Historic FRETECO meeting – workers of occupied factories present ideas on socialist companies, workers’ councils, and the building of socialism

A historic FRETECO meeting has recently taken place in Venezuela. The Revolutionary Front of Occupied Factories has met to discuss ideas on socialist companies, workers’ councils, and the building of socialism, marking an important step forward in the revolution.

"What we are doing here today in this meeting is very important. Before we had a regime which prevented the workers from organising and discussing how to run and manage the factories. I would like to thank FRETECO and this gathering for allowing us to do just that. We must organise visits to other factories in order to spread the take over and occupation of factories so that these are run under workers' control. This is a time bomb against capitalism and the only road towards socialism".

These moving words by Edgar Correa, a Sanitarios Maracay worker, sum up the enthusiasm, class-consciousness and ideological clarity that marked the Gathering of the Revolutionary Front of Workers in Factories Occupied and under Co-management (FRETECO www.controlobrero.org) which took place at Inveval, the factory expropriated and running under workers' control, on Saturday, June 30th.

The Gathering was a reflection of the qualitative step forward taken by the FRETECO in the course of the last few months, both from the point of view of the number of factories participating in the Front and from the point of view of their specific weight. For the last few months, the list of factories participating in the activities and meetings of the Front has increased (metal parts Inaf, oil industry valves Inveval, Sanitarios Maracay, MDS, textile factories Franelas Gotcha and Sel-Fex, etc). This meeting saw the participation of workers from new companies like the tomato processing plant Tomatera Caigua and the sugar mill Central Azucarera Motatán from Trujillo. Also present were workers from INTEVEP (the technology division of state-owned oil company PDVSA) and comrades from the Socialist Front of Workers of Caracas Electricity (EdC), recently nationalised by Chávez.

Apart from workers of Venezuelan recovered companies, there was also a worker from Brazilian occupied factory Flasko, Alexandre Tortorella, who is also a representative of the Brazilian Occupied Factories Movement. He gave a report to the meeting of the brutal intervention of the Lula government against the factories occupied and under control Cipla and Interfibra, and the campaign that is being developed in Brazil and internationally. All participants showed their solidarity with the Brazilian movement and it was agreed to organise a new visit to the Brazilian embassy in Caracas.

Also present in the meeting were representatives from the M-28 and the United Front of Bolivarian Youth, both youth organisations, as well as comrades from the Revolutionary Marxist Current and the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. We must also report the presence of comrade Marisabel Guzmán, member of the Commission of Citizen Affairs of the Vice-presidency, which coordinates the meetings with the occupied factories.

A high political level was shown in the interventions of all workers in the debate. The main aim of the meeting was to discuss the proposals of the FRETECO on the debate about the building of "socialist companies" opened by Chavez, on the question of Workers' Councils, and, in general, about the programme that workers need to put forward to the president and to the Bolivarian movement as a whole in order to break with capitalism once and for all and build socialism. Many of those present stressed the importance of the fact that the Revolutionary Front of Occupied Factories was the first organisation (and so far the only one) to have debated and presented publicly a clear revolutionary proposal on all these questions which are decisive for the future of the revolution.

What is socialism and what is the role of the working class in building it?

The meeting was opened by comrade José León, a worker at the National Industry of Hardware Articles (INAF) in Cagua (Aragua). He used a power point presentation to explain in a clear and sharp way "What is socialism".

Comrade Leon explained that "socialism is a regime of transition between capitalist society and a communist society. The main characteristic of a socialist society is that the means of production are under the collective ownership of society as a whole and not the private property of a few isolated individuals.

"We are talking about the private property of the means of production. When the large scale means of production (the land, banks and the main industries) are the property of society, then production will be planned according to social needs, the needs of all, not those of a privileged few.

"They, the capitalists, say that we want to introduce a dictatorship, because, they say, socialism will put an end to economic freedom. But, what freedom is that? The freedom to take your capital out of the country? The freedom not to pay taxes to the state, not to pay social security contributions and do as you please?"

José made a summary of the ideas of Marx and Lenin, and showed their validity for the Bolivarian revolution today. "The capitalist class cannot exist without the working class, the factories cannot work without us, but they can work without bosses, as we are showing in practice in Inveval, Sanitarios Maracay, INAF, Motatán, Tomatera Caigua and other companies.

