Venezuela's National Union of Workers Holds Extraordinary Congress
Caracas, December 7th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela’s principal trade union federation, the National Union of Workers (UNT), held the first session of its 1st Extraordinary Congress on December 5. The aim of the extraordinary congress is to re-found the federation since its 2006 congress collapsed in disarray as a result of factional infighting.
Hundreds of trade union delegates from around the country, representing diverse industrial sectors, discussed issues ranging from the international and national political and economic situation, the capitalist crisis, the principles of the trade union federation, and a political program for workers in the transition towards socialism.
The congress was presided over by leaders of various union currents which are promoting the re-foundation of the UNT, including Stalin Perez Borges from Marea Socialista, Orlando Perez of the Bolivarian Educators (which also groups other industrial sectors) and Marcela Maspero, from the Collective of Workers in Revolution (CTR), all of whom are politically active in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), as well as Pedro Eusse, from the Cruz Villegas Class Current, which is aligned with the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV).
Maspero, a national coordinator of the UNT since its founding in April 2003, opened the congress stressing the “historic importance” of the re-founding of the national union federation.
The UNT was originally formed as an ad-hoc alliance of trade union currents after the country’s traditional labour federation, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), participated in the 2002 military coup against the government of President Hugo Chavez as well as a management-led shut down of the oil industry over December 2002-January 2003 – again in an attempt to overthrow the Chavez government.
At the founding congress a provisional leadership of 21 national coordinators representing five major currents was formed. However, due to factional wrangling, elections were never held. Since then a number of currents have left the UNT while others have all but dissolved and new currents have emerged.
Maspero said that the three national coordinators present at the event – herself, Stalin Perez Borges and Ruben Linares – would resign their national coordinator positions and put themselves up for re-election.
In this “new, revitalised” UNT all decisions would be made by the grassroots workers, she emphasised.
Maspero was followed by Eusse who presented a document on behalf of the presiding committee establishing key principles. The principles included: Organisational and political autonomy, independence from the state and capital, internal democracy, worker solidarity, internationalism, unity, gender equality and the rejection of “class conciliation.”
Stalin Perez Borges then presented a document which was also adopted that addressed “the tasks of the working class and the transition towards socialism” and emphasised “the need for an independent and democratic labour confederation in the fight against capitalism, against imperialism and against the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy.”
The document included a number of economic proposals such as the nationalisation of the banks under the democratic control of workers and the people, the establishment of state monopoly on foreign trade, and the nationalisation of all basic and strategic industries that remain in the hands of large private owners and transnational capital.
The congress also expressed solidarity with workers involved in a number of industrial disputes, in particular, a dispute in the Mitsubishi plant in Anzoátegui, where the Labour Ministry agreed to an administrative order to deny entry to 150 workers, including 11 union leaders, after the Japanese company filed an application to fire the workers over their participation in a number of strikes and occupations of the plant in February and March this year.
Sectors represented in the congress included electrical workers, pharmaceutical workers, teachers, workers from the media, gas, petrochemical, oil, automotive, basic industries, public administration, banking and finance, textile, hotels, food and health sectors as well as dockworkers, airports and toll workers and the construction sector among others. Also present were workers from a number of occupied factories under worker control.
After the debacle of the 2006 congress the response of workers at the extraordinary congress was overwhelmingly positive.
Pedro Moreno, an oil worker, told Venezuelanalysis.com, “After today there’s no turning back, we are definitely going forward” in the construction of a strong, revitalised union federation.
Gustavo Martinez, a representative of the United Union of Workers of Fama de America, a recently nationalised coffee factory, welcomed the “strong anti-bureaucratic sentiment reflected in the conference.”
In total 40 resolutions were adopted, 15 presented by the presiding committee and a further 25 resolutions proposed from the conference floor.
A new provisional leadership of 98 regional, national and sector-based representatives was elected through an assembly of the congress delegates.
The tasks of the new provisional leadership include drafting new statutes for the union federation, certifying and formalising union affiliation in order to establish voter eligibility and organising nation-wide grassroots elections scheduled for June 2010.
The second session of the 1st Extraordinary Congress is scheduled to be held on February 20 next year.