The struggle at Sanitarios Maracay is key for the socialist future of the Bolivarian Revolution

The workers of Sanitarios Maracay are in the forefront of the struggle for workers’ control, nationalisation and socialism in Venezuela. Unfortunately one wing of the UNT led by Maspero is supporting a yellow union in the company, and another wing led by Chirino recently came up with the idea of finding another capitalist to run the factory. This is an appeal to these UNT leaders to rethink their positions and rally round the workers in struggle.

Open letter to Orlando Chirino and Marcela Maspero about the conflict at Sanitarios Maracay

On November 14, after nearly two years of struggle against the employer, the workers of Sanitarios Maracay in a mass meeting decided to occupy the installations of the factory. The occupation was a response to the announced closure of the company, in which the employer also said he was not going to pay the end of year bonus and other monies that were owed to the workers.

Hands Off Venezuela delegation visiting Sanitarios MaracayThe Sanitarios workers did not only occupy the factory. They restarted production and began to sell bathroom suites at low prices to the communities around the plant. This has allowed them to sustain the struggle and to buy food parcels for the workers and their families. The occupation has been organised democratically: a factory committee was elected in a workers' assembly, charged with managing the factory and running the struggle. The Committee is composed of 21 workers. Committees of administration, finances, mobilisation and vigilance were also elected. All of them are made up of workers from the factory.

This has been the result of the initiative of the executive committee of the Sanitarios Maracay workers' union, the unity of the workforce and the political orientation promoted by the CMR (Revolutionary Marxist Current) and FRETECO (Revolutionary Front of Workers in Occupied Factories) for the struggle of the last few months. The workers received political education on workers' control and socialism by the CMR during the last month before the closure. The executive of the union called the CMR because they saw the expropriation of the factory by the Bolivarian government as the only answer and, that once nationalised it could be used to make bathroom suites for the housing programmes of the government. To achieve that, they needed the ideas of the CMR.

The nationalisation of Sanitarios Maracay cannot repeat the same mistakes made in other companies that have been put under "cogestion" by the Bolivarian government, like Invepal or Invetex. First of all the workers must keep their trade union organisations. Secondly, nationalisation must be complete, with 100% ownership in the hands of the state without any room for capitalist investors nor for a workers' cooperative to be part owner of the company. The workers' cooperative introduces a capitalist mentality amongst the workers. The state must guarantee collective bargaining rights and all previously acquired terms and conditions. In other publicly available writings the CMR has developed the discussion about the limitations and mistakes of the current model of "cogestión", and how these can and must be solved by the Bolivarian government.

Sanitarios MaracayThe struggle of the Sanitarios Maracay workers shows the way forward for the whole of the Venezuelan working class in the struggle for the expropriation of the capitalists and for socialism. It is a concrete proof that the workers can not only manage a company successfully, but that they are also able to manage Venezuelan society as a whole. This conflict should become a rallying flag for the UNT (National Workers' Union) as a model of new socialist productive relations, a nationalised and democratically planned economy. It should receive the widest publicity and support throughout the revolutionary movement. This struggle is taking place at a time when the reformist sectors, the bureaucracy and the counter-revolution, after the December 3rd elections, are trying to push the revolution to the right, through calls for negotiation and consensus with the coup-plotting right wing (which if it had had the slightest chance, would have sabotaged the December 3rd elections and refused to recognise Chavez's victory). Their attempt to sabotage the elections was prevented, not by the conciliatory and demobilising policy of the reformists, but by the mass mobilisation of the masses, in the November 26 march in response to Rosales' march, and also through the massive turn out on December 3rd, giving "chavismo" its best results ever. This shows the strength of the revolution and the extremely favourable conditions that exist to carry out the socialist transformation of society. Calls for compromises do not reflect this strength, but on the contrary, they reflect the weakness and the fear of the counter-revolution and its fifth column within the revolutionary movement, the reformist bureaucracy.

All these factors make the struggle of Sanitarios Maracay even more important at the present time, since it breaks with the strategy of conciliation and shows how the working class alone can push this revolution towards socialism. For these reasons as well, the struggle has come under fire and will be attacked even more by these sectors, which are interested in the defeat of the occupation and workers' control and want to avoid at all cost the expropriation of the factory.

