[Marxism] Venezuelan trade unionists discuss workers' management and factory occupations

Jorge Martin jorge at marxist.com
Tue Oct 25 14:15:47 MDT 2005


Venezuelan trade unionists discuss workers' management and factory
occupations
http://www.handsoffvenezuela.org/national_gathering_recovered_companies241005.htm

By Jorge Martin in Caracas -
www.handsoffvenezuela.org<http://www.handsoffvenezuela.org/>
Monday, 24 October 2005

Workers' representatives and trade union activists from around the country
met in Caracas on October 21-22, in the National Gathering of Workers
towards the Recovery of Companies. The main aim of this meeting, called by
Venezuela's National Workers' Union (UNT), was to bring together workers
involved in experiences of factory occupations and different forms of
workers' management.

The meeting was called in preparation for the 1st Latin American Gathering
of Companies Recovered by the Workers, which will take place in Caracas on
October 27-29. ( http://www.mintra.gov.ve/encuentro_latinoamericano/). The
Latin American Gathering is jointly organised by workers in occupied
factories in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela, the Venezuelan UNT
and the Uruguayan PITCNT, and has the support of the Ministry of Labour in
Venezuela. Workers from occupied and recovered factories from Argentina,
Brasil, Uruguay, Perú, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Panama will participate.

At the National Gathering there were workers present from Invepal (formerly
Venepal), where the workers had struggled for expropriation under workers'
control of the paper mill that had been declared bankrupt by its formers
owners. There were also representatives from Inveval (formerly CNV), the
valve-making factory which the workers had occupied for more than two years.
The workers finally won the expropriation of the factory under some sort of
workers' management. There were also workers from the state owned
electricity generator and distributor CADAFE, where the attempts of the
workers to introduce *cogestion* (as workers' management is known here) have
clashed with the attempt of the managers of the company to maintain their
decision making power. A total of 200 workers from all over the country,
both from the public and private sector, were present.

One of the first speakers at the gathering was Eduardo Murua, president of
the Argentinean "Movement of Recovered Companies - MNER" (
http://www.mnerweb.com.ar/). He explained the experience of factory
occupations in Argentina as an alternative in the struggle against
unemployment and the destruction of jobs. The main emphasis of his speech
was on the idea that the workers can only rely on their own struggle and on
their own strength and said that workers in Venezuela should take the
initiative themselves and not wait for the government to give them the green
light. He argued that if a factory is closed down by the employers "the
workers should occupy it, try to start production, and discuss the legal
aspects later". He also explained how the MNER has managed to achieve higher
wages and shorter working hours than in similar companies in the private
sector, and then linked their experience to the struggle of workers in
private capitalist enterprises for the same conditions.

*Minister of Labour: factory occupations not a problem but the solution to a
problem*

Also present at the meeting was Minister of Labour Maria Cristina Iglesias.
She explained how the idea for the Latin American Gathering had come from
the workers themselves, particularly workers from recovered companies in
Argentina, Brasil and Uruguay. It was they, together with a number of trade
unions in the continent, that had asked President Chavez whether Venezuela
would host such a meeting. Iglesias said that when workers occupy factories
that have been abandoned and try to restart production, this should not be
seen "as a problem but rather as a solution to a problem" caused by the
bosses closing down these companies. She added that not taking action would
be like "dying of hunger in a supermarket and not daring to open a tin of
sardines". She emphasised that while there is unemployment maintaining a
"factory closed is a crime".
She underlined the importance of the Latin American Gathering since it meant
"that these struggles are no longer isolated". The meeting will have three
main axes, she explained, one for workers in occupied factories to exchange
experiences and draw political conclusions, another in which trade unions
and trade union organisations will also link up and discuss how to support
these struggles, and finally one in which governments and parliamentarians
from different countries will discuss the legal framework of this movement
of factories run by the workers. The Gathering will also include an
exhibition of videos and pictures of the occupied factories in the
continent. "They are not showing these examples because they are very
afraid," said Iglesias, who explained that such examples of companies that
in one way or another have been recovered by their workers exist even in the
United States. "We should never lose sight of where we come from and our
class".

 Minister Maria Cristina Iglesias also explained how this struggle of
companies recovered by the workers is linked to "what has always been our
goal: that the workers run production and that the governments are also run
by the workers".

