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First Latin American gathering of worker-recovered factories in Caracas

Bolivarian Revolution
In Defense of Marxism - Nov 2, 2005
 http://www.marxist.com/gathering-worker-factories021105.htm

First Latin American gathering of worker-recovered factories:
Chavez announces further expropriation

By Jorge Martin in Caracas

"This is an historical gathering. For the first time workers from occupied
factories from across the continent are meeting together" (Serge Goulart,
United Workers' Council of Brazilian group of occupied factories)

"We have shown how the workers can run the companies, and this means we can
run society as well" (Ricardo Moreira, PIT-CNT, Uruguay)


More than 400 people from 235 worker occupied factories and 20 different
national trade union centres participated in the "First Latin American
Gathering of Worker Recovered Factories" in Caracas on October 27-29.

This was truly a historical meeting, the first time that workers involved in
factory occupations in different countries met to discuss their problems,
share their experiences and draw political conclusions from their struggle.
And such a meeting could only take place in revolutionary Venezuela where it
had the support of Chavez's Bolivarian government.

In the opening rally, which took place at the Teresa Carreño Theatre, with
3,000 worker activists present, president Chávez explained how it is
capitalism that closes down factories and that these "must be recovered by
the workers". He compared the struggle of the occupied factories movement to
the struggle for independence from Spanish rule in the 19th century and
underlined the "potential of the workers in our continent to break their
chains and leave capitalism behind". The platform of the rally included a
number of Venezuelan ministers, trade union leaders from across the
continent and workers from occupied factories (including Edgar Peña, leader
of the Invepal workers).

The factory take-overs that are taking place across the continent are part
of the struggle for true sovereignty and liberation from the domination of
the US, Chávez stressed. But at the same time he made clear that "the
people and the workers of the US also have their part to play in this
battle".

Chávez also explained his views regarding the trade union movement and its
relationship with the Bolivarian government. He started by greeting the
formation of the National Workers' Union, UNT, but added that the new trade
union confederation "is not and should never be an appendix of the
government, it must be autonomous and free" from it. The old bureaucratic
trade union model of "unions which ended up negotiating behind the workers'
backs, of leaders like those in Venezuela who ended up enriching themselves
while negotiating about workers' lives with the bosses" must be rooted out
of the trade union movement.

Chávez proposed the creation of a network of worker-recovered companies so
that they could collaborate and exchange experiences. Finally, he announced
the expropriation of two more companies, Sideroca, and the Cumanacoa Sugar
Mill. This was received with an enthusiastic standing ovation by the 3,000
workers present who shouted "asi, asi, asi es que se gobierna" ("this is the
way to rule"). The Sideroca factory in Zulia makes metal pipes for the oil
industry and had been abandoned by its owners six years ago. On September 6,
a group of former workers and people from the local community had taken over
the plant to prevent the owners from taking away the machinery, and since
then had been demanding expropriation under workers' management. The
Cumanacoa Sugar Mill in Cumaná, had been running at half its capacity since
its privatisation back in 1992, and more recently this situation had
worsened to a point where it was operating at 20% capacity. Workers and the
local sugar cane producers had demanded expropriation.

Chavez announced that he would sign the expropriation decrees before going
to the Mar de Plata summit in Argentina this week. He said others would
follow and mentioned the tomato processing plant Caigua in Guarico. This was
taken over by the workers on July 7 after a conflict over non-payment of
wages, when the workers realised that the owner wanted to sell the raw
materials (tomato paste) stored in the plant. Once again, the workers
demanded the plant be expropriated and handed over to the workers.

But the president also added that the idea was not to expropriate the
companies so that their workers could "become rich overnight", but rather
that production should benefit the community as a whole. Along the same
lines, during the "Encuentro", workers from Caigua declared that: "We do not
want to create 57 capitalists, we are on the path to socialism".

As Serge Goulart said: "this is a president that sides with the workers, not
in words, or with statements, but with the concrete facts of these two
expropriations".

Debates on factory occupations

The Encuentro then broke into a number of separate meetings, one for trade
union organisations, another for workers from occupied factories and one for
members of parliament and government representatives.

There was debate on the forms of property that worker-recovered companies
should take. The comrades from the Cipla-Interfibra-Flasko-Flaskepet group
of worker-managed companies in Brazil
( http://paginas.terra.com.br/noticias/cipla/) insisted on the demand for
nationalisation under workers' control.

