Sanitarios Maracay workers elect a Factory Committee to manage the company and struggle for expropriation - Alan Woods visits the factory

The struggle at Sanitarios Maracay is not simply a struggle to save 800 jobs, it is a struggle that can become an example and a stimulus for the whole of the working class and re-open the way for expropriations at a higher level. It is the struggle to save the revolution from the sabotage of the employers and the bureaucracy, so that it reaches its conclusions and solves once and for all the problems of the masses.

From the moment you enter Sanitarios Maracay, you can smell the power of the working class. The factory has been taken over a few days ago in response to the blackmail of the employer who declared the closure of the factory. This is not the first time. In March this year the workers already occupied the factory. But now it is different: the experience of the last few months has not been in vain. The workers have organised a Factory Committee and for the last few weeks they have invited the comrades from the Revolutionary Marxist Current (CMR) and from the Revolutionary Front of Workers in Factories Occupied or under Co-management (FRETECO) to give political education courses on workers' control. Comrades from the Brazilian occupied factory Cipla and from the Venezuelan recovered factory Inveval have also come to explain their experiences. This has come together with the experience accumulated by the Sanitarios workers themselves during the last few years of harsh struggle against the boss. As the general secretary of the Union, Humberto, explains, "the workers of Sanitarios have learnt from the experience of Inveval and Invepal, and they are committed to take the road of expropriation but with the workers maintaining control over the company".

 For the last few days the company has tried to base itself on a handful of leaders of the administrative staff in order to break the occupation. The workers are trying to win over a majority of the administrative staff whom, as Humberto explains, "are in a state of shock, they have been educated for years to depend on the employer and they need some time and to see the workers themselves in action, in order to understand that the company can run without the boss".

Villegas, the union's organisation secretary, addresses the workers' mass meeting with the passion and conviction of a revolutionary with many years of struggle on his back and knowing that this is a decisive moment: "Some comrades ask whether we are in an illegal situation. I ask, has the boss implemented the agreement by which we abandoned the previous occupation?" And all the workers answer with one voice "No!". "Has he purchased the work clothes and applied the security measures we agreed?". The workers respond again: "No!", "has he implemented the collective bargaining agreement or any of the clauses he signed or promised?" "No!!!" "Then ... is it illegal for us to defend our rights, our jobs and the future of our families putting the factory to work ourselves?"

The speech expresses clearly and in a bold manner what was already in the minds of all workers and gives all renewed will. The audience explodes in enthusiasm shouting "No!" in support of the occupation. Villegas insists in winning over the administrative staff to the side of the struggle, to stay firm and to spread the mobilisation of the workers to the families, neighbours and other workers' and social collectives.


Humberto continues with the same idea and insists in making clear that this mobilisation is aimed at the employer. The workers have made a banner calling for 10 million votes for Chavez which will head the march. "We want to make it absolutely clear that we are with the president and with the Revolution" say several workers. "It is precisely the employers, like this one against whom we are struggle, who sabotaje and attack the revolution.

Humberto uses part of his intervention to explain that what the workers want is workers' control. "The comrades from Invepal and Inveval found a rough diamond, they got the expropriation of their companies and president Chávez said that the highest decision making body in each recovered company should be the workers' assembly. But then the bureaucrats twisted that. We must take that rough diamond which was co management and cut it" The workers receive these ideas with expressions of approval and enthusiasm.

Carlos Rodríguez, from the FRETECO and the CMR, who has been participating in the struggle from the beggining stresses the same idea: "The workers can manage the factories. Experience shows that only the nationalisation of the company under workers' control can guarantee that the control of the company remains in the hands of the workers and that capitalism does not come back through the back door." The intervention receives an ovation. Next to speak is Wanderci Bueno, from the Brazilian occupied factories, who, like Carlos, has been supporting the struggle from the beginning and is already consider as one of their own by the workers. He asks for permission to make a proposal to the workers assembly. They unanimously grant him permission. The proposal is to make an appeal to all sections of the UNT to call a united assembly in the state of Aragua in order to discuss a plan of struggle to organise the solidarity and the mobilisation to support the nationalisation under workers' control of Sanitarios as well as the occupation and nationalisation under workers' control of all the other companies that have been closed, are occupied or in crisis in the state. The proposal is met with massive enthusiasm. Present at the assembly are the female textile workers of Franelas Gotcha, who have also occupied their company for months and also Luisana Ramírez, the spokesperson for the sacked workers of Invepal Maracay and one of the leaders of FRETECO. Luisana stresses the need to win the battle for 10 million votes for Chavez and the need to intensify the struggle for the expropriation of the capitalists after that victory.

The assembly finishes in an impressive way: with a concrete example of what workers' democracy means in practice. The Factory Committee that should guarantee that the company continues to produce under workers´control is elected. Each one of the members, proposed by each section of the factory is voted on. A number of seats is reserved for the administration workers. Each candidate stands up so that all can see him and then the assembly votes with a show of hands. Then there is a vote about whether the committee of the union, which has organised the struggle so far, should be also incorporated into the Factory Committee. They are all tested leaders who have led the struggle in the last few years: against the attempted coups of the counter-revolution, against the attacks of the bosses, against the attempt to set up a yellow union, etc. They are unanimously voted onto the Committee. As a last point there is a proposal that the workers' assembly itself elects five more workers. Some put their names forwards and the assembly votes them one by one.

The Committee is elected, the company has a new management, a council of elected delegates, recallable at any time by the workers' assembly. Then comes what is possibly the most moving moment of the assembly, and a living example for all those cynics and sceptics who do not trust in the ability of the working class to run companies and push the revolutionary process towards the nationalisation of the company. A worker takes an oath from the Factory Committee: "Do you swear on your sons and daughters and families to abide by all the decisions of the workers and to give all, even the life if necessary, so that this struggle is victorious?" "We swear!" shout all members of the Factory Committee with their hands up. The first task is to meet the following morning to start recovering production and organise a march through the streets of Maracay to the regional state council to demand support for their struggle.

The assembly finishes with one of the most expected interventions. Alan Woods the day before addressed thousands of peasants who had filled the streets of Caracas called by the National Peasant Front Ezequiel Zamora fighting for 10 million votes for Chavez and demanding at the same time that the war on latifundia is not blocked by the reformists, and that the revolution completes its tasks. He speaks here with the same simple language, clear and at the same time profound which was greeted with enthusiasm by the agrarian fighters the day before.

Alan explains some of the same ideas that he has repeated in several of the meetings and interviews which he has attended during his tour. It is amazing to see how these ideas are fervently and enthusiastically supported by tose who heard him. As one of the workers in the audience of another meeting said "this is what we all think, said with the right words". And still, between the four walls of this industrial warehouse, in front of this workers who are making history by being the first occupied factory that decides to start production and to elect a Factory Committee to run all aspects of production, these right words, always precise, acquire a new, deeper meaning. They become flesh. They are no longer just good ideas but a reality that can be felt simply by opening your eyes and looking at the faces of the workers who listen to Alan's speech with a rapt attention seldom seen.

"The revolution has reached a critical moment. President Chavez must be reelected by the widest margin possible, counter-revolution must be smashed. But a man on his own cannot make the revolution. I consider president Chavez as a personal friend and an honest man, but a friend is not that who never says what he really thinks and pats you on the back. If the revolution does not face up to the expropriation of the banks, the land and big business, if it does not destroy the old state apparatus and replaces it with a new revolutionary state, a workers' state, based on the election and right of recall for all public officials by mass assemblies of the workers and the rest of the exploited, the balance of forces will change. The whole of history demonstrates that it is impossible to carry out a revolution without touching the private property of the oligarchy and maintaining the same institutions, laws and state apparatus created by the ruling class. I do respect private property of 98% of the population, of the workers, peasants, even of the middle class. We do not want to take away a car or a small business from anybody. But the property of the oligarchy is something else. That it is necessary to expropriate because otherwise it becomes impossible to plan the economy and solve the problems of poverty, unemployment, housing, etc... One cannot make half a revolution. And the revolution has only advanced half way. 75% of the land is still in private hands, 166 peasants have been killed fighting against this and the culprits have not been put on trial. If the workers hear talk about the revolution and see that the factories are run by the same bosses, employers like this one who today wants to close your company, the landowners, the bureaucrats, ... they will lose faith the revolution. And that is the main threat to any revolution. President Chavez has said so: the main enemy is within. It is the old bureaucracy coming from the IV Republic, but also a new bureaucracy which calls itself Bolivarian and dresses in red but is counter-revolutionary. Either they win or we win. There is no other alternative.

The same ideas which have been heard in so many other audiences in the last days, listened to with the same attention, but this time followed with a particularly rapt attention, like if instead of coming out of the lips of another person they were flowing from the minds of every one of those present. "The motor force of the revolution can only be the working class. Who saved the situation in April 2002 defeating the coup?", asks once more Alan. "The people!!!" replies the assembly. "Who sabed the situation at the time of the bosses lock-out?" "The people, the workers!", "And at the time of the referéndum?" "We did!!!". The same answers that in other audiences where Alan has made the same questions, but with the decisiveness that comes from the fact that this workers know that they are once again entering into action to save, not only their jobs, but the revolution.

The workers understand perfectly well what Alan explains and end the meeting with a standing ovation. In small circles the discussion continues: several leaders of the struggle explain to Alan the details, appointments are made to go to the union to prepare all the logistics of the march on the following day, to make banners, organise the first meeting of the factory committee, etc

In the same way as the Venepal struggle two years ago, the struggle of Sanitarios Maracay is not simply a struggle to save 800 jobs. It is a struggle that can become an example and a stimulus for the whole of the working class and re-open the way for expropriations at a higher level. It is the struggle to save the revolution from the sabotage of the employers and the bureaucracy, so that it reaches its conclusions and solves once and for all the problems of the masses. As Alan says at the end of his speech: "the banks, the land and big businesses must be the property of the state, but the state must be in the hands of the workers". This is something that fills with fear and perplexity the bureaucrats and petty bourgeois intellectuals who try to dampen the mood of the revolution. For the workers, peasants and hundreds of thousands of Bolivarian activists these are proposals that even if listened to for the first time, sound completely normal and familiar, like the acts of seeing, listening, breathing in and out. Because it is the only programme which really connects with the current situation and the only that can guarantee the victory of the revolution.