Venezuela: Impressions from Mitsubishi and Vivex – Workers take destiny into their own hands

Last weekend a Gathering of Marxist youth was held at the Mitsubishi factory in Anzoátegui State. Here we have a report of the meeting that also gives a taste of the mood that exists among some of the most advanced worker activists in Venezuela.

Over the weekend, beginning on Friday, March 20, I had the privilege of being able to attend the Marxist Youth Gathering in Venezuela, held in the occupied VIVEX factory in Barcelona, Anzoátegui State. In this factory and in the nearby Mitsubishi factory, the main leaders of both trade unions are members of the CMR (Corriente Marxista Revolucionaría) and welcomed the idea of organising a Marxist Youth Gathering in the factory, with great enthusiasm.

Heavy battalions of the industrial proletariat

On Friday afternoon a busload of youth from the Bolivarian University made its way through the mountainous Venezuelan landscape. Our destination was the industrial area of Barcelona called "Los Montones".

Banner outside VIVEX
Banner outside VIVEX

Although Anzátegui has a governor elected on a Bolivarian ticket, the lack of any sort of maintenance of the roads and buildings surrounding it is striking to say the least. But in spite of these conditions, the people of Anzoátegui cling firmly to the Revolution. We note this especially when we pass through the working class suburbs surrounding the city, where slogans supporting Chávez and the Revolution are painted on almost every wall.

Before reaching VIVEX, our final destination, we observe the overwhelming concentration of factories in this industrial area. Right next to VIVEX are located other auto factories, such as Macusa, Toyota and of course Mitsubishi (MMC), which has a 1200-strong workforce. It is no exaggeration to say that a large part of the heavy battalions of the Venezuelan industrial proletariat are concentrated in "Los Montones".

VIVEX is a huge plant, which produces windscreens for the car industry. It has some 300 workers, but for the last four months it has been occupied by the workers who are now demanding that the factory must be nationalized under workers' control. The workers at VIVEX give us a warm welcome. We take a cup of coffee and then they accompany us to the Mitsubishi factory, where we will be staying.

As soon as we enter Mitsubishi we can feel the tense mood among the workers there. At the factory gate there are several placards and banners. One of them says "Even with bullets, they cannot stop the voice of protest of the workers!", clearly referring to the assault on the factory on January 29, when two workers were brutally killed by counter-revolutionary elements infiltrated in the PoliAnzoategui. Other banners have been put up by trade unions from all over Venezuela who support the struggle of Mitsubishi.

A placard shows pictures of the MMC worker, Javier Mercano (known as "Tico-tico"), one of the two victims of the massacre. With the title "Our fallen comrade of struggle", the pictures and texts show a "before" and "after" the killing of Javier.

The workers at the factory gate are watching very carefully who enters the plant and everyone has to register before going in. At the same time, a small TV monitor has been installed at the entrance, so that the guards can follow the discussions of the workers' assembly that is taking place in one of the halls of the factory. The workers are discussing the latest news in the struggle and what to do next. They don't seem to be bothered about the fact that the clock has passed midnight!!

"Those who die for life, cannot call themselves dead"

The next morning we go to VIVEX, where the Marxist Youth Gathering opens with 85 youth from all over Venezuela. Some comrades, such as the delegation from Merida, have travelled 18 hours to get there! Several interesting discussions take place and the mood is very enthusiastic. However, the mood gets a bit heated when the session on Mitsubishi and VIVEX takes place. A leading trade-union comrade of MMC gives a lead-off together with Julío Ulloa, a trade-union adviser of the workers and leading member of the CMR. Then there is a screening of a Documentary made by the comrades, called The truth about the massacre in MMC.

Marxist Youth Gathering with 85 youth from all over Venezuela
Marxist Youth Gathering with 85 youth from all over Venezuela

The video shows the heroic defence of the factory on the part of the workers. But it also shows the vicious attack of the PoliAnzoátegui, who fired with live ammunition against unarmed workers and even destroyed the cars of the workers and threw stones as one of the cars that was driving wounded workers to the hospital.

It is difficult to depict the impression that this video leaves on all of us. Personally I have seen it three times now, the last time being together with workers of SIDOR, in a solidarity meeting that they organized last week. But every time, the video generates a feeling, not just of sorrow and mourning for the fallen comrades, but also of disgust and even hatred towards those counter-revolutionary henchmen.

