On October 16 the ESF delegates had the chance to get a first hand report on the current situation in Colombia and Venezuela. The Colombia Solidarity Campaign and Hands Off Venezuela, supported by Marxist.com organised a workshop at the European Social Forum to explain the situation of the trade unions in these two Latin American countries. Around 65 campaigners, trade unionists and youth filled an already tiny room. The room was so full that some members of the audience had to sit on the floor!
Jeremy Dear speaking at the meeting
The meeting started with a contribution from Jeremy Dear. The NUJ General Secretary gave an account of the situation for trade unionists based on his own experience as a member of a TUC delegation to Colombia. The audience was terrified when they listened to all the security measures that trade union activists are forced to observe. He pointed out that the trade union and peasant leaders are currently slaughtered and tortured by the army and the paramilitaries because they are in the forefront of the struggle against privatisation. Jeremy Dear compared the Colombian conditions with the Venezuelan situation for trade unionists and he highlighted the freedom that trade unions enjoy in Venezuela. He closed his contribution appealing to the audience to campaign for the defence of the Venezuelan revolution and in defence of the Colombian trade union activity against US imperialism.
After the NUJ General Secretary spoke, Jorge Martin (Hands Off Venezuela International Secretary) explained the origins of the Venezuelan UNT in relation to the defeat of the bosses lock-out at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003. He also said that in spite of the fact that the labour movement in Venezuela has not led the revolution, the workers played a very important role in the defeat of the lock-out and they even installed workers’ control in some PDVSA (state oil company) plants and occupied factories as a measure to protect production against the bosses’ sabotage. On the links between the Chavez government and the UNT he pointed out that there is a healthy and friendly relation between trade union and government. However, the UNT is completely autonomous from the government. In fact the UNT has openly expressed disagreement with some measures taken by the government.
Dave Raby, recently arrived from Caracas after finishing a seminar at the Venezuelan Bolivarian University, also contributed to the discussion. Dave Raby analysed the origins of the Venezuelan Revolution. He explained how the conscious action of the Venezuelan masses has changed the whole country. Mr Raby stated: “What is happening in Venezuela is the beginning of a revolutionary breakthrough”. He gave a full account of the “Misiones” (social programmes on healthcare, housing, etc.) and how the actual implementation is due to the autonomous organisations in the communities. He also talked about how the economic treaties sponsored by the Venezuelan government seek to oppose the US backed treaties like the FTAA.
Gonzalo Gomez from Aporrea.org (the main left-wing political website in Venezuela) began his contribution by talking about the “reciprocal solidarity” between Venezuela and the peoples of Europe and other advanced countries. He expressed the Venezuelan people’s rejection of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He linked the attacks launched by the US on Iraq with the active intervention of the US administration in Venezuela to plot against the revolution. In his contribution he also stressed the need to push for the alternative media. He stated, “We cannot rely on the bosses media”. He said that the media should be linked to the community and the labour movement. Gonzalo Gomez also hailed the process whereby the CTV (the tool of the oligarchy within the trade union movement) is being replaced by the UNT, the new and anti-capitalist trade union. One of the main concerns of the Aporrea.org editor was the bureaucratisation of the movement and the state apparatus in Venezuela. In order to stop this bureaucratisation the process which has been called “revolution within the revolution” was badly needed. He also said that the Venezuelan government was a popular government but not a government of the workers and the people yet because the bosses were still sacking workers. However, he denied that the Chavez government was a bosses’ government and he enthusiastically supported all the progressive measures implemented by the government and the favourable conditions for the class struggle in Venezuela.
Andy Higginbottom introduced the Killer-Cola campaign. This campaign is the actual implementation of an international appeal launched by SINALTRAINAL (food and beverages processing workers’ union in Venezuela) to raise awareness of the awful situation of the Colombian activists and to expose the Coca-Cola corporation for its involvement in the assassination of a long list of their workers and shop stewards actively involved in the union. He also linked the struggle against imperialism in Colombia with the Bolivarian Revolution. A victory for the Venezuelan Revolution will be a step forward in the struggle against imperialism and its puppets in Colombia. After his speech a very interesting question and answer session took place.