[Marxism] Venezuelan Union Leader

sam pawlett gusm at uniserve.com
Wed Mar 22 17:39:34 MST 2006

A Venezuelan leader of the new UNT or National Union of Venezuelan 
Workers paid a visit to Vancouver speaking at ,I believe, three 
different times  and places. Luis Primo gave an intense and  informed 
presentation that covered a remarkable number of topics often in some 
detail. Speaking through a translator, he traced the history and the 
origins of the Ctv (the old Venezuelan workers central which is still 
the largest confederation in Venezuela) from the often explosive class 
struggle against the Perez Jimenez dictatorship of the 1940's  to its 
reactionary role in supporting the anti-Chavez coup of April 2002. He 
outlined the beginning  , development and ideas of the UNT now in its 
third year of existence and operating in all sectors of the Venezuelan 

Primo argued that the CTV has been central in working class struggles, 
organization and life  since 1940 -when it was founded- to today, with 
working class struggles being seminal in the historical development of 
the country, a fact often overlooked including by supporters of the 
Bolivarian revolution of today. The degeneration of the CTV began in the 
early to mid 1960's as working class and class struggles resulted in a 
coup d'etat in 1965 and the smashing of much working class organizations 
including CTV groups. As Venezuelan capitalists --especially in the 
Fedecameras chamber of commerce-- got together with foreign capitalists, 
the CIA and army joined together with them to form a strong united 
ruling class  that overpowered all opposition often through arrest and 
detainment, harassment, intimidation,torture and murder through death 

The outcomes were a guerrilla struggle where former civilian political 
activists, mostly from the communist party, challenged the forces of 
reaction through force of arms, a destroyed embryonic labor-civilian 
movement and ,not least,the takeover of the CTV leadership at all levels 
by the united ruling class elite which created special insitutions 
through the state, army and the CIA (the latter participating through 
its arm of the American AFL-CIO's AIFLD) to control the CTV and by 
extension the working class. The State could now impose the political 
stability demanded by foreign capital and government, the labor 
discipline necessary for increased profits and the austerity demanded by 
the IMF and allied banks in the implementation of their ideas. The 
result for workers was increased  exploitation, fear of job loss, fear 
of extreme poverty, fear of death and injury from the state and all 
things associated with IMF austerity.

Primo emphasized at length the degree to which the CTV, had become 
corrupt and bureacratized, had become solely a tool of local and foreign 
capital and imperialism, acting directly and very obviously against even 
the very immediate interests of the working class such as life and human 
rights. This was done through direct impostion of leaders on the workers 
and repressive labor law. Direct phone lines existed between labor 
leaders and the ministry of labor, the former contacting the latter when 
dissent was raised, the labor leaders themselves would at times call 
police forces and worse, in a potential strike or civil disobediance 

The CTV leadership became literally paid officials of the authoritarian 
state. A Workers Bank was created into which the state and foreign 
imperialist institutions (CIA-AIFLD)poured milions of dollars.  The 
funds were used by union leaders and staff to become millionaires andas 
well and for lavish training facilities and leisure for more 
collaborationist union bureacrats (some of these were turned over for 
the new Bolivarian university created by Chavez). The bank and moneys 
were unaccountable, untraceable and subject to no oversight or 
regulation. Primo recalled that no outrage or atrocity was too much or 
too embarassing for the union leaders.You cannot exaggerate when it 
comes to the corruption and the compliance in cruelty that the union 
administration engaged in. The situation bore similarities to the labor 
unions under Hitler and Mussolini...an organic unity with capital and 
the oppressive eyes and physical force of the fascist state. The fascist 
informers, scabs and strike breakers had become the leadership of the 
union that supposedly represented millions of workers. The situation 
would not change until the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998.

The Bolivarian Labor Front was started by Primo and comrades and 
together with other labor groups within the CTV began a nascent movement 
in the mid-nineties  to rebuild a maximally democratic class struggle 
unionism that joined with struggles engaged in by women, the 
indigenous,students, unemployed and marginally employed in 
simulataneously articulating and struggling for a new socialism in 
Venezuela.Instrumental in his election, the new labor movement  was 
helped by Hugo Chavez and his government who changed labor law in 
workers favor and recognized the right for union members to elect all 
representatives. The old bureacracy and class colloborators sabotaged a 
hard fought for election by amongst other things jettisoning over 
750,000 votes. Bribes, intimidation and red baiting were on hand a 
plenty. The CTV was among the lead opponents of the new progressive 
Chavez government and led four failed general strikes against him, 
culminating in the attempet coup of 2002. Primo explained that the new 
radical union activists were instrumental in the return of Chavez. A 
turning point in the struggle for workers control and peak of the 
struggle against the right wing coup was the occupations of the 
workplace by many activists including the take over, starting and 
running of a large part of Venezuela's oil industry. After the dramatic 
defeat of the coup by popular working class intervention, large numbers 
of workers left the CVT and the UNT was born.

The UNT has participated in Chavez's initiatives including the popular 
assemblies, the constituent assemblies and the drafting of a new 
constitution. Working class socialism and democracy run deep in the 
federation and a small but determined movement for workers democratic 
control of production and conditions of labor has emerged. Chavez has 
not opposed this and has even encouraged the take over of closed, 
defunct and near bankrupt enterprises as well as fallow land by those 
who want to work co-operatively and deepen the Bolivarian revolution. 
The UNT are fighting on all fronts with Venezuelan women, indigenous and 
students among other groups.This is particularly important given the 
large and serious social problems that occur in Venezuela, the 
incredible incidence of prostitution most prominent as I witnessed so 
many times when In venezuela in the mid-nineties.The union seems spread 
out over the country which is good given that different regions have 
different needs and priorities.  A women Marsella Machuco has been 
elected leader and elections will be held again in May. A strong left 
wing program has been drafted including nationalization of banks and 
industry... with democratic control to insure the old problems of 
inefficiency, debt, stagnation and bureacratization do not appear again.

What was most surprising and impressive (to me) about Primo's talk was 
the strongly felt need for working class autonomy including especially 
in the union. That is, complete autonomy from the state, army, private 
and public enterprises and political parties. This certainly follows 
from a study of Venezuelan history. Primo thus said he opposed a 
proposed law that would institute workers "co-management", a still vague 
concept on grounds that it would lead to relations that are too close to 
the state. A good reason after what he described above.

Towards the end of his lecture, Primo explained a new initiative taking 
place with the Chavez government, the training and equiping of regional 
"workers armies". Primo did not elaborate much on what these are or 
their purpose and I found this development puzzling. Are they forming to 
resist possible imperialist intervention? To resist thuggery and strike 
breaking? To impart military skills to the population? How much autonomy 
is there? The future will tell, I suppose but such iniatives remind one 
omenously of the "labor armies" created in Cuba in the 60's to perform 
construction and work in the sugar industry or Trotsky's labor armies 
when he was boss, these were formed by the state in certain areas  in 
absence of working class organization during severe crisis periods. 
Armies tend not to be democratic or socialist in organization  and from 
what I've read Cuba's and Russia's weren't either. In the mean time 
Venezuela has an excellent fighting union movement again which needs and 
deserves support. Victory to them!

Thanks to Hands off Venezuela, Vancouver Labor Council and Canada Postal 
  Workers Union (the first to condemn the 2002 coup against Chavez and 
make links with Venezuelan labor) for organizing this excellent event. 
If you have the chance go and see Luis Primo.

Sam Pawlett

More information about the Marxism mailing list