After this video, the comrade of the MMC trade union gives us an account of the present situation with the negotiations with the Ministry of Labour and the MMC bosses. He informs us that the Minister of Labour, María Cristina Iglesias has issued a 24-hour ultimatum for the workers to hand over the factory to the bosses, otherwise she will illegalise the trade union and give the green light for the arrest of the workers. The comrade informs us that the trade union leaders of MMC are in Caracas in negotiations to see if it is possible to reach some kind of agreement that would benefit the workers, without suffering repressive measures.

The comrade stresses that the workers' assembly on Friday evening had decided to do so and to take a tactical step back, without giving any principled concessions. The occupation of MMC began on January 11, and has thus lasted for more than 40 days. The workers have not received any kind of wages during the whole dispute.

In the following discussion, various comrades stress that this tactical retreat by no means signifies a defeat. As one comrade remarks, "Even in the war between nations, sometimes you have to make a brief retreat while you prepare the troops for the next battle." Another comrade says, "The MMC workers have not been defeated. This is a ceasefire, not surrender! What was the main goal of the MMC bosses? Why did they hire the corrupt PoliAnzátegui to kill our comrades? Because they wanted to destroy the trade union. Did they obtain this? No, they did not! The trade union persists and in the end the workers will win this war!"

The correctness of these words are confirmed later on Sunday evening, when the negotiations give fruit to an agreement with the boss that gives concessions to the workers on all the main points, including the fact that the MMC agrees not to use subcontracted labour again.

The young comrades in the assembly are shocked by the pictures in the video. Many of them ask the obvious question: How can this happen after 10 years of revolution? Other comrades respond by saying that this shows how the notorious bourgeois state apparatus of the Fourth Republic is still in place.

A female student from Bolívar also intervenes in the debate. She pays a very fitting tribute to the two fallen workers by quoting the Communist folk singer Alí Primera: "Los que mueren por la vida, no pueden llamarse muertos" ("Those who die for life, cannot call themselves dead").

Workers and students... united in struggle!

After the discussion, a collection is organized. The objective is to collect 600 Bolivars for the comrades of VIVEX who have been struggling four months without any wages. A comrade who visited the factory in December told us how the workers there celebrated Christmas in the factory with their wives and children. But they did not have any money for presents. One boy informed the comrade, that his father had taken him for a walk in the park. This was the best present that he could ever imagine.

The comrade who recounted this small anecdote stressed that he did not want to be sentimental or anything like that, but that he thought that this small incident served to illustrate the seriousness of the struggle in the factory and also of the collection. And the young comrades in the assembly, who are mainly students, took it in this spirit. The collection raised 840 Bolivars, thus exceeding the target by almost one third! The VIVEX workers receive the money and are clearly moved by our modest effort to help them.

A collection for the comrades of VIVEX who have been struggling four months without any wages raised 840 Bolivars.
A collection for the comrades of VIVEX who have been struggling four months without any wages raised 840 Bolivars.

The enthusiasm of the 85 young comrades is amazing. Even at 11pm, after dinner, the comrades insist on organising a small demonstration to the MMC factory to give moral support to the comrades. Thus, a procession moves off, with our banner in front that carries the text "Gathering of Young Marxists of the J-PSUV", the hammer and sickle and the logo of the CMR and of the PSUV.

When we reach the MMC factory, the slogans we hear are; "Obreros y estudiantes, unidos en combate", [Workers and students united in the struggle] "Oye patrón, ven pa' que veas, es el obrero que te va a dar la pelea", [Listen boss, come here and see that it is the workers who is going to fight you].

The MMC workers at first are surprised. They thought that it was the counter-revolutionary management officials of the MMC who were marching against the factory occupation! But when they saw that it is Marxist youth who are marching in their support they are very moved and quickly open the factory gates. In the courtyard, we organise an assembly of workers and youth.

Nelson Rodríguez, a worker at Inveval and leading member of the CMR gives a short introduction and then goes on to present speakers from all the different regions in Venezuela and also internationalists from Mexico, Bolivia, Denmark and Spain. For my part, I assure the workers there that the Hands Off Venezuela campaign has given them firm support and will continue to do so.

The workers are extremely moved, some of them with tears in their eyes. They give us a warm applause and one of the workers explains to us the decisions of the workers' assembly, etc. The whole session is recorded on video. The workers present want to show it to all their workmates. They are very proud of the fact that a sizeable delegation of youth and PSUV activists support them.

Trade unionism of a "new type"

Having the opportunity to speak to several workers, I am able to understand why the struggle of the MMC workers has been transformed into a nationwide point of reference. The first thing that strikes me is the organization of the SINGETRAM (the trade union at MMC). This union was born out of a struggle against yellow trade unionism. Before the bosses' lockout in 2002, the CTV [The old corrupt trade union confederation] had the majority in the plant. But the workers around Félix Martinez, the present General Secretary of SINGETRAM, carried out a hard struggle to win the majority and establish themselves as the majority union in the plant.

