Activists from across the Venezuelan labour movement met last weekend for the country’s first ever Workers’ Congress, where workers discussed workplace democracy and the construction of socialism.
The congress, billed “I Workers’ Congress: Balance and Challenges of Worker Control and Workers’ Councils for the Construction of Socialism”, was organised by the National Worker Control Movement and saw the participation of over fifty groups from factories across the country.
Political and union organisations were also present, including radical activists from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the trade union current of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), and representatives of leftist union confederation the National Union of Workers (Unete).
The meeting was an attempt to revitalise and strengthen the movement for worker self-management of factories in Venezuela, known as “worker control”. The movement holds that the direct control of workers over the means of production is fundamental to the construction of socialism.
Further, according to the congress’ organising committee, the aim of the meeting was to “promote, strengthen and consolidate the self-organisation of the working class, based on an analysis of its labour and an evaluation of its struggles, to allow for the generation of its unity around a common plan of struggle”.
A decade of organising
As part of resistance to factory closures and management lock-outs by bosses opposed to the administration of former President Hugo Chavez, dozens of factories have come under whole or part management by their workers over the past decade.
The worker control movement reached a high point with the proposal of the “Plan Socialist Guayana” in 2009, whereby the state-owned heavy industries of the eastern Guayana region would be run with the direct participation of their workers.
Although Hugo Chavez voiced his support for the plan at the time, it has largely fallen into stagnation due to opposition from management bureaucrats and some reformist politicians within the Chavista movement.
The 1st Worker’s Congress, which met in the state-owned Sidor steel plant in Guayana 21 – 23 June, was the result of a year of meetings between workers in different parts of the country, who seek to bring together all those interested or involved in worker control projects into one national movement.
The congress took up a slogan common to the Venezuelan radical left, which declares, “Neither capitalists nor bureaucrats, all power to the working class”.
With presentations, workshops and plenary sessions, participants discussed four main themes at the congress. There were, “the self organisation of the working class”, “the class struggle and the state, legality and legitimacy”, “workers councils, worker control and management for the transformation of the capitalist economy” and the “formation and socialisation of knowledge”.
Those present took part in animated debate, which was seen as key to reaching conclusions on how the movement could advance toward implementing greater workplace democracy in the South American country.
Alexander Coriano, a coordinator of the National Worker Control Movement, argued that movement should not aim to just get workers appointed to run companies, but rather should seek to introduce a management model in which workers make the decisions and intervene in processes of monitoring and control.
“The proposal of collective management is complex, and should still be analysed. The company should be directed by the workers, but for this to be achieved the intention is not enough, as this should be accompanied by a methodology that’s reached with debate and discussion,” Coriano said to local paper Diaro de Guayana.
Concrete goals of the congress were to compile and analyse experiences of worker control in Venezuela, draft a final declaration on the national political situation and that of the labour movement, and reach an agreed manifesto and plan of struggle around which the worker control movement could unite.
At the end of the event it was announced that a follow-up meeting would take place on 27 July to compile and finalise the congress’ manifesto and declarations, which will be made public and handed to President Nicolas Maduro for his consideration.