The Militant (logo)  
   Vol.66/No.33           September 2, 2002  
Hugo Chávez and
the unions in Venezuela
In a letter in the August 26 Militant, reader Theodore Jones writes that the Venezuelan Workers Federation (CTV), the largest labor federation in the country, is "an organization that represents the Venezuelan capitalist class" and that the "wholesale recall of its leadership attempted by [Hugo] Chávez would have been an enormous step forward for the Venezuelan working class."

Jones takes issue with recent articles in the Militant on the character of the CTV, and the attempt by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in 2000 to suspend the union federation’s leadership through a state-sponsored referendum. The referendum was approved by a 65 percent majority, but only 22 percent of the 11 million eligible voters turned out to the polls. Given the lack of support for the move, and opposition from the bosses and most of the officials of the various trade union federations, Chávez backed down and recognized the CTV leadership.

The article reported the views of Orlando Chirino, executive secretary of the Workers Federation of Carabobo State (FETRAC), and other unionists who helped lead the working-class rebellion against the U.S.-backed military coup in April.

Chirino and other workers we interviewed referred specifically to Chávez’s attempt to replace the CTV leadership through direct government intervention as reactionary, not the labor policies of his government in their entirety. Chirino was among a minority who openly opposed that move when it was announced on the basis that it undermined efforts by militant unionists to turn the trade unions into organizations independent of the capitalist state. Others we interviewed, who did not oppose or support the referendum on the CTV to begin with, concluded that it had been a mistake after seeing how it ended up strengthening the CTV leadership’s position. The attempt by Chávez to remove the CTV tops through a government-sponsored referendum allowed these labor fakers to pose as victims of government persecution and "defenders of union democracy."

In his "Afterword" to Teamster Bureaucracy, Farrell Dobbs describes the accelerated degeneration of the labor officialdom in the United States following World War II and the bureaucratic control imposed on the unions. "These officials have gone a long way toward converting the trade unions into auxiliary instruments of repression acting in collusion with capitalist authorities," says Dobbs, who was a leader of the 1934 Minneapolis strikes, a central organizer of the 11-state Teamster over-the-road organizing drive in the late 1930s, and national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party from 1953 to 1972.

"Among the consequences has been the clamping of collective bargaining into an iron vise," Dobbs writes. "One jaw consists of restrictions imposed upon organized labor by the bosses’ government. The other takes the form of bureaucratic controls within the unions themselves. Through this combination of repressive forces the workers have been subjected to steadily intensifying exploitation at the hands of the capitalists." Dobbs also explained that these trade union bureaucrats played the role of lickspittles in the sphere of capitalist foreign policy.

Much of this applies to the CTV labor fakers who have tied the unions to the capitalist state and the bosses’ parties. Many workers in Venezuela told us of the CTV leadership’s support for police repression against militant workers and restrictions by the bosses on organized labor. They sat on their hands for decades in face of attacks by the employers on wages and working conditions while keeping a bureaucratic stranglehold on the unions.  
Not an organization of the capitalist class
The CTV, however, is not "an organization that represents the Venezuelan capitalist class," as Jones suggests. The unions that belong to the federation remain defensive organizations of the working class, albeit with a bureaucratic, pro-capitalist leadership.

In Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, Leon Trotsky, a central leader of the Russian Revolution, says: "It is necessary to adapt ourselves to the concrete conditions existing in the trade unions of every given country in order to mobilize the masses, not only against the bourgeoisie, but also against the totalitarian regime within the trade unions themselves and against the leaders enforcing this regime. The primary slogan for this struggle is: complete and unconditional independence of the trade unions in relation to the capitalist state. This means a struggle to turn the trade unions into the organs of the broad exploited masses and not the organs of a labor aristocracy."

One final point. Hugo Chávez is not "a reactionary," a description that Jones mistakenly implies that the Militant has used. He is a bourgeois nationalist figure who won presidential elections using pro-working-class demagogy and promising to use executive power to deal with the corrupt elite as a strong man. He has done that, while leaving intact capitalist market relations, with economic power firmly remaining in the hands of the capitalist class. The Militant wholeheartedly supported the struggles by working people to oppose the bosses’ attempts to overthrow the Chávez government.  
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