they are forced to struggle for their daily survival. There were also plenty of denunciations of the bureaucracy and the concrete question was posed about how socialism would be built and how to prevent socialism from being dictatorial, violent, etc.
Alan explained once again the programme of the Bolsheviks in 1917 for guaranteeing the democratic control of the workers over the state and raised the need and the possibility to carry out that programme today in Venezuela.
“I have no doubt that the CNV will be expropriated, but even that is not enough. After that the control of production and of the company as a whole must remain in the hands of the workers. And this must happen not just in one company but throughout society as a whole. This is perfectly feasible. Mass meetings should take place in every workshop, in every factory to elect their representatives, and for these to be accountable to the mass meetings with the possibility of being recalled at any time. These delegates elected in the mass meetings should then come together in a general assembly of the workplace as a whole and they in turn should elect their own recallable delegates. And the representatives from all the workplaces should come together in a workers’ assembly. And this should be repeated in every part of every neighbourhood, every school, town and peasant community.... And the delegates elected (and recallable) from each one of these assemblies should form a local assembly, which would elect delegates to a regional assembly, and why not to a National Assembly of revolutionary delegates. With this we would have a state apparatus coming from below and under the permanent control of the masses”. To this should be also added the election and right of recall also of judges, directors of companies and public services, etc.
He also insisted on the idea that in all revolutions violence has always been generated by the ruling class, which refuses to give up its privileges without a fight. The best way to have a revolution as peaceful as possible is to take advantage of favourable moments like the current one to mobilise all the energies of the masses and arm them. Neither imperialism, weakened by the war in Iraq and facing a growing movement of the masses in the whole of the continent, nor the oligarchy can do anything against the strength of the masses, mobilised, organised and armed.
The British Marxist leader finished his talk by explaining the need to build socialism, not just in Venezuela, but all over the world. “What I see in front of my eyes now, is not a group of people from this or that race or country, but a part of a world army, the army of all the exploited, the workers, the proletariat, which is the class which is called to lead all of the oppressed in the struggle to transform society”.
The meeting was closed by Jorge Paredes, who after calling for an applause, reminded everyone of the importance of mobilising for the march in support of declaring the CNV a company of public interest and for its expropriation. The demonstration will finally be held on Monday, April 25, at 9am from the CNE to the National Assembly.