It is one of the most industrialized regions of Venezuela, with a somewhat higher level of unionization than other states. The working class here has a tradition of resistance to the employers attacks on wages and working conditions going back to the 1970s, and has actively opposed the bosses two-year long drive to overthrow the nationalist government of Hugo Chávezan effort backed by Washington (see article in this issue).
Militant reporters who visited this region of Venezuela for the first time September 26-29 got another glimpse of this reality from iron ore miners on strike against the giant Crystallex International Corp.
In an interview here September 27, Mildre Daza, who works in an iron ore mine operated by Crystallex, about 40 miles north of Puerto Ordaz, told us miners there have been on strike since June 2 against deteriorating safety conditions on the job and company attacks on wages and benefits.
Crystallex, a Canadian company, bought the concession to mine iron ore at Las Cristinas from the state-owned Venezuelan Company of Guayana. The contract, Daza told the Militant, stipulated that 25 of the miners who worked there before would be rehired, and that all 100 miners would receive at least the same pay as the 25 earned beforea minimum of 16,000 bolivars ($10) per dayand benefits.
But we havent received any benefits. We are paid half the promised rate, and safety conditions have deteriorated, Daza said. Thats why the miners went on strike. In their efforts to reach out for solidarity they met leaders of the steelworkers union, SUTISS, who have been the dominant force in the labor movement here for some time.
Struggles such as these by steelworkers, miners, and other workers in this region are part of the broader political radicalization of working people across the country. This process has accelerated in the last two years as working people in city and countryside have mobilized repeatedly to defeat efforts by the employers to topple the Chávez government, including the April 2002 military coup attempt and the bosses lockout last December-January. Through these struggles, working people have gained more self-confidence to fight for their interests. Their struggles have included factory occupations (see Workers in Venezuela occupy plants in last weeks issue) and land takeovers by thousands of peasants (see article in this issue).
These militant actions by working people have posed more sharply the need for a proletarian party with a revolutionary program and course of action that can lead the working class and its allies toward a successful struggle for power and the establishment of a workers and farmers government. No such party exists in Venezuela.
Leftist political groups that have functioned in the countrys labor movement for some time have been undergoing various permutations under these conditions.
This was the context for the First National Assembly Toward Building the Workers Party, (PT) held here September 27.
PTs first assembly
About 200 people took part in the one-day conference, including a delegation from Crystallex. Most delegates came from Ciudad Guayana and other parts of Bolívar state, in eastern Venezuela.
The largest delegation was from SUTISS. It included more than a dozen union officers. Delegates also came from the unions of aluminum workers, at Orinoco Iron, several plants manufacturing charcoal briquettes, construction workers, municipal and bank workers, and postal employees. Most were union officials, including from the top leadership of these unions. A number of rank-and-file unionists also took part. Less than two dozen people came from the Caracas federal district and the states of Carabobo, Falcón, Mérida, and Zulia. The composition of the gathering indicated that the new party is primarily based in this region.
In addition to their union membership, a number of delegates identified their political affiliations. Luis Miquilena from Falcón state, for example, a member of the executive committee of the PT-in-formation, said he is a long-time member of the Venezuelan Communist Party. SUTISS president Ramón Machuca said he came from a tendency in the union affiliated in the past with Causa R (Radical Cause). The majority of participants came out of this tendency.
Causa R was founded in the early 1970s out of a split in the Venezuelan CP. It had a middle-class, backward-looking, utopian perspective advocating small-scale manufacturing enterprises and self-sufficiencyfirst in Bolívar state and then nationwide. It opposed the large, export-oriented industrial development of raw materials such as iron, aluminum, and bauxite. Like other left-wing currents in Venezuela that functioned within the trade unions, Causa R built its main base in steel and other industries in and around Ciudad Guayana.
The assembly opened with presentations by Jesús Romero Anselmi, director of Venezuelan TV, a pro-Chávez station, and Carlos Escarrá, a lawyer and former member of the Supreme Court. Ramón Machuca presented the PTs draft declaration of principles, which states that the PT is born out of the need to organize Venezuelan workers into a political movement to profoundly transform society and the country, on the basis of doing away with injustice wherever it comes from. The PTs goal will be to deepen the changes taking place in the country since Chávezs election, it says. The document calls for ending Venezuelas dependency on the production of oil and minerals and diversifying the economy along with fighting for improved social services.
Machuca said in his talk that the PT is needed to ensure that unionists can fight for power. His presentation and the plenary session discussion made it clear that the majority of delegates saw the fight for power as a question of elections.
Yhonny García, a member of the oil workers union Fedepetrol in Maracaibo, capital of Zulia state, said the PT must concretize what is meant by deepening the changes under way since Chávezs election. This needs to be translated, he said, into demands to advance struggles by workers and peasants today, although no concrete demands were put forward in the course of the discussion. García was referring to fights by working people to implement new laws on agrarian reform, fishing, and strengthening state control of oil and mineral resources. The enactment of these laws in 2001 intensified the hostility toward Chávez of Washington and the Venezuelan bourgeoisie.
Mildre Daza invited delegates to join the solidarity actions of the striking iron ore miners at Crystallex.
In his summary Machuca said the gathering was a first step toward building the PT as a nationwide party, and indicated that he is open to running for governor of Bolívar state on the PTs ticket in next years electionsadding, hopefully with Chávezs support.
The one thing that was most clear from our visit to this region was that struggles like those of the workers at Crystallex and the SIDOR steel works will sharpen in the coming months as Washington and its Venezuelan collaborators continue to press their determination to oust the Chávez government and restore a relationship of forces more favorable to the bosses. The workers search for a political, class-struggle way forward will gain momentum in the process too.
After hard-fought battles, 60,000 peasants get land titles in Venezuela
How Venezuela steelworkers helped defeat boss strike
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