The campaign to defend sacked Venezuelan trade union leader Orlando Chirino is gathering momentum within the country as well as internationally.
A national coordinator of the National Union of Workers (UNT) and an elected official in the oil industry union Sinutrapetrol, Chirino was sacked from his job in the state-owned oil company PDVSA at the end of last year.
Chirino argues that this is an act of “discrimination and political persecution” and that the decision to sack him was based on his opposition to President Chavez’s proposed constitutional reforms at the end of last year. He says the Ministry of Labor and the chavista Bolivarian Socialist Force of Workers (FSBT) are complicit in the victimisation.
Chirino has a long record as a socialist and trade union militant, leading the C-CURA rank and file grouping. His political activity pre-dates the rise of Chavez movement, when he fought the old CTV union bureaucrats. He was active in opposing the attempted coup to oust Chavez in April 2002 and involved in defending the oil industry when the oil bosses organised a lock out in 2002-2003. He became one of the leaders of the UNT in 2003 and was part of the majority pushing for elections within the federation in 2006. However he also critically supported Chavez in the presidential election in December 2006.
Chirino has received widespread support in Venezuela. Members of the Sutiss union, who are currently in a bitter dispute with their employer the Sidor steel firm, have pledged to support his reinstatement. He has the support of the Marea Socialista current, led by Stalin Perez Borges which is prominent within C-CURA and the UNT – although it broke with Chirino over the constitutional reforms and has joined Chávez’s PSUV party.
Hundreds of Latin American socialists have backed him. Since his case became known in Europe at the end of January, a number of organisations, including the LCR in France and the SWP in Britain have written letters to Chávez demanding his reinstatement. However the pro-chavista left in Britain have been largely silent – an absolute disgrace considering Chirino’s record and socialist politics.
The problem for the Chávez worshippers is that that Chirino’s case demonstrates once more the character of the regime from a working class point of view. Instead of ruminating about the r-r-revolutionary process in Venezuela, the left needs to look at the reality in Venezuela: the most prominent socialist and trade unionist is victimised by the state-run oil company because he wants a more independent course. Theoretically this points to the bourgeois Bonapartist character of the Chávez regime; practically it means choosing sides — Chávez or the workers’ movement.
The AWL has never been in any doubt about supporting the latter. But much of the left needs to sober up — and start by making solidarity with Chirino.