Workers take to the streets of Venezuela - A new chapter opens in the Revolution

"The demonstration was solidly proletarian in character, many decorated with their red shirts, caps and banners. It was very noticeable that many protesters were women and children, who had come to appeal to the President with their home-made banners, placards and posters of the President himself." Another report of the demonstration by Rob Sewell in Caracas.

Today, in the week before Christmas, the bustling streets of central Caracas echoed with the sound of demonstrating workers and their families. Despite the drizzle, nearly a thousand protesters from Sanitarios Maracay and other factories took to the capital to call on the Bolivarian government of President Hugo Chavez to carry through the expropriation of Sanitarios. They carried banners proclaiming "Factories Occupied, Factories Nationalised" and "No to Capitalism".

The demonstration was solidly proletarian in character, many decorated with their red shirts, caps and banners. Others marched in working clothes with the names of their factories on their shirts. Coaches arrived in the capital from Maracay packed with workers from the Sanitarios plant. Other workers came from different places, such as Inveval and Snack's, to express their class solidarity with their brothers and sisters. A good number were members of FRETECO (Frente Revolucionario de trabajadores de empresas en cogestion y ocupadas), which had spear-headed the struggle at Maracay and drew together the workers of occupied factories, nationalised plants and those under workers' control. It was very noticeable that many protesters were women and children, who had come to appeal to the President with their home-made banners, placards and posters of the President himself. Workers' children were given pride of place at the head of the demonstration carrying a giant Venezuelan flag. They represented the future. And that constituted the essence of the struggle.

At the front, a truck carrying a huge sound system broadcast the workers' appeal far and wide. Direct calls were made to the myriad of small stallholders along the route to support the workers' struggles as leaflets were handed out to the crowds milling on the pavements. As the demonstration snaked its way into the centre, workers busy repairing roads and drains enthusiastically greeted the marchers. There was a great enthusiasm and a feeling of confidence as workers exchanged views. In a display of working class unity, clenched fists were raised in the air amid cries of solidarity from both sides. The struggle in Maracay was their struggle. It was their day.

In scenes reminiscent of the French Revolution, the mass demonstration assembled at the entrance of the National Assembly, calling on the deputies to come and show their support. This is no idle comparison. The French Revolution unfolded in a series of stages between 1789 and 1793, one stage more to the left than the previous one. This was brought about by the intervention of the revolutionary Sans-culottes which periodically besieged the Convention. Outside the Venezuelan National Assembly, the militant voices of workers and their families were demanding to be heard. Speaker after speaker addressed the crowd, including from the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign, the International Marxist Tendency and its Venezuelan section, the Revolutionary Marxist Current (CMR). Every demand for action and solidarity was enthusiastically taken up by the crowd. Eventually, the Bolivarian deputies agreed to meet the workers and hear their case. The workers and their families regarded this as a victory in bringing their just cause to the attention of the National Assembly.

After the speeches, the workers chose a delegation to meet with the Bolivarian deputies. Interestingly, the workers appointed not only three UNT leaders, but also a representative of the CMR to represent their interests. This shows the fund of credit won by the Tendency in its consistent work and correct tactics.

The workers could feel that this was an historic day. It represented the opening of a new chapter in the Venezuelan Revolution and a reawakening of the class struggle. Just ten days after the magnificent victory of Chavez in the presidential elections, workers had marched on the National Assembly and the Palace of Miraflores to demand action against capitalism. There have been many different demonstrations and marches in the past, but this was a qualitatively different one, representing a new phase. These workers had voted solidly for Chavez ten days earlier, but now wanted action by the government to nationalise their plant. For the mass of workers, the 60% plus vote for Chavez is regarded as a massive victory and a signal for fundamental change. Today, in central Caracas, the working class, armed with its own independent class demands, had taken to the streets. It represents a decisive shift in the revolution, where the working class are demanding that the promises of socialism be translated into deeds.

This movement of the workers of Sanitarios Maracay, who had occupied their plant only a month ago, and its demand to expropriate the factory, is taking place in a new environment. Two years ago the nationalisation of Venepal was carried through. This also marked an important juncture in the struggle of the Venezuelan working class. Today, however, the pressure to nationalise Sanitarios is taking place amid the context of a heated discussion about socialism. Under such conditions, the actions of a section of workers, engaged in factory occupation and demanding nationalisation, can act as a catalyst for the revolutionary movement. This concrete action serves to cut across the fog of generalities and sharply poses the way forward. Above all, it sets a clear example to other factories facing closure or sabotage. It gives real meaning and content to the measures needed for socialism in the 21st century.

Those at the forefront of this struggle in Maracay have been the FRETECO and the CMR. They have acted as a conscious lever to assist the workers. They have made conscious the unconscious feelings of the workers to overthrow capitalism and change society. The workers and their families have responded with determination and courage. They are determined to win! They are determined to break down all obstacles! They have no time for bureaucracy or lame excuses for the failure to act. The factory is running out of raw materials for production. Only decisive action can save the plant. The attempts behind the backs of the workers to bring in new capitalist owners have been rejected. For the workers at Sanitarios Maracay only nationalisation under workers' control can save the situation. A successful struggle to achieve these ends can open the floodgates. It will be a blow against the reformists and bureaucrats who want to sabotage the movement. It will reinvigorate and bring new spirit to the revolution.

After a brief report back from the meeting with the deputies, the demonstration voted to march on the Palace of Miraflores. However, as we made our way towards the Palace, Avenida Urdaneta was blocked by riot police. It graphically revealed the fact that sections of the capitalist state were still intact. The revolution is only half completed and is under threat primarily from internal opposition. After some negotiations, a deputation of workers, again containing a representative of the CMR, was allowed through to Miraflores. This time, the workers met with representatives from the Ministry. Although outwardly sympathetic, they raised all kinds of difficulties, mainly legalistic, shifting responsibility for any decision on other officials' shoulders. After much shuffling of feet, there was even a suggestion that the problem was not with the government but with the workers! They needed to sort themselves out, it was suggested, as there were administration staff who were not in favour of nationalisation, and then come back sometime in the future. The response of the workers was that this was totally unacceptable. The vast majority of the workers at Sanitarios, and all of the production workers, were in favour of nationalisation. We must abide by the will of the majority. It was the responsibility of the government to act. A new meeting was rescheduled for the New Year.

The old state machine is a constant danger to the revolution. It serves to paralyse the revolution at every level, all in the name of the Bolivarian Revolution. Chavez has recognised this and has launched a struggle against corruption and bureaucracy. This is a welcome initiative, but the whole rotten machine, left over from the Fourth Republic, has to be thrown onto the scrap heap. This will require the mobilisation of the masses, the election of all officials, with the immediate right of recall. It will mean the rotation of all responsibilities to prevent bureaucracy. All officials must be on the average wage of a skilled worker to eliminate privilege.

Today, given this resistance by the state bureaucracy, the road to the nationalisation of Sanitarios Maracay will not be easy. This bureaucratic resistance must be broken. The struggle must be stepped up, including the need for a new workers' state. That is the only way to win in this struggle of living forces. The UNT leadership must throw its full weight behind the workers. The struggle must be broadened and spread to other factories. The workers and their families have the will to win. Such a victory will dramatically change the situation and put down a decisive mile-stone in the Venezuelan Revolution. It must be the opening shot in the expropriation of the entire capitalist class, bankers and landowners and the creation of a genuine workers' democracy based on the will of the majority. Such a development would transform the entire continent and make reality of the dream of Bolivar, the unity of Latin America, but on the basis of workers' power.

December 14, 2006