The Bolivarian government against union autonomy - FAI

The Bolivarian government against union autonomy - FAI

From the Iberian Anarchist Federation's Tierra y Libertad website, an article describing and criticizing the government of Hugo Chávez and its attempts to co-opt the Venezuelan labor movement.

Orlando Chirino, a revolutionary Venezuelan labor leader, has recently denounced the Bolivarian government as "anti-worker and anti-union." It would be difficult to accuse Chirino of being a "golpista" 1 or an "ally of imperialism." In the year 2002 he condemned the coup, mobilizing to defend the state oil industry from the work stoppage driven by management leadership. In each occasion presented him, he supported and accompanied workers' attempts to control factories closed by their bosses. He is rooted among the workers and was made a leader in the Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT), the labor union promoted by his own president Chávez. If Orlando has been part of the so-called Bolivarian movement for many years, what has happened in 2009 to get him to make these kinds of statements about the government he once defended? The main part of the answer is: because Chirino is an iron defender of the unions' autonomy.

The attempt to control the workers' movement from above began as soon as Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela. In 1999 a clash began with the traditional Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), a labor union created in 1947 by the influence of Acción Democrática (AD) 2, and changed, since 1959, into the main negotiator of the labor policies developed by the state. Nevertheless, in spite of Chavismo's questions about the irregularities and vices of this organization, in the abscence of their own labor movement, they participated in its internal elections in October 2001. The Bolivarian candidate, Aristóbulo Isturiz, was defeated by the AD candidate Carlos Ortega, who became the president of the CTV. A year and a half later, repeating the same history of the CTV, the government created by decree what it called "the real labor union": the Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT), which quickly reproduced the corruption that it claimed to fight. One Marxist organization that participated in its foundation, Opción Obrera, says it more clearly than us: "The UNT was born under agreements from above, and was ridden for a show for the rank and file; few authentic union leaders had power in it... 3 The UNT was born with governmental protection, which lifted it up. The criticized "perks" of the old CTV unionism are now granted to the leaders of the UNT, who are staunch supporters of the government." Paradoxically, before the limited acceptance of the new labor union among the mass of workers, and the resistance of some sectors of the union to their cooptation, the Bolivarian power promoted new organizations in order to displace the UNT, as is the case of the Frente Socialista Bolivariano de los Trabajadores (FSBT).

A second milestone, justified with the argument of weakening the CTV bureaucracy, was the promotion of the so-called "union parallelism" 4 from the seat of government, creating unions artificially, from outside, in the principal industries of the country. In this way Chavismo would be able to publicize that with almost 700 registered unions, the Bolivarian process has promoted the organization of workers like nothing has before. However, this rise of the unions did not mean their greater influence on labor policies. One indicator is the end of the discussion of collective contracts in the public sector, counting 243 expired, paralyzed and unsigned contracts at the end of 2007, in a sector that in May 2009 employs 2,244,413 people, a quarter of those contracted by the private sector.

The decisions on salaries, labor conditions, and labor law are made unilaterally by the institutions of the state, after which they are mechanically ratified by the spokespersons of the UNT. In addition to the fragmentation and loss of capacity for pressure and negotiation, union parallelism has exacerbated the disputes for control of those workplaces in the areas of oil and construction - in which the union can place 70 out of 100 recruits - which have increased the cases of assassination of union leaders and workers in inter-union strife. Between June 2008 and when this text was written, there have been 59 murders that spread with the greatest impunity.

A third element is the creation of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), a partisan body that, in president's own words, should absorb all organizations that support the Bolivarian process, including the unions. A few defended the independence of the workers' organizations, but dissent from the official line was not tolerated. In march of 2007 Chávez affirmed in a speech "The unions should not be autonomous... we must end with that," which was followed by successive declarations in the same line, reaching the zenith in march of 2009, when after ridiculing the demands of the basic industries of Guayana - the biggest industrial belt of the country - he threatened to use the police to crush any attempts at demonstrations or strikes there. For a revolutionary like Orlando Chirino, it was unbearable, stating at the time that it "constituted a declaration of war against the working class."

Various initiatives are currently being developed to increase control over the country's workers. For one thing, laws have been passed that limit and criminalize protest, requiring people to report periodically to the courts, in addition to prohibiting them from participation in meetings and demonstrations, such as occurred this past July 13 to 5 union leaders of the oil refinery of El Palito, in the west of the country. According to figures from spokespersons of the affected communities, at least 2,200 people would be currently subject to the scheme. It must be brought out that, curiously, more than 80% are part of the movement to support the national government. This detail is significant because since 2008 has come increasing social unrest in the face of the miseries and limitations of material life for workers on the ground. The protests for social rights have displaced the mobilizations for political rights, that set the scene during the years 2002 and 2006. The failure to meet the expectations generated by Bolivarian rhetoric, the weakening of patronage networks by declining oil revenues and the stagnation and decline of effective social policies, known as "missions," have catalyzed the accumulated unrest in the absence of profound transformations that significantly improve the quality of life for the majority of the country. Another initiative underway, again by decree from above, is the replacement of unions with "workers' councils" for discussing work conditions in companies, a proposal entered in the reform of the Organic Labor Law (LOT), a regulation that has been discussed in secret in the National Assembly, an executive that is promoted around the world as a champion of "participatory democracy."

Other laws, that seem to have no connection to the world of work, have also been restricting workers' rights. That's the case with the reformed Law of Land Transit, which in its article 74 prohibits the closure of streets to obstruct pedestrian and vehicle traffic, which has been the historical practice of protest by the popular sectors, especially in demanding their labor rights. Meanwhile, on August 15 an Organic Law of Education was passed, which has provoked protest by opposition groups for its secularism and for establishing strict regulations for private education institutions. However, what this center-right and social-democratic opposition does not question, much less Chavismo, are the limitations to the right of association, unionization, and collective bargaining, which is not guaranteed. One sign of the reactionary character of the order is section 5.f of the first transitional provision, which states that teachers and professors engage in serious misconduct "by physical aggression, speech, and other forms of violence" against their superiors. To make matters worse, the fifth transitional provision regulates the use of scabs "for reasons of proven necessity" in order to break strikes and work stoppages, a practice that has become habitual in so-called "Bolivarian Venezuela." In addition, the Chavista movement has driven an onslaught against the media outlets that don't accommodate the government, whose principle motivation is the visibility of the conflicts and protests that they provide, in contrast with the scarce coverage of the state and para-state media, self-declared "alternative and community," but without editorial and financial independence of any kind.

The role of Venezuelan anarchists in this moment of fracture of Bolivarian hegemony is to participate, accompany, and radicalize the conflicts, from below and with the people, and in this way to stimulate the recovery of the belligerent autonomy of the social movements. They must also become actively involved in the construction of a different, revolutionary alternative to the inter-bourgeois conflict for the control of the oil revenues that has engulfed the political scene in recent years, fighting the Bolivarian bourgeoisie in power with the same impetus as the potential rearticulations of those political parties it has displaced. In this way we walk, as always, without giving any concession to power and having our old values (self-management, direct action, anticapitalism and mutual aid, among others) as a bright horizon.

Translated by Dan Knutson
Original Spanish article:
Taken from Anarkismo

  • 1. Literally a "coup-ist," the connotation is a national traitor
  • 2. AD is a Venezuelan center-left party
  • 3. Literally "in the direction converged few authentic leaders with union trajectory"
  • 4. "Parallel association" might be a better translation


May 5 2011 17:23

The nature of the state.

May 27 2012 04:04

I recently read Rafael Uzcategui's book on Venezuela which takes the same line.

I'm still thinking it over. I received a rather harsh reply from one of your bloggers (Caiman) who reveiwed the book.

I do admit there is considerable truth about the limits of the Chavez regime. In the US (I live in Raleigh, NC) I am easily irritated by complacent Obama-is-the-lesser-of-evils people.

Nevertheless, the anarchists do seem to repeat many of the same points as the right wing opposition. And they do seem to be playing into the opposition's hands. With Chavez seriously ill, the right is certainly preparing for a new power grab. But Uzcategui and Caiman seem to think that it is all just a spectacle. There's no difference between Chavez and the 'right' as if the billions of dollars of oil money couldn't possibly be a causa bellum.

Note: Uzcategui believes that since Venezuelan oil is on the market, Chavez hasn't really helped fight market forces.

Isn't anyone else thinking about this?

May 27 2012 08:54
jdoggg wrote:
But Uzcategui and Caiman seem to think that it is all just a spectacle. There's no difference between Chavez and the 'right' as if the billions of dollars of oil money couldn't possibly be a causa bellum.

Sorry jdoggg but may I suggest you reread both the book and the review because neither of them say this. It looks like you have read the book title but not bothered with what is between the covers.

As for making the same arguments as the right*. What do you suggest? That we arn't critical of regimes? TBH not criticizing Castro, Chavez et al. is exactly this lesser-of-two-evils thing you are moaning about.

*they arn't the same as the right, this is leftist tosh

May 27 2012 11:14
jdoggg wrote:
Nevertheless, the anarchists do seem to repeat many of the same points as the right wing opposition.

I'm not familiar enough with the arguments around Chavez to be able to comment on this specifically - actually it might be helpful if you could provide some examples to illustrate your point, since it's a claim that has come up both here and on the blog post. However, I've had similar comments directed at me about other leftist superheroes - Lenin, Trotsky, etc. - and so suspect the same logic may apply.