The UNT must put itself at the head of this struggle for the expropriation and nationalisation under workers' control and spread it throughout the country. What is at stake is the future of the UNT as a revolutionary trade union. If this opportunity is wasted, the reformists will launch a renewed offensive against workers' control and the vanguard role of the working class in the revolution. A defeat for the struggle at Sanitarios would be a hard blow for the workers in Aragua and beyond, and would signal a stepping up of the attacks against workers and their organisations. For these reasons, all sections of the UNT should unconditionally support workers' control and the struggle for the nationalisation of the company.

Marcela Maspero must withdraw her support for the recently formed yellow union at Sanitarios Maracay

The shop floor workers, after taking over the factory on November 14, decided to appeal again to the administrative staff to join the struggle and help the workers run the company. The administrative staff, some 130 people, guided by a small group of managers loyal to the employer, have supported the employer for the last two years of conflicts. The appeal of the shop floor workers was to leave past differences to one side and unite in struggle. But the appeal fell on deaf ears. Faced with the refusal of the administrative staff to join the struggle and to avoid the sabotage of the installations, the workers prevented the entrance of the administrative staff to the premises of the plant while allowing them access to installations outside of the production area. Despite all this, the workers have at all times maintained an open appeal for them to join the struggle and for their knowledge of the workings of the company to be used to better manage it and for all, workers and administrative staff, to run the factory together under workers' control.

Unfortunately the staff have become a tool of the employer against the struggle. On December 4th, the workers of Sanitarios learnt, through a press release in the local media in Aragua and a statement distributed outside the factory, about the formation of a new trade union, composed mainly of administrative staff and a small number of workers. This is a yellow pro-employer union, created with the only aim of dividing the workers, destroying workers' control in the plant, and attempting to break the organisation or the workers, so that the employer can come back over the ashes of the revolutionary organisation of the workers.

Unfortunately the statement by the said union is supported by Marcela Maspero (member of the national coordination of the UNT). Marcela Maspero has not once visited the plant in the 20 days the occupation has lasted and does not know what the situation is. To support and recognise this yellow union is precisely the opposite of what the UNT should be doing. Marcela Maspero should support the struggle of the workers for nationalisation instead of weakening it. Marcela should correct this mistake she has made, withdraw support from this pro-business union and demand its disbanding. If she does not do that, she will become an accomplice of the employer and of all those who want to prevent the revolution from advancing to socialism. The support of Marcela Maspero for this pro-business union is an attempt to drive a wedge into, and destroy, the Sanitarios Maracay workers union, which is part of the CCURA (Revolutionary, Unitary, Autonomous and Class Struggle Current of the UNT), and thus to weaken the position of Orlando Chirino nationally and of Richard Gallardo in Aragua. This is not acceptable and this mistake must be rectified. The interests of the working class as a whole are above any factional fights. The UNT should not become the terrain of fractional struggle between the different sections fighting for its leadership. The workers and their struggles, and in particular the struggle of Sanitarios Maracay, must not be used as a battering ram against other sections of the UNT.

If the pro-business union was set up this was also partly as a result of the fact that during the period of the occupation, the struggle of the workers at Sanitarios Maracay has not received an adequate level of support from the UNT in Aragua, which is controlled by CCURA. This situation has started to be corrected, but the delay has allowed the pro-business sectors to form their own union and weaken the struggle of Sanitarios. A clear and bold position from the beginning in support of the occupation, workers' control and the nationalisation of the company, would have made the pro-business sectors vacillate.

The executive committee of the Sanitarios Maracay Workers' Union met privately with Chirino and Richard Gallardo, but there was no public statement in support of the occupation, not even in Aporrea, until December 6, 22 days after the beginning of the occupation. Unfortunately, when the Sanitarios Maracay workers marched through the streets of Maracay on November 22 against the closure of the factory and for expropriation not a single leader of the UNT was present, and only one leading member of a trade union participated (because he happened to be passing by and got off the bus and joined the march). A clearer show of support, publicised in the press and the media, would have been very positive, particularly when the workers are faced with the deafening silence of the media in Aragua. In this respect, the only organisations that have used the means at their disposal to publicise the struggle have been the CMR and the FRETECO, and particularly the representatives of the international Hands Off Venezuela campaign who have used their appearances in ViveTV, VTV and other media to explain the struggle and the demands of the workers of Sanitarios Maracay.