SINGETRAM is organized with some 200 "workers' delegates" that are elected by the 1200 workers and are subjected to the right of re-call. These delegates are then organized into different "cells", where all fields of the work are organized; propaganda, legal negotiations and bargaining, audio and video, membership, and so on.

Another striking thing is the political level of the workers at MMC. It is impressive to see the number of cadres that they have, not just one or two, but tens of agitators who can speak with firmness and courage about their struggle. But they don't restrict themselves to the purely trade unionist side of the struggle. They always maintain that their struggle is part of the Bolivarian revolution in general and against the bourgeois state apparatus in particular.

Marxist Youth Gathering with 85 youth from all over Venezuela
Marxist Youth Gathering with 85 youth from all over Venezuela

This is a product of their serious attitude towards theory. On a weekly basis they organize political meetings with the workers, presenting videos about the experiences of past revolutions and workers' struggles around the world. This serves to raise the political consciousness of the workers. On the other hand, the CMR also has a branch in the factory, where a group of workers are studying the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.

Another thing that amazes me about the MMC workers is their attitude to the people in general. They do not have a narrow-minded outlook, something that characterizes many reformist trade unionists - even the more honest ones ‑ but take bold initiatives to widen the struggle among the poor population. They have made a continuous effort to meet up and unite with communal councils and community activists. They also participated actively in the referendum campaign for the YES-vote. It was precisely for this reason that hundreds of activists from Communal Councils came out to defend the struggle on January 29.

The comrades of SINGETRAM call this type of trade union organization "sindicalismo de nuevo tipo" ("Trade unionism of a new type"). And surely, if we compare the marvellous SINGETRAM union to the national coordinators of the UNT, such as Orlando Chirino, Marcela Máspero, etc., we see a clear difference. If "Trade-unionism of a new type", that Félix Martinez and his comrades in SINGETRAM advocate were applied to the whole of the UNT, the situation would be completely different. Instead of internal fussing and fighting between various groupings who are all seeking positions and careers, we would have a real militant UNT that could put the working class in the vanguard of the revolution and push for the complete abolition of Capitalism.

Dual power in the factory

Learning more and more about the organization of the Mitsubishi workers, all the missing parts of the puzzle fall into place. I realize, that the firing of the 135 workers of INDUSERVICE was only the straw that broke the camel's back. What the MMC bosses were aiming at with the assault on the factory on January 29 was not just to end the occupation, but also to kill the trade union leaders and teach the workers a bloody lesson.

The matter of the fact is that there is a special situation at MMC. The trade union has grown so strong that it is able to challenge the power and authority of the bosses. In other words, a situation of dual power is present. This is dangerous, very dangerous for the MMC management.

And the impact of this state of affairs has spread to the other factories in the area. VIVEX, Macusa and Toyota have all been occupied over the last months, as has Unicasa. The MMC workers constitute a dangerous example from the point of view of the ruling class, the bourgeoisie of Anzoátegui and the whole of Venezuela. Why? Because they know that tomorrow there will be tens and even hundreds of Mitsubishis if they do not put an end to this example.

The present agreement is indeed a ceasefire in the war. A situation of dual power cannot last indefinitely. Either the workers or the bourgeois power must prevail. Any long term compromise will prove to be impossible.

While this particular factory occupation at MMC is now over, the future will see new battles between workers and management. The workers will use this ceasefire to recover their wages and strengthen the trade union. But they will also reinforce the work in other factories and the building of a strong Anzátegui UNT. In this context, the building of factory cells of the CMR is crucial, not just in MMC and Vivex, but in all the factories located in the "Los Montones" area.

On Sunday we left Barcelona with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot new knowledge. First and foremost, we felt that the unity between workers and youth was put into practice in a very unique way. A student comrade asked me if it were possible to stay at VIVEX and MMC longer "in case they needed assistance in the struggle". Unfortunately, he and his classmates had to go back to University. But the main point is that the best assistance that the workers can be given is the organization of a Revolutionary Marxist Tendency, not only in the factories, but in every corner of society, in the schools, universities and communities.

(March 23, 2009)

[Note: For a detailedbalance-sheet of the struggle at Mitsubitshi, please see: Mitsubishi Venezuela: Under pressure an agreement is reached to put an end to the occupation]


More photographs of the Marxist Youth Gathering

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