UNT organiser Ricardo Galindez spoke to Ramon Samblas about the progress of this new trade union organisation in Venezuela and the latest events that have taken place in this Latin American country. An edited version of this interview also appeared in today's left-wing daily The Morning Star.
The article in The Morning Star
When the bosses’ lockout was defeated by the spontaneous and determined action of the Venezuelan masses, Ricardo Galindez did not hesitate to join others in walking out from the hopelessly corrupt CTV (Venezuelan Labour Confederation) and its Executive Committee in the State of Lara and join with other genuine activists and rank and file members of the trade union movement in Venezuela to form the UNT (National Workers Union) – now the legitimate voice of Venezuelan labour. Ricardo Galindez, a trade union organiser with more than 20 years experience in the movement has been engaged during the last two years in the titanic task of building a trade union force which backs the movement of the majority of the Venezuelan working people – the movement popularly known as the Bolivarian revolution headed by Hugo Chavez.
His activity has earned him the hatred of the Venezuelan oligarchy and physical attacks on himself by the bosses’ thugs, who, on one occasion, shot him in the chest. Nevertheless, this is not enough to defeat the beliefs or the energy of a man who sees, in the measures taken by the Chavez government, “a chance for the people to enjoy democratic rights like free education and healthcare”. To this he adds that “these gains have revolutionary features because they are against the interests of the capitalists of the world”.
One of the issues that pops up in our conversation is Venepal. This paper mill was occupied and run by the workers after being abandoned by the owners. The decision of Hugo Chavez to nationalise the company under workers’ control is more than welcomed by Ricardo who states “we support President Chavez in his decision. A government that rules in favour of the bosses’ would have never done something like that. The decision is painful for the imperialists and the bosses who deny the ability of the workers to create a new model of production where the aim is to serve the majority of society, not just the wallets of few people”. He then adds: “what the Venepal workers want is to create an endogenous plan where the company will provide cheap paper for the “misiones” (social programs) and the estate of land which belongs to the company will be used by landless peasants”.
We also have time to comment on the state takeover of the massive “El Charcote” ranch, which belonged to the British company Vestey. While he shows his support for the measure he also expresses his concerns about how the issue has been handled by the imperialist paid press and their US masters. In his opinion it is clear that “the imperialists are seeking to create a diplomatic impasse with the UK”. This is not the only tactic the US administration and its allies are undertaking. He says “the kidnap by Columbian agents inside Venezuela of human rights activist Rodrigo Granda is such a provocation. The Venezuelan government has always handed over to the Colombian government all those alleged to be members of the guerrillas or the “narcos”. There was no necessity to come over to Caracas, bribe corrupt policemen and kidnap Granda, who was not even being ‘officially’ sought by the Colombian authorities. This is a provocation of the Bush administration and the Columbian leader Uribe is a mere puppet here”
UNT vs CTV
There is no doubt that the issue of the trade union question in Venezuela is one of the most misleading ones. For almost two years now the labour movement has been striving to get international support from other sister organisations all over the planet. On top of all the problems the new genuine trade union is facing, they also face the lack of official recognition. But Ricardo views the process with considerable optimism and points out how through the UNT the working class is playing its full role in the Venezuelan Revolution.
“Working people have increased their active role in the process. They participated in the mass movements which followed April 11 (the date of the coup d’etat) to rescue our president. Later on we created the UNT which was born weak but has gained strength over the last two years,” he says.
Ricardo warns us not to use membership figures as the only measure of strength of both trade union confederations. “They (the CTV) always inflate the figures,” Ricardo says. The key is rather to analyse the level of collective bargaining. In the last period the UNT has been involved in the organising of companies like Ford, Goodyear, Firestone, the Caracas Underground and “the glorious oil workers”. In the public sector the UNT is dealing with collective bargaining in the health service and the Department of Social Security. Another good measure of the organisation is the size of the May Day marches. In 2003 both union bodies had marches with a similar size but in 2004 the UNT march was much larger than the CTV one. Ricardo is confident that for next May Day the UNT march will outnumber the CTV once again.
The fate of the Bolivarian Revolution
From Ricardo’s point of view the best thing about the Bolivarian Revolution is that the reforms and concessions given to the masses are based on the ability of the masses to mobilise and create new forms of society. As a socialist he sees the revolutionary process in his country as a dynamic and living process. He usually likes to link the Cuban experience to the Bolivarian Revolution in his remarks.
He says that “revolutions are always dynamic and sometimes the social dynamics go beyond the original aims of the movement. The best example is the Cuban Revolution. It was a movement started by democrats and due to the attacks of imperialism on the democratic regime they took up socialist measures against imperialist aggressions”.
To sum up the interview we asked him whether he has a message for the British labour movement. He does not hesitate to appeal to all trade unionists to “discontinue to recognise the CTV, which is the executive arm of the policies of imperialism, and support the UNT. For this purpose we also need campaigns like Hands Off Venezuela, so please support the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign.”
Ricardo Galindez has been brought to Britain by the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. Hands Off Venezuela has organised a meeting in the Houses of Parliament (Grand Committee room) on February 2 at 19.30. Ricardo will share the platform with John McDonnell, Mick Rix and Jeremy Dear.