"The struggle of the workers demonstrates the validity of the dialectical law that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts", was the text of one of the slides prepared by the INAF workers which presided over the meeting. "The workers, in order to defend ourselves, need maximum unity. Alone we cannot do anything, but if we are united we can transform reality. This is our experience at INAF. On our own we couldn't do anything, united with the other comrades in FRETECO, we can."

The experience of two years of co-management and the struggle for workers' control

Many of those attending the Gathering, including several functionaries of Intevep, underlined that of all the experiences of cogestión, Inveval is the one that is working best. This is not by chance. In Inveval, the workers - as explained in the founding documents of FRETECO - have transformed co-management into workers' control and what we have now, in reality, is a company financed by the state and managed by the workers.

Jorge Paredes, the worker-president of Inveval, elected by the workers, explained that, at the beginning, after the expropriation of the company their main aim was "to start working, to restart production in whatever way possible". Inveval was recovered by the workers themselves, who discussed all tasks at workers' assemblies and carried out all the necessary tasks and works to allow the factory to run again. This showed in practice that a company can work while financed by the state (which paid for all expenses) and managed by the workers themselves.

However, at that time, the state functionaries proposed a model based on 51% ownership being in the hands of the state, and the other 49% would progressively be passed on to a workers' cooperative. The management of the company would be in the hands of a Directors' Board composed of five members, three of them workers elected by the workers' assembly and the other two functionaries appointed by the state.

"As a matter of fact, the two state representatives have not attended the meetings," explained Jorge. "Through our experience of two years of cogestión we have reached several conclusions. The first one is that the system of sharing ownership is useless. This is a capitalist system, not a socialist one. In reality Inveval has been working while fully funded by the state and managed always under the control and leadership of the workers".

"Another conclusion we drew", Jorge stressed, "is that the Directors' Board was neither the most efficient, nor the most democratic, and definitely not the revolutionary and socialist way of running the company. For this reason we decided that the Directors' Board would be replaced by a much broader Factory Council, elected and recallable by the workers themselves. This experience must be taken to all workers, we need to socialise our knowledge".

Regarding the debate that exists within the labour movement on the question of the Factory Councils, Jorge insisted on a key idea: "The Factory Councils cannot replace the trade unions. They must complement each other. The Factory Councils are a weapon of the workers to manage the companies and therefore to run the economy. The trade unions are a tool to defend our rights as workers. Some trade union comrades have a confused vision of this matter and reject the Workers' Councils. This is a serious mistake. Revolutionary trade unions must promote the setting up of Factory Councils in order to develop workers' control".

Factory Councils - A practical example: the Inveval Factory Council

Regarding this question, comrade Nelson Rodriguez, Inveval worker, made an excellent intervention on the historical experience of Workers' Councils in the Russian and German revolutions, and during the Italian movement of 1919-1920. Nelson quoted the words from Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci, one of the leaders of the Workers' Councils in the industrial city of Turin, about that experience of workers management of companies: "... from this point of view, what need to be investigate is the organisation of the factory as a tool of production in order to find in it, the worker as a producer, as a created and not a mere wage labourer, the embryo of the future state, of the new democracy".

Nelson explained the main problems that the Inveval workers have had to face in these two years of managing the factory, as well as those faced by workers in other recovered factories, and explained how they have overcome them. In particular he explained in detailed the qualitative step forward taken by Inveval workers with the creation of the Factory Council and the sharing out of the tasks of managing the company amongst the workers themselves: "We discussed with the comrades of the Revolutionary Marxist Current (CMR), who have been supporting us from even before the expropriation, and with all the workers at the assembly, we carried out education courses, we discussed different revolutionary experiences, and we drew the conclusion that the best way to operate was through the broadest Factory Council, elected and recallable by the Workers' Assembly, which is the highest authority. The Council is composed of spokespeople from each department and others who were workers and volunteered themselves directly to the assembly and were ratified by it".

"Within the Factory Council, composed of 32 people, we have created several commissions: Finances and Administration, Accountability and Follow-up, Discipline, Technical, etc. Each one of these commissions is in charge of different aspects: design of the valves (Inveval makes valves for the oil industry), follow up of production, quality control, sales, etc. Each commission brings back reports of its work, proposals, etc, to the Council".

