VENEZUELA: 'Workers must take the initiative'
Margarita Windisch & Susan Price, Caracas
One thousand delegates crammed into the Teatro Teresa Careno to hear President Hugo Chavez open the first Latin American Conference of Enterprises Recovered and Controlled by Workers, held on October 27-29.
Worker and union delegates at the conference represented 21 trade unions, 235 worker-recovered factories and around 10,000 workers. Parliamentarians from 13 countries also attended. Banners, flags, chants and thunderous applause welcomed Chavez and his offer of a US$5 million fund for a cross-continental network to facilitate the collaboration and integration of worker-controlled enterprises.
In his speech, Chavez said that the Latin American workers' struggle to recover factories is part of a broader struggle for national sovereignty. He also stressed the historic opportunities for workers to truly free themselves from the chains of colonialism and capitalism and that expropriation and workers' control of factories needs to be seen as part of a broader strategy to eliminate poverty for all. Chavez declared that the US's proposed ALCA (the Free Trade Area of the Americas — FTAA) is being well and truly buried by the people who are rebelling across the continent against neoliberalism.
The three-day conference discussed worker-controlled factories on a range of levels, from grassroots experiences and problems to commercial collaboration and possibilities for legislative change. Three commissions (workers, trade unions and government representatives) were set up and charged with developing an action plan.
Luis Prima, representative of Venezuela's National Union of Workers (UNT), told worker delegates that "50 years of past bureaucratic union dictatorship in Venezuela affected the entire fabric of society and pacified workers at a heavy price ... even though the current Venezuelan government supports the process of workers' control, the only way to move forward and save our countries is for workers themselves to take the initiative and not wait for the state".
The conference concluded with the "Caracas commitment, on the road to Latin American integration", a broad declaration developed by the three commissions. It expresses a strong sentiment of solidarity and admiration for the Bolivarian revolution, the rejection of imperialism and the neoliberal project, and above all stresses people's right to work. The declaration makes a commitment to the reopening of closed enterprises and calls on the respective governments to initiate expropriation and nationalisation of closed businesses where possible.
Another conference was set for July 2006 in Caracas. Seventy-five agreements between government ministers, industry and worker representatives were also signed, including the establishment of a branch of Brazilian plastics factory in Venezuela (ZIPLA). The Venezuelan government also confirmed the expropriation of two Venezuelan factories, Central Cumanacoa, a sugar processing plant in Sucre state, and Sideroca, a series of metal processing plants in Maracaibo that had already been occupied by the workers themselves.
From Green Left Weekly, November 9, 2005.