By Paul Hampton
The Venezuelan Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT) congress, held on the weekend of 25-27 May, broke up in acrimony, with two distinct tendencies holding separate plenaries by the end. The congress was the first the confederation has held since it was founded in August 2003.
What was the dispute over? Essentially the degree to which the union should be independent of the Chávez government. The immediate cause of the split was the date of elections for the UNT leadership. The more pro-Chávez current in the union wanted to put off elections until next year, in order to concentrate on getting 10 million votes for Chávez in the presidential elections in December.
Around three-quarters of the delegates supported the “class struggle current” CCURA, led by Orlando Chirino. The remaining quarter supported the pro-Chávez FBT led by Marcela Maspero and the Autonomía Sindical, led by Franklin Rondón.
According to reports on the Aporrea website, this minority walked out of the congress to hold its own parallel meeting.
The different currents had agreed a “Declaration of Principles and the UNT we want” and a “Programme and Plan of Struggle for Workers”.
The current around Chirino insisted that the leadership of the UNT must be elected as soon as possible, suggesting 15 September as the best date. (UNT coordinators were appointed at the outset). It also wanted to discuss problems of bureaucracy and corruption within the UNT. The vote was 702-137 in favour.
The same current, although defending Chávez against coups, the old oligarchy and US intervention, wants the UNT first and foremost to defend the interests of workers and remain independent of the government. It wants a different conception of trade union democracy, breaking from the practices of the discredited CTV. Some of the leaders of UNT-affiliated unions were previously members of the CTV.
Although Chirino and his closest supporters are in favour of voting for Chávez in December and joining the “10 million votes” drive, not everyone in their tendency agrees. Within the Party of Revolution and Socialism (PRS), which includes many CCURA leaders (such as Chirino), there is a debate about whether to back Chávez or stand their own candidate (see their paper Opción Socialista, March 2006).
A permanent split may not yet crystallise. The CCURA have proposed leaders of the two currents meet to discuss the UNT elections in a month.
A number of notable class struggles going on in Venezuela at present that indicate the problems workers face in the “Bolivarian Socialist Republic”.
Workers at the Sel-fex textile factory have been told that the company is bankrupt, despite six months of occupation of the plant. Around 240 workers, members of the textile union SUTRATEX are set to lose their jobs unless the government nationalises the factory.
Workers at the Orimalca company, a contractor for steel giant SIDOR, are facing an attack from bosses, who have torn up a collective agreement and are now denouncing their union SUTRAORIMALCA in the press.
Workers at the Droguería Race pharmacy company have been denied recognition of their union SUPROFARD, despite having been constituted legally and having the majority of workers supporting them. Management insist on negotiating with a company union, Unitrace.
And workers in Carabobo state have been fighting to defend public health care after the governor initiated plans to privatise public health facilities.
There are class lines in these battles, and most Chávista politicians are on the wrong side of the barricades. These struggles indicate why an independent UNT is absolutely necessary in Venezuela at present. They also indicate why workers need their own political party. Chávez’s government is not a workers’ government and his movement does not represent the interests of Venezuelan workers.
• More information:
Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, http://venezuelasolidarity.org.uk