"Here we are putting into practice what Gramsci said", Nelson explained. "The worker is no longer a passive subject of production, it is not the worker who comes just to get his wages at the end of the fortnight, but the worker participates in all areas of the company as a creator and producer. Engineers and foremen are no longer a whip to be used on the workers, but just another part of the collective. This is the most democratic way. This is what allows us to move towards the democratisation of knowledge and build workers' democracy".

Spread the factory occupations and expropriate the capitalists

One of the conclusions of the debate that was shared by all was that this model cannot work and be maintained if it becomes isolated in one single factory. Workers' control in one or several companies can only be a step towards the management of the economy and society as a whole by the workers and towards the building of a revolutionary workers' state. Nelson concluded by saying: "As Gramsci explained, these Councils must link up with the Peasant Councils, the Communal Councils, etc. in order to become the basis of the new revolutionary state we want to build. Only this can put an end to the sabotage of the capitalists, bureaucratism, corruption, etc."

In this respect, the workers of Inveval have promoted and set upFRETECO, have organised activities together with the neighbouring communities, and are proposing to the workers of Sanitarios Maracay the participation of workers from each Council in each others' meetings on a permanent basis in order to exchange experiences.

"This should spread to all companies, and not wait until the socialist companies' Planning Commission set up by the government implements it, but we need to carry our own proposals and put them into practice, and to struggle so that the workers can participate directly in that Commission", proposed Nelson Rodríguez at the end of his speech.

Antonio Betancourt, also a worker of Inveval, spoke on the subject of the property of the companies and insisted that this should be social and collective. "If we are going towards socialist companies we must put into question the private property of the means of production. In a capitalist society even ideas become private property (through patents, etc) and this is an obstacle to the development of society: there are many ideas and projects that cannot be implemented because they clash with the private property of the means of production"

Antonio explained briefly and in a simple way some basic ideas of Marxist political economy in order to explain how the surplus value of the capitalist comes from the exploitation of the worker, and how private property of the means of production and the search for the highest profit of their private owners inevitably leads to the anarchy of production and economic crises. "Contrary to this, a socialist society is based on the democratic planning of the economy in order to fulfil social needs. But it is impossible to plan while a few individuals privately own the means of production and only put them to work if they so wish, in order to obtain private gain".

"It is for this reason", Antonio explained, "that the Inveval workers defend the idea that the property of the company must be 100% in the hands of the state and must be administrated by the workers. This should be the case in all companies: large companies, banking and the land should be expropriated. Furthermore, representatives of the workers, elected and recallable, should participate in the Commission of Planning."

"In this way", Antonio said, "the revolutionary government and the workers could manage, lead and really plan the economy".

Sanitarios Maracay, Motatán, Inaf, Tomatera Caigua

In the debate around the proposals mentioned above there were many very interesting questions raised. Comrades from different factories explained their experiences as well as the problems they were facing. There was a common feature in all of them: the problems arising from the fact that these occupied and/or recovered factories are just a socialist advanced guard in the midst of an economy which remains capitalist and with a state apparatus which, though riddled with massive class contradictions, remains in essence the old bourgeois state. Difficulties in getting raw materials and keeping the companies alive against a capitalist blockade, legal problems derived from the maintenance of bourgeois laws, clashes with sections of the state bureaucracy, etc, these are part of their every day experience. As one comrade explained: "there is a struggle within the state between revolutionary functionaries and a majority of bureaucrats who neither believe it possible for workers to manage companies and society, nor want it to happen"

Comrade Richard López, from Inaf, presented a report of the negotiations that have taken place between representatives of each of the factories that participate in Freteco and the Commission of Citizen Affairs of the Vice-ministry of the Presidency. These meetings have been used to explain - and in some cases to begin to solve - precisely some of these conflicts with current capitalist laws or with the bureaucracy (acquiring raw materials, legal problems, financing, sales) which each company faced. Several comrades stressed the step forward these meetings meant, as a result of the organisation and the mobilisations of the FRETECO, and the advances achieved. They also praised the work of comrade Marisabel Guzmán in the Commission. At the same time, the main conclusion was the need to continue struggling in a unified way, to spread the occupation and taking over of factories, and to struggle for a global solution which must necessarily mean the generalised expropriation of the capitalists.

