Venezuela: Workers at URAPLAST Vote to Take Over Factory

In a meeting on May 31 over 200 workers decided to take over URAPLAST. This is a factory which manufactures sewage pipes and wiring for homes, and is located in the city of Acarigua, in the state of Portuguesa.

20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is critical to reflect on how this turning point in history has been used politically to pronounce the death of socialism and shape how we formulate discussions around economic systems today. With the current financial crisis, the failures of capitalism as a political, economic, and social system have ushered in a new era of debate around the question of socialism internationally. This debate is developing with great intensity in Venezuela, where it is no longer simply a discussion taking place between intellectuals within the confines of academic circles, but rather, one that has begun to permeate every neighborhood, factory, and school.

The Bolivarian revolution, which began as a project of national liberation, initially held that the transformation of society could be achieved in the electoral arena. This is a very familiar concept, namely, that through the changing of laws, the government (with the Constituent Assembly as its vehicle) could put an end to poverty and achieve the creation of a truly egalitarian society. The myth of governmental sovereignty under the capitalist system came to an end, however, when the process began to clash with the interests of the bourgeoisie - who control the means of production and are bound by a thousand threads to foreign capital. The conflict over the ownership of the means of production has come to the point where the struggles of today have moved beyond the electoral process and are taking place around the fight for workers' control over production.

One illustration of this process is powerfully demonstrated by the workers of URAPLAST, who are currently engaged in a struggle for workers' control. The momentum caused by the various nationalizations which Chavez recently announced, and the example of Inveval (a factory which is currently operating under workers' control), has unleashed a feeling of possibility which is deeply reflected in the workers of URAPLAST. In a meeting on Sunday, May 31, with over 200 attendees, the workers decided to take over the company.

Developments in URAPLAST

URAPLAST is a factory which manufactures sewage pipes and wiring for homes, and is located in the city of Acarigua, in the state of Portuguesa. And yet, after operating for over 30 years, the plant has yet to contribute significantly to the state of Portuguesa or the country in general, and even less so to its workers. Because of the high cost of the products it produces, the company has not yet been a significant factor in helping to solve the Venezuelan housing crisis, and there have been no steps taken to improve the job security of the workforce. The constant attacks and harassment by the owners of the company against the workers resulted in a call to organize. The meeting this past Sunday was the fruit of these attacks, and resulted in the workers standing up to demand their rights, and voting for the immediate occupation of the factory.

The assembly began at 11 AM in a local park, and included the participation of more than 200 workers, VIVE TV, and the Revolutionary Marxist Tendency (CMR), all of whom played a role in determining the ultimate decisions of the assembly. The first speaker was the president of the URAPLAST union, who talked about conditions in the factory. He spoke of the workers who had gone more than 9 months without receiving their wages, the hiring of outsourced work which violates the labor law, and outlined the workers' basic demands - such as health, housing, and education. He said that the union had gone through all public institutions and had yet to receive an answer, which is what finally pushed the workers to the point of considering taking over the factory.

The next speaker was the union's secretary general, who laid out a proposal to be submitted to the national government, which called for the nationalization of the company. By doing this, production would become cheaper, and hence would become available for the benefit of the people, providing a boost in the national housing plan. Then came two speakers from the CMR, Elias Chacon and Pedro Delgado, who expressed full solidarity with the workers and their support for the factory takeover, but who also presented critical proposals for the struggle of URAPLAST to end successfully. The proposals were based on the experience of the PSUV and the experience of other struggles occurring nationally. They called for the need to publicize what has been happening at the company in order to gain broad support, and to reach out to the community by distributing leaflets and propaganda in as many sites as possible. They also stressed the need to create organizational committees prior to the takeover, to immediately establish a committee of management, finance, propaganda, and logistics (food, first aid, etc.).

The reason for prioritizing the creation of these committees and the need to focus on advance preparation was drawn from the hard-learned lessons of struggles such as the one at Mitsubishi, where the workers had to confront not only the interests of the multinational corporation they were fighting, but also the full power of the apparatus of the bourgeois state. This experience showed that even with diligent preparation, the struggle required battling many enemies at once. After a long debate, the proposals made by the CMR were accepted by workers, who proceeded to form various committees. In the end, a vote was taken postpone the occupation of the factory until Friday afternoon.

For those of us outside the daily fights taking place in Venezuela, the workers of URAPLAST serve as a striking example of the need to expropriate the means of production and establish workers' control immediately. The only force capable of carrying out the projects of the Bolivarian Revolution is the working class, and in the words of one of the URAPLAST workers: "What we understand now is, that the revolution isn´t something that is happening outside of here ... we are creating it."