Socialist Worker

Venezuela: a society undergoing a radical transformation

Orlando Chirino is a member of the UNT, a new trade union federation in Venezuela. He spoke at a meeting at the NUJ journalists’ union headquarters in London about Venezuela’s "Bolivarian Revolution"

Issue No. 1969

Orlando Chirino taking part in a demonstration in support of co-management in the electrical industry earlier this year

Orlando Chirino taking part in a demonstration in support of co-management in the electrical industry earlier this year

To understand what is happening in Venezuela you have to go back to 1989 when there was a rebellion which became known as the Caracazo.

This was a response to a government that introduced an International Monetary Fund (IMF) package that included privatisation and increases in fuel prices.

On 4 February 1992 military officers led by Hugo Chavez organised a rebellion. It was unsuccessful militarily. But when Chavez appeared on television, admitting his role, it became a big political victory.

Rafael Caldera became president in 1994. He also supported the policies of the IMF.

A new alternative was built in Venezuela — through struggle in the streets and clashes with the Caldera government.

In the 1998 presidential election, Chavez won with 56 percent of the vote.

In elections for the new constituent assembly, those who supported Chavez won 90 percent of the vote.

We in the revolutionary trade union movement wanted a tribunal for the leaders of the old trade union federation, the CTV. They had controlled the unions undemocratically.

Chavez passed a number of new laws. The most important were the land reform laws, the fisheries law that regulated industrial fishing operations and the hydrocarbons law that protected the country’s oil from privatisation.

The opposition and the media began a campaign saying that Chavez was a dictator. There was an alliance between imperialism, the bosses and the CTV union bureaucracy.

In April 2002 they organised a “strike”.

This was not a strike in the normal sense — the bosses said they were going to close down the factories but still pay workers their wages.

There were clashes between the CTV bureaucracy and the Bolivarian Workers’ Front, which supporters of the revolutionary process — the Bolivarian Revolution — had set up.

On 11 April 2002 the opposition called a demonstration in the capital, Caracas, attended by about 500,000 people.

A number of military officers who supported the opposition came out openly against Chavez. He was taken away and for 47 hours we experienced fascism in Venezuela.

While the opposition were disbanding the national assembly and the supreme court, the new president, the head of the business federation, swore himself in.

Despite this, the Venezuelan people spontaneously came out on the streets and defeated the coup attempt.

After Chavez returned, he pardoned the coup plotters. They plotted a new coup attempt. This took the form of sabotage of the oil industry.

In September 2002 there was a national gathering of democratic and revolutionary trade unionists.

We decided to fight for the unconditional defence of the legitimate president, the continuation of the revolutionary process and the imprisonment of those who made the coup attempt.

In this way the Bolivarian Workers’ Front was able to confront the sabotage of the oil industry. The opposition launched their action in December 2002.

Oil workers were able to restart the industry without managers and bosses.

This was a revolution—a struggle of class against class. Oil and electricity accounts for 80 percent of state revenues. If the opposition had won they would have brought down the government. But we won.

We drew the conclusion that we had to build a new union federation, the UNT, in opposition to the old CTV. So the UNT was born out of a successful revolutionary struggle.

The UNT is independent of the political parties and the state. Our final aim is the abolition of private property and an end to exploitation.

But the UNT includes workers with every opinion. There are workers who support Chavez and those who oppose him. I’m a member of the left wing of the UNT.

Under Chavez, Venezuela has begun to implement a social programme.

There are healthcare programmes in the barrios around Caracas, thanks to 12,000 Cuban doctors who are based in these poor neighbourhoods.

Pre-school education is free for all, and children in pre-school education have three meals a day. There are many other similar programmes.

Many of the factories closed during the sabotage are being reopened. In some cases factories have been taken over by the workers.

In other cases there is an agreement between the old managers, the government and the workers.

By giving the bosses a chance to come on board, the president believes he can move forward without being accused of taking illegal action.

I have no doubt that the current situation will last a short time only. Socialism is not possible with bosses.

The situation of dual power expressed by workers’ participation in industry helps to build the confidence of workers to run industry.

It is important to build a revolutionary party, which doesn’t currently exist, to prepare for clashes to come in the future.

Workers and peasants are moving forward. There was a meeting on 9 July of trade union leaders where we made moves to launch a workers’ party for revolution and socialism.

I am convinced that we have to go beyond capitalism if we want to resolve the problems of the workers. In this I agree with what Chavez is now saying.

There is a discussion in Venezuela and across the continent, about where the Bolivarian Revolution is going.

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Sat 24 Sep 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1969
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