No capitalist will solve the problems of the Sanitarios Maracay workers

On December 5th, the leadership of CCURA sent its main representatives to the factory, led by Orlando Chirino. The reason for the visit was to mediate between the workers and a group of private investors, so that they would be able to talk to the workers and visit the plant. The visit by the CCURA was also aimed at showing their opposition to the attempt to set up a pro-employer union. They also wanted to show the support of the Aragua UNT, with a concrete proposal of raising a day's wages from all the workers in trade unions affiliated to the UNT in Aragua, to support the struggle.

In the opinion of the CMR, in the current situation where the factory is running under workers' control, and selling bathroom suites to the public, it is an extremely serious mistake to bring private investors to the factory, because it diverts attention away from the aim of the struggle which is for expropriation and sows doubts and confusion in the minds of the workers. There could have been a meeting set on another day, outside the factory, in order to learn what their intentions were and to know about their manoeuvres, so that these investors could then be denounced before the workers of Sanitarios and through the mass media, as henchmen of the employer. But, unfortunately, in his first visit to the factory since the beginning of the occupation, Orlando Chirino came accompanied by the investors. This is the fact. Chirino, in his attempt to help the workers, made a mistake, maybe unwillingly, naively, because with his mere presence in the first visit of the investors he was giving them respectability in the eyes of the workers. These investors presented themselves as "Bolivarian". This is false. They are nothing more than henchmen of the owner, Alvaro Pocaterra: amongst those who visited the factory was someone who had worked as an engineer in the factory before the occupation, and another of those present was Morris Sierralta, a known coup-plotter with a long track record.

Chirino, during his address to the workers together with the investors, and later on, in a meeting only with the workers, said that, in his opinion, it would be very difficult to get the government to expropriate the company, that "cogestion" had been a fiasco, particularly in INVEPAL, where the trade union organisation of the workers had been destroyed.

In the opinion of the CMR, the bureaucratic sectors will do all that is in their power to prevent the expropriation of Sanitarios Maracay, and only a massive mobilisation of the UNT demanding nationalisation under workers' control can achieve it. Regarding INVEPAL and the other companies under cogestion, the CMR and FRETECO have pointed out all the shortcomings and how to overcome them. But we cannot throw the baby away with the dirty bath water. Cogestion opened the debate and the struggle for workers' control in Venezuela and the trade union movement must have a position, not only of criticising its shortcomings, but of making positive proposals about how the struggle for factory occupations should be carried out, and how cogestion should be implemented. Faced with those pro-capitalist sectors who oppose it, the workers must unconditionally defend workers' control and the struggle for nationalisation as the way to expropriate the capitalists. This is, unfortunately, what was missing from the speech of Chirino and the CCURA.

Whether Sanitarios Maracay is nationalised or not, will depend on to what extent a massive national campaign for the nationalisation of Sanitarios is organised by the revolutionary movement and the workers. In this sense, the CCURA and Chirino at the head of it must play a key role by mobilising the whole of the Venezuelan working class.

No capitalist, no private investor is the solution for the workers at Sanitarios Maracay or any other company in Venezuela. The capitalists, together with the multinationals have destroyed a large part of Venezuelan industry, demonstrating that they are a parasitical class which is completely incapable of driving the country forward. The return of Sanitarios Maracay to private hands would not mean an end to the workers' struggle which would emerge again, but this time in a position of weakness, having given up the occupation. This should be the position defended by CCURA in the Sanitarios Maracay conflict. In this respect, Orlando Chirino, at the end of the meeting with the workers and investors in Sanitarios, and after several interventions by the workers in favour of nationalisation, declared that if the will of the workers was to struggle for the expropriation of the factory, then the CCURA would put itself at the forefront of the struggle to carry it out until the end.