Serge Goulart, the coordinator of the United Workers' Council, was adamant:
"We are against the idea of a "solidarity economy". In fact this would mean
turning the workers into capitalists, weakening the working class and, in
competing in a capitalist market, they would only succeed by making other
factories bankrupt. We are for nationalisation, but nationalisation under
workers' control in order to prevent a new bureaucracy from emerging". He
added that this struggle could only be seen as part of the general struggle
for the "nationalisation of the banks and the multinationals in order to
plan the economy in the interests of the people". "There cannot be socialism
in one country, even less in a single company!" he said emphatically.

Asked about the debate president Chavez has opened up on "socialism of the
21st century", Serge Goulart replied: "The Venezuelan Revolution is
extraordinary in that it confirms what the Marxists had always said. It
started as a struggle against imperialism and for national sovereignty. But
then we saw the working class entering the scene in the struggle against the
sabotage of the oil industry and the revolution went further, as it did with
the nationalisation of Venepal on January 19 this year. It started as an
anti-imperialist struggle, but it either becomes socialist or it will be
crushed. (... ) The question will be posed of the nationalisation of the banks
and the multinationals and that can only be carried out by the workers".

Orlando Chirino, National Coordinator of the Venezuelan UNT explained the
context in which these factory occupations were taking place: "This is a
symptom of the degeneration of capitalism which leads to a process of
deregulation, flexibilisation and increased exploitation of the workers.
Capitalism no longer plays the progressive role it once played." The whole
process is not without contradictions or difficulties. In the case of
Venezuela particularly, most of the workers involved in these occupations
have no previous experience of trade union organisation or struggle and they
will face many problems. But to Orlando, in order to save jobs and
livelihoods, the task of the trade unions is to give this instinctive
movement of factory occupations "a conscious expression, with the final aim
of socialising the means of production."

Both Chirino and the trade union representatives of Venezuela's state-owned
electricity company CADAFE, stressed that worker-management was enormously
progressive and was "the only way of defeating bureaucratism and corruption
which are threatening the Bolivarian Revolution".

Cooperation agreements

As part of the meeting, representatives from different worker-managed
companies gathered to discuss and reach mutually beneficial agreements. They
insisted however, that these were not merely commercial agreements, but
rather that they were based on different principles of mutual cooperation,
transfer of technology, etc.

Among the agreements signed was that between Venezuela and the
Cipla-Interfibra-Flasko-Flaskepet group of worker-managed companies in
Brazil. On the one hand, the Venezuelan state-owned petrochemical company
Pequiven will sale raw materials to Cipla at preferential prices and on the
other hand PDVSA will buy finished pipes from Cipla. But at the same time,
the workers at Cipla-Interfibra will provide the technology and the know-how
for Venezuela to set up a number of factories making PVC frames for windows,
doors, and other construction materials. All this will allow Venezuela to
by-pass the domination of the market for these types of plastic products by
a handful of US multinationals.

The importance of this is that in reality the Venezuelan government is
giving direct assistance to a group of factories in Brazil that have been
occupied and managed by the workers and that have been threatened on a
number of occasions with eviction and jail by the Brazilian judiciary. This
cannot but serve as an encouragement for workers in Venezuela and throughout
Latin America to take over their own factories.

Internationalism and anti-imperialism

The Encuentro also had a marked internationalist character. The presence of
a delegation from the Bolivian COB brought a breath of the revolutionary
traditions of the Bolivian miners and workers. Jaime Solares, secretary of
the COB, underlined the "key role of the proletariat internationally" and
added that "socialism has not died, it is still relevant". He also warned of
the threat of international intervention against the Bolivian revolution,
particularly the threat posed by the recently created US military base in
the Paraguayan Chaco region, on the border with Bolivia.

The situation in Haiti was also discussed. Julio Turra, from the Brazilian
CUT said in no uncertain terms "Brazilian troops in Haiti are at the service
of the empire". The final declaration of the trade unions present at the
meeting called for the "withdrawal of occupying troops from Haiti, Iraq and
Afghanistan".

There was also strong opposition to the Free Trade of the Americas
Agreement, promoted by the US administration. As Ricardo Moreira from the
Uruguayan PIT-CNT explained, "the only real integration is not trade
integration, but the integration based on the working class, which is the
most revolutionary class". Argentinean trade union delegates announced a
nationwide work stoppage on November 4 against Bush's presence at the Summit
of the Americas in Mar del Plata.