Francisco Javier Méndez, from the Motatán sugar mill, denounced how not only the capitalists but many times state functionaries are an obstacle for the development of workers' control and the socialist companies. "We were told we would only get the minimum wage. Furthermore, there were frequent delays in the payments and in the delivery of necessary materials. We had to put money from our own pockets to recover the company and make sure it would run. This meant many comrades could not resist any more. Had it not been because of the decision of the president on June 19th, to recognise our rights and bonuses we would now be worse off than with the old capitalist boss". Alexander Milanés explained how the union was at the forefront of the struggle for the recovery of the company. "We see the trade union as our voice. It is the legal instrument that allowed us to struggle."

Yajaira Soler, from Inaf, explained how the attempt to co-manage to the company with the old boss ended up in the constant sabotage on his part, and how this led the workers to take over the factory and to run it themselves. "We started with nothing, with 500,000 Bs which was the contribution of one worker, and to this day we have managed to maintain production and the former clients. The workers ourselves run the company and we demand nationalisation under workers' control. On our own we would have never been able to publicise our struggle and go forward, but together with the rest of the comrades in FRETECO we have been able to do it".

Several workers from Sanitarios Maracay, the bathroom ceramics company from Aragua, explained how the factory has been running under workers' control and demanding nationalisation for several months. Edgar Correa explained that: "our struggle is for the nationalisation of the company, that the government should remove the boss and the company be used to satisfy social needs." Marcos Suárez underlined the importance in overcoming the model based on cooperatives and to struggle for nationalisation under workers' control: "The state should have the ownership of the companies so that the capitalist viewpoint is not introduced into the consciousness of the workers, which is what happens with the cooperatives, as the comrades from Inveval have explained. We must create a new, socialist man".

A comrade from Intevep complained that "those of us who propose the creation of Workers' Councils in PDVSA or other state-owned companies are attacked and accused of wanted to sow division". The comrades from the Socialist Front of Caracas Electricity denounced the anti-trade union persecution which took place in the company for years and raised the need to purge the old capitalist managers and to replace the capitalist structure of these companies that have been nationalised by a revolutionary socialist structure. During the debate, several comrades criticised the fact that the Social Production Enterprises (EPS), or projects like Into the Factory (Fábrica Adentro), were being conceived as capitalist companies, under the disguise of the so-called "market socialism" or the mixed economy. "Co-existence between socialist and capitalist companies is impossible, in the same way that it is impossible to reach an agreement between workers and capitalists. It is the agreement between the horse and the rider".

Campaign to spread factory occupations and demand their nationalisation under workers' control

All participants agreed with the need to struggle for the nationalisation under workers' control of the companies and the development of Workers' Councils to manage them. As a result of this, the main conclusion of the Gathering was the need to organise the take over and occupation of companies throughout the country and to spread the expropriations that started in 2005 throughout the economy as a whole. As Carlos Ramírez from the CMR explained in his intervention: "There cannot be islands of socialism. An isolated company working under workers' control will face many difficulties to survive. Even if it is expropriated by the state but remains isolated it will be subjected to the pressure of the state bureaucracy, which - as president Chávez has said - is one of the legacies of capitalism. Socialist companies can only survive if the take over, occupation and expropriation of factories spreads to the whole economy."

"The ‘class-struggle' unions, the UNT, should give a lead and together with the FRETECO, organise the take over and occupation of factories all over the country and demand from the government their expropriation. FRETECO must organise a national campaign in this direction". All those present greeted this proposal with enthusiasm. The gathering ended with the voting of all the proposals discussed, which are summarised in a document called "FRETECO and the socialist companies", and the sending of a letter asking for a meeting with the Peoples' Power Minister for Light Industry and Commerce (MILCO), María Cristina Iglesias, to present these proposals and to discuss how the workers in occupied and recovered factories can help the process of building socialist companies. Finally the spokespeople from the different factories which will participate in the FRETECO Coordination were elected.

At the end of the meeting all those present signed a motion of support of the workers of the occupied factories in Brazil, recently under attack by the Federal Police acting on orders from the Lula government. Another resolution was passed in solidarity with Spanish trade unionists Candido Gonzalez and Juan Manuel Martínez Morala, jailed for three years for fighting to defend jobs at the Naval Gijón shipyard.