The setting up of the CCURA was the result of the attempts by reformist and bureaucratic sections of the UNT and of the state bureaucracy to turn the union into a reformist organisation based on class conciliation. The CMR and Freteco will always give full support to those sections fighting within the UNT against those reformists who want to divert the struggle of the workers away from the aims of socialism, the expropriation of the ruling class and the setting up of a genuine revolutionary state.

However, the CCURA has made a number of mistakes which, if not corrected, endanger its future as a class struggle current within the UNT, and the ability of the working class to play a leading role in the revolution. This, surely, without the CCURA leaders being fully aware of it.

First of all they made the mistake of allowing the reformist and ultra-left sections to split the UNT. The CCURA had already won the congress of the UNT, since it had the support of the majority of the delegates and enormous sympathy on the part of wide layers of workers present. If the congress had finished united, even without a date being fixed for the internal election, but with a plan of struggle for socialism, this would have been a massive victory for all workers and for the revolution, and also a victory for the CCURA.

However, during the preparation of the congress it was a fatal mistake on the part of the CCURA leaders to centre the whole debate on the question of the election of the leadership of the UNT and a date to be set for this. For months the leadership of the CCURA denounced all other tendencies of the UNT as bureaucratic at every opportunity, instead of concentrating the debate on the main tasks of the working class for the following period, so that the workers would see in practice what section of the UNT wanted to take the working class forward to socialism and what section opposed this. The leadership of the CCURA had created a mood before the congress which was very hostile against the other sections. The gunpowder had been piled up.

When Marcela tried to speak at the congress she was met with booing starting with the Carabobo and Aragua delegations, which supported the CCURA. Chirino himself had to intervene to guarantee her right to speak. Chirino did not want booing or bad behaviour, but in the weeks leading up to the congress he had been riding a tiger which had run out of control. The day after, workers who followed Marcela did the same thing during the commission on elections and the congress ended up with chairs being thrown and the UNT split. The attitude of Marcela and Chirino was completely irresponsible, both before and during the congress.

The congress of the UNT should have centred around the central question of how the working class can take the leadership in the struggle for socialism, expropriating the capitalists and creating a genuine revolutionary state, a workers' state. The main task of the CCURA should be to put itself at the head of the factory occupations all over Venezuela demanding their nationalisation from the Bolivarian government. The conditions for that struggle to develop could not be better, as is shown by the struggle at Sanitarios. A national plan of struggle coordinating all these factory take-overs in every state, and to promote the movement demanding nationalisation under workers' control, would have a massive impact and would represent a first step, not in words but in deeds, for the working class to take a leading role in the revolution pointing out to the Venezuelan people as a whole, and to president Chavez himself, what is the real road to socialism of the 21st century: the expropriation of the capitalists.

In 2005 the UNT missed a chance, the door that president Chavez opened when he said that the national government had drawn up a list of 800 factories that had been abandoned and a total of 1147 that were paralysed or semi-paralysed, and that these should be expropriated. No section of the UNT, not even the CCURA, carried this out in practice. Without the push of the organised working class, Chavez's proposal was blocked by the state bureaucracy.

Within the UNT, the CCURA must play a key role in ensuring the unity of the working class in the struggle for socialism in Venezuela. But we must go from words to deeds. The struggle of Sanitarios Maracay is a marvellous opportunity to unite all those who are prepared to struggle for its nationalisation under workers' control. This would be a massive blow against the reformists and the bureaucracy, and a step forward in the struggle of the working class for socialism and the way to expropriate the ruling class in Venezuela.

Everyone to the December 14 march in Caracas for the nationalisation of Sanitarios Maracay

The struggle of the workers at Sanitarios Maracay is passing through a crucial juncture. The workers have called a march in Caracas on December 14, from Parque Carabobo to the presidential palace in Miraflores, to demand from president Chavez the nationalisation of Sanitarios Maracay. The Aragua UNT supports the march, and so does the leadership of CCURA. In order to win this struggle the unity of all workers is needed. The way forward is the expropriation of the capitalists, socialism.

Orlando Chirino and Marcela Maspero should think through the mistakes of the past in order to correct them, to leave petty squabbles behind and unite around the struggle of Sanitarios Maracay which is the key for the socialist future of the Bolivarian Revolution.


See also: