Last August 1 and 2, Caracas was a hive of activity. Large delegations of workers, with high expectations and a joyful mood, filled the main room of the Parque Central complex. There were more than 1200 delegates present at the First Congress of the National Workers' Union (Unión Nacional Trabajadores - UNT).
During the two day meeting, all kinds of topics where debated. They ranged from such questions as the problem of the work inspectors, that in some states were hand-in-glove with the bosses, to that of some state governors and city mayors who, while claiming to be supporters of the revolutionary process, had actually implemented some anti-union measures. However the three main discussions were on The Declaration of Principles, the Statutes and the Plan of Action that the UNT would be adopting for the coming period.
In spite of our natural tendency towards disorganization, the debate was exceptionally rich in content and, most importantly, there was a level of workers' participation and democracy that had never been seen before in a union of this type, especially if we compare it to the old Venezuela's Workers Confederation (Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela - CTV).
"Participation and information equals power, so if all workers do not have equal information there is no democracy and power does not belong to us", said a worker in Workshop 2, where the Statutes where being discussed, when he realized that most of the workers were unaware of them and that they had not yet been discussed by the union's rank and file. As a result, in the end, neither the Statutes nor the Election Rules were voted. As Orlando Chirinos, National Coordinator of the UNT, said in his summing up, "the workers demanded greater democracy by voting that all documents should first be sent to all the branches. The meaning of this is that we do not want statutes whose purpose is to create a trap for the workers ".
"Our aim is to transform capitalist society into a self managing society, that will create a new model of independent, autonomous, anti-capitalist development and that will emancipate humanity once and for all from class exploitation, oppression, discrimination and exclusion." This statement is to be found in the Declaration of Principles, which was discussed and approved with some added remarks in Workshop 1. Furthermore the Declaration states that the new union will be guided by the principles and values established by the history and traditions of struggle of the international working class, such as Autonomy, Democracy, Solidarity, Internationalism, and class based trade union unity and independence.
In the discussion on the immediate demands that the union should be raising, the following was elaborated: a 36 hour week and the creation of a fourth shift to reduce unemployment; to participate in the discussion around the Reform of the Labour Law; elaboration of the collective bargaining agreements by the rank and file workers; banning the bosses' right to fire; promote Unemployed Workers' Committees; promote Health and Safety Committees; to fight for a general increase in wages and fight to achieve the same rights as permanent workers for workers on short term contracts and temporary workers.
These points in the UNT's plan of action, together with others, were approved by acclamation and with great enthusiasm by the worker delegates attending the First Congress of the UNT. It is clear now that this programme needs to be carried out in practice and fought for concretely. The Provisional Coordinating Committee has a huge responsibility now. Its task is to give political guidance to the Plan, and to make the rank and file workers fully aware of what they are doing.
We believe that if we are to achieve the rebirth of the trade union movement in Venezuela it is necessary to promote a united Venezuelan social/trade union movement that is independent, democratic, internationalist and guided by principles of solidarity. When we speak of a "social/trade union" movement we do so to underline the need for the trade unions to build close links with all the forms of organized opposition that stem from the people. This would allow for a struggle to develop that would increase the standard of living, not only for the working class but also for all the people in general. Most importantly, it would also have to develop international solidarity that would bring together the international struggle, as well as regional and international organizations, to face up to global capitalism.
However, we also believe that if we want to transform here in our own mother country, the capitalist relations of property, production and distribution, this will only be accomplished when the working class are called on to decide on the social destiny and the use of production, communication, distribution and the means of consumption. This will only happen when we the workers are able to organize production techniques and when we develop a new way of collective and democratic production. This process will influence the very being of the workers, creating a new working class culture that will develop a revolutionary consciousness. A fundamental aspect of the UNT's policy is to break with a purely trade unionist and corporative tradition and develop a political and revolutionary consciousness. This is to be achieved through workers' management of production.
The First Congress of the UNT was a total success both in terms of the workers' involvement, and more importantly in terms of the Plan of Action adopted by the Congress, which gives the union a left-wing, revolutionary and working class orientation.
The Venezuelan trade union movement, with the setting up of the UNT, can be compared to the horse in our national coat of arms. The words in a well-known Venezuelan song say more or less the following: "we are going to remove the bridle from the horse in the coat of arms so that he can run free, but to the left because we are tired of seeing him go to the right."