Examples were given of how these worker-recovered companies can cooperate
beyond national borders. For instance paper mill Invepal could collaborate
with workers in printing companies in Argentina that are run by the workers.
The workers at occupied factory Cipla in Brasil could buy raw materials from
Venezuelan state-owned Pequiven and then sell some of its products to
Venezuelan state-owned oil industry PDVSA. Many such examples were
discussed, but it was also stressed that these should not be seen merely as
commercial exchanges, but rather should benefit all groups of workers
involved, through training, transfer of technology, etc.

*Workers management in strategic industries*

Another one of the speakers at the meeting in Caracas was professor Mike
Lebowitz. He went into some of the debates that are now taking place in
Venezuela in relation to workers' management. He explained how this is a key
part of the Bolivarian Revolution: "nothing will make the enemies of this
process happier than the failure of Venezuela's path to co-management,
because workers, especially in Latin America but elsewhere too, are starting
to look at the development of co-management here as a real alternative to
the despotism of the workplace". He also made clear the differences between
what is known as co-management in Venezuela and co-management in Germany,
where "it was a means of incorporating workers into the project of
capitalists … in Venezuela though, co-management is an alternative to
capitalism".

Lebowitz also discussed the flaws of self-management in Yugoslavia where
"the focus of workers within each firm was their own self interest" and
"what was missing was a sense of solidarity with society as a whole". As a
result this system in Yugoslavia operated "to increase inequality, to
breakdown solidarity of society – leading ultimately to the dismembering of
Yugoslavia." He explained that co-management in Venezuela is trying "to
avoid this particular mistake … it stresses that enterprises do not belong
to the workers alone – they are meant to be operated in the interest of the
whole of society".

Amongst other things, Mike Lebowitz also made his opinion clear on the
debate about whether there can be worker management in strategic industries.
"If industries like oil production and electricity generation and
distribution are to be excluded from co-management, what is that saying to
the workers in those industries?" he asked. "That we don't trust workers to
be able to make decisions in the interests of society? What kind of vision
for socialism of the 21st century is this?" He then added: "indeed, what are
you saying but that when decisions are important, capitalism, state
capitalism is the answer – but not co-management or socialism of the
21stcentury".

Lebowitz explained that these contradictions, and others, are normal and
implicit in the process and can be overcome "through democratic discussion,
persuasion and education". He ended up by saying that "nothing will make the
enemies of the Bolivarian revolution more unhappy than the success of
co-management".

*Workers must rely on their own strength*

Luis Primo, from the Caracas-Miranda Coordination of the UNT and member of
the Revolutionary Marxist Current, also spoke, giving the meeting a brief
outline of the history of the struggle for workers' management. He also
explained the destruction of Venezuela's manufacturing industry. According
to figures he gave, in 1999 there were nearly 12,000 manufacturing companies
in the country, but now the figure was less than 7,000, which meant a loss
of more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs. At the same time 90% of Venezuela's
companies were in the service sector. This extreme situation was due to the
fact that "capitalists are no longer interested in production" when they can
get much quicker returns through speculation. The main emphasis in his
speech was that the workers could only rely on their own strength and their
own struggle. He proposed that the UNT should set up teams in every region
of the country to organise the occupation and recovery of factories that
have been paralysed. He concluded by quoting from Marx when he said, "the
emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself".
Apart from the interesting contributions of the different speakers, the main
aspect of this meeting was the eagerness of workers' representatives to
participate in the debates. Dozens queued to explain the struggle in their
factories, the problems they faced from directors in the public sector when
trying to implement different forms of workers' management, the plans they
had to take over factories left idle by the bosses, etc. There were workers
from a recently reopened factory in Zulia which makes pipes for the oil
industry; workers from privately owned oil refinery Oxydor in Valencia,
fighting for expropriation under workers' control; workers from different
plants of the multinational Parmalat with the same demand, etc.

Even though some important groups of workers were absent from the meeting,
the mood of those present was enough to show that the expropriation of
Venepal and CNV earlier this year has opened the floodgates and that many
groups of workers around the country are now looking to them as an example
to follow. Significantly, all notebooks given to participants in the meeting
when they registered had been made in the new Invepal under workers'
management


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