Closing meeting and conclusions

Finally, after three days of hard work and discussions, of sharing of
experiences by different groups of workers who had been forced to take over
their factories in order to save their livelihoods, 500 workers, trade union
representatives and Venezuelan government officials (including Minister of
Labour María Cristina Iglesias and a number of other Ministers) gathered
for the closing meeting.

los obreros sin patron

The mood was one of enthusiasm, and the before the meeting could start, all
the workers rose to their feet shouting the slogan popularised by the
Argentinean factory occupation movement: "aquí están, estos son, los
obreros sin patrón" ("here we are, we are the ones, the workers without a
boss"). Nearly 200 workers had travelled from Argentina to participate in
this event, and the Argentinean National Movement of Recovered Companies
(MNER) had played a key role in its organisation.

The conclusions from the different workshops were read out and approved, and
then a joint document, called "The commitment of Caracas" was read by a
leader of the workers of the Caigua tomato plant and approved by
acclamation. The workers from worker-managed companies had also passed their
own political statement which explained the importance of the Encuentro. "We
are here to push our movement forward, to defend it, to help each other and
to strengthen our struggle against the common enemy of the peoples,
capitalism, which brings war and plans misery throughout the planet". It
also strongly defended the right to occupy factories: "The capitalists, the
financial speculators and the multinationals are to blame for the bankruptcy
of the companies. Every factory closed is a graveyard of jobs. (... ) Therefore
the workers in the countryside and the city have the right to occupy the
factories and the land to defend their jobs and the sovereignty of our
countries. This is why we occupied the factories and started production."

The statement greeted the announcement of more expropriations by president
Chávez: "In Venezuela, which is living through a revolution, the workers
have put on the agenda expropriation with workers' control of these
companies in different ways. We greet the announcement of comrade president
Chavez during the opening of this Encuentro, of two new expropriations of
companies and that they should be under workers' control. This is what we
all need in our countries."

It also explained the character and final aims of the movement: "We wish to
advance to an economy under the total control of the workers so that it can
be planned in the interests of the people as a whole. Our movement is
anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist. It is a clarion call and an organised
movement of the working class against the regime of private property of the
large-scale means of production that is only capable of surviving through
war and the exploitation and oppression of the peoples".

The statement warned of the dangers facing the movement: "Our resistance has
not gone unnoticed by the bosses, by Capital and their international
institutions, which attempt to prosecute and crush us. But they are also
seeking ways of destroying our resistance by enmeshing the workers in
different forms of class collaboration, tempting them with possibilities of
individual integration within the capitalist system". To resist these
attempts it was agreed to set up an international network of occupied and
worker-managed factories. "From now on, we will rise as one if in any
country the governments attack us or threaten to close down the companies we
control".

Finally the statement concluded with an inspiring call: "They steal the
land, we occupy it. They make war and destroy nations; we defend peace and
the integration of the peoples' with respect for their sovereignty. They
divide; we unite. Because we are the working class. Because we are the
present and the future of humankind. We call upon all to continue this
struggle, to broaden it and to meet again next year to strengthen the unity
and the struggle we are carrying out together with the working class as a
whole and the peoples against the common enemy of humanity. Venceremos!"

The Encuentro undoubtedly will encourage the struggle of workers across
Latin America and beyond. In the opening meeting Julio Turra from the CUT
described how "when the Chavez government declares war on the latifundia,
this is a source of encouragement for the comrades of the MST [Landless
Peasant's Movement]. When it expropriates the bosses who organised the coup
it is a source of encouragement for the comrades from Brazil who have been
fighting for three years demanding that the government expropriates their
abandoned companies".

In Venezuela the meeting was not closed off within the four walls of the
meeting halls, but went beyond. Reports of the meeting and documentaries on
the occupied factories in different countries featured prominently on both
state TV channels. Workers from the occupied factories were present and
spoke on the weekly "Aló Presidente" programme hosted by Chávez. Now it is
up to the workers and the trade union movement in Venezuela to take up the
call, and get a list of the 700 factories that have been closed by the
bosses and start recovering them. Here the workers so far have found a
president who is sympathetic to their cause and has even encouraged them.

Without doubt, this was a meeting that will go down in the history of the
Latin American trade union movement. In the words of Ricardo Moreira from
the PIT-CNT, already quoted above, "we have shown how the workers can run
the companies, and this means we can run society as well".

*

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