Obviously there will be some case in which right wingers and anarchists are calling attention to the same issue. Discussing Lenin, for example, things like authoritarianism, the Cheka, etc. will come up, with Trotsky, the Red Army and of course Kronstadt. However, while both groups may reference the same incidents and criticisms, the goal of the argument and the context in which it appears is quite different.

The right draw attention to the crimes of "socialist" governments in order to argue for capitalism as the supposedly more humane option. Anarchists do so (in part) to demonstrate that those governments could be just as brutal, exploitative, authoritarian and unequal as the very capitalists they claimed to oppose.

Same issues, yes - but in a different context, for different reasons, with different goals in a different debate. Different argument.

I can't help but wonder if that's what you're seeing here.

Rob Ray
May 27 2012 11:43
Nevertheless, the anarchists do seem to repeat many of the same points as the right wing opposition.

We sometimes repeat the same criticisms of the right as the Trots too but that doesn't make us the SWP.

Criticism is often both obvious and universal, it's solutions which differ. The right might criticise Chavez for his autocratic behaviour, but it'll never advocate the abolition of capital and the institution of decentralised federal structures of organisation as an alternative or the institution of mass non-hierarchical workers' organisations as a means of reining Chavez in.

May 27 2012 22:19

Thanks for replying RobRay, Jonthom, and Arbeiten.

I am surprised at the touchiness of y'lls ( 2nd person plural possessive used in North American south) defense of anarchism. To be honest, it reminds me somewhat of the Marxist grouplets, each with their particular take on why the Soviet Union failed. I am not really pro or anti anarchism. Such an ideological decision would be meaningless in Raleigh, NC USA, a place which is so backward that the school system is actually being consciously and openly resegregated. (I wish we had a little of the leftist 'tosh' you merrily dismissed).

I am, however, trying to think about Venezuela. I can, of course, understand that the same problem can be criticized from both the left and the right. I'm thinking that you haven't sat on a plane from Miami to Caracas and listened to the venomous hatred of the spoiled Latin American elite complaining about crime in Venezuela. Columbia, with its death squads, is fine by the standards of these people. I am just so used to crime being an issue reserved for property owning, moralistic rightists.

I think Arbeiten didn't really get my point when I said that I lose patience with the-lesser-of-two-evils argument. I was directing the irony at myself, fully aware that, to the extent that I'm defending Chavez, I'm doing exactly the same thing as the American liberals I know ( and generally don't respect) who defend Obama. Maybe a little closer reading and a little less flame throwing?

Chavez is hammered in the book for working with the international oil industry. But what other choice is there? Venezuelans can't eat the oil, and without the oil revenue, Chavez would be forced into doing a Pol Pot, emptying the cities and repopulating the virtually empty Venezuelan interior. Chavez might rake off a larger portion of the oil money, but that's only quibbling about portion size.

I hope you can see I'm not an anti-anarchist, merely an unfortunate resident of a relatively backward portion of the Empire trying to understand matters that aren't discussed around here.

Juan Conatz
May 27 2012 22:32
jdoggg wrote:
I am surprised at the touchiness of y'lls

Uh, you're basically insinuating that criticism from the left of Chavez is the same as the right and didn't you also repeat slander about anarchists in Venezuela and the CIA? What makes you think people are not going to have a problem with that?

May 27 2012 23:05

What I said about the CIA: it crossed my mind that dampening leftist enthusiasm for Chavez and his movement would smooth the way for American military intervention. I also said that I dismissed this line of thinking as unduly 'paranoid' (in this case). The anarchist author, Uzcategui, acknowledged that he'd had such responses, understood them, and attributed them to the binary thinking characteristic of the whole Latin American situation.

Stepping back from Venezuela, my previous contact with anarchists led me to believe: 1) Anarchists, unlike Marxists, are less apt to argue about specifics. 2) Much of the current attraction of anarchism lies in the fact that there haven't yet been any anarchist Stalins. In other words, the ideology itself is kinda vague. Its appeal is sort of like the born again thing (remember I'm down here in the American south), a chance to start clean without the sins of the past. 3) Where Marxists aggressively flaunt their lack of style, their workerism, anarchists are cutting edge on style matters, lots of white kids with dreads. Style is fine, but I think it accounts for limited appeal across ethnic and racial lines.

I'm not saying that criticism from the left is necessarily the same as from the right. But at some point, we have to unite to fight Hitler (for instance). No?

Aug 16 2012 16:34
jdoggg wrote:

I'm not saying that criticism from the left is necessarily the same as from the right. But at some point, we have to unite to fight Hitler (for instance). No?


John E Jacobsen
Oct 19 2012 09:49
Arbeiten wrote:
jdoggg wrote:

I'm not saying that criticism from the left is necessarily the same as from the right. But at some point, we have to unite to fight Hitler (for instance). No?