Monthly Archives: March 2015

Workers Control and Labour Matters

One of the meeting we (the brigadistas) attended was on workers control on city maintenance. Normally, those who are acquainted with labour struggle in Venezuela tend to associate workers control with expropriation/occupation of abandoned private enterprises. However, for this brigade, we manage to see workers control in a different setting – workers control in government run services.

Corporacion de Servicios is maintenance division of Caracas area (I am not defining the geographical scope as it is complicated). It has 5 circuits (meaning 5 regions) and circuits has collectives. Each collective appoints a delegate where issues are raised to the delegates. 3000 workers work in this corporation and their participation in enterprise decision-making process is very high. Nearly every worker participate in the decision-making process (administration, budgeting etc.)

In this meeting, we received heavy emphasis study on Venezuelan Labour Law 2012. The fundamental element of the law is the product of mass consultations of the working class in Venezuela. It was born out a necessity that workers were degenerating over the decades. Moreover, the law included the concepts of workers councils. The Labour Law stipulated that workers needs to guarantee of production (critical now as Venezuela is coping severe shortages) and services while workers are encouraged to fight for better wage and working conditions. The Law brought the incorporation of health rights and social security payments for workers. More importantly, Venezuela has a created a right of 3 meals a day for its workers. This implemented through state supermarkets (MERCAL) and food tickets which allows greater access to food.

Furthermore, the law improved benefits for pre- and post-natal leave. The laws grants rights to breastfeeding (which is more encouraged in Venezuela nowadays) and getting bosses to assist payments for nursery. The law reduced the weekly working hours from 48 to 40 hours and this constitutes as part of right to recreation. By doing so, Venezuelan people receives extra time to recuperate and invest in restoring public spaces or participating volunteering services.

To read more about Labour Law, go to this link

Back to the Corporation we met, workers representatives stated that they are pleased with high participation and consultation among workers. Spaces of administration control has been extended to nearly all the employees. More importantly, they feel free, high motivation and energy before and during worker. From these changes workers are experiencing, workers are actively engaged in community service. In this community service, workers actively transfer knowledge to the locals (i.e. restoration of buildings) whereby in future, communities would be in independent in city maintenance. This will in turn reduce the burden of the Corporation in longer term as communities are becoming capable managers of their own affairs. Looking into future, Corporation is now extending to services areas such as water services. The Labour Law has banned subcontracting and this meant enhanced working conditions, increased access to government benefits and opening new doors of career progression for previously subcontracted workers. The Corporation has brought all the expertise in house such as carpentry, iron base for water tanks to break dependency from the capitalist market

I asked two major questions to the workers reps:

1) In respect to many rights and privileges awarded to workers, one wonders the sustainability of these workers control enterprises.

Answer: Workers are aware of the financial costs behind these benefits. They stated that now Venezuela asserted full control on oil reserves, more money is able to be directed for these benefits. More importantly, Venezuela vigorously fought off tax evasion and hence more revenues were able to enter to state coffers. However, the workers are fully aware the limited life-span of oil monies and taxation revenues (since the Corporation is government owned entity). Hence, they are looking ways to invest the money they receive to make them more sustainable.

2) Challenges they face:

Answer: Keeping high the spirit of working class. Elected leaders (the delegates) generally vote on key decisions based on true reflections of the represented. Plus, another subtle challenge is keep the conscience high to maintain continuous production.

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Remembering Hugo Chavez

Artwork at National Experimental University of Arts in Caracas

Artwork at National Experimental University of Arts in Caracas

Two years ago on March 5th, the entire progressive and socialist world was given a massive shock when Venezuelan charismatic President Chavez succumbed to cancer. Chavez is a once in a 50 year phenomenon that made deep impact in Venezuela and beyond (previously it was Castro and Guevara from Cuba). Whether you love or loathe him, no can deny the impact of his presidency and government that made shockwaves in the region.

Sayings of Chavez at one of the museums

Sayings of Chavez at one of the museums

Born to a mixed ethnicity heritage, he was different to other presidents (who tend to represent white European heritage). He grew up under the care of his beloved grandmother who inspired him stories of his ancestors fighting in the revolutionary wars. When he signed up for his military college, his political discourse was shaped more by the revolutions in Panama and Peru in the 70s and his exposure to ideals of Simon Bolivar (Latin America independence hero), Simon Rodriguez (tutor to Bolivar) and Ezquiel Zamora (revolutionary peasant leader). Though Venezuela capitalized its oil boom in the 70s, the oil wealth historically did not benefit the large poor section of the society. With the onset of oil glut in the 80s, the middle class began to be decimated and first stage of neoliberalism was implemented in 1989. The dramatic rise in oil price (one of the cheapest in world) provoked societal rebellion in 1989 which resulted up to 3000 killed by government forces. Through out this period, Chavez has built a movement in the army, connecting with waning leftist forces and the 1989 repression convinced he need to make a dramatic change.

Chavez Mural at Water Tank mural from Cuartel de Montana

Chavez Mural at Water Tank mural from Cuartel de Montana

In 1992, he led a civic-military coup against democratic government of Venezuela to end the hopelessness and repression that was going on. However, it quickly failed and most importantly, he took responsibility of the coup fiasco. With his famous words (por ahora – for now) – that he failed his objective momentarily, he was thrusted as the hero of the poor. Another coup later down the year and election of new government heralded Chavez’s release in 1994. Dropping his military uniforms, he began his election campaign for the 1998 presidential elections.

Chavez emphasizing the importance of media (community radio station, Petare)

Chavez emphasizing the importance of media (community radio station, Petare)

His election of 1998 heralded an end to dysfunctional two-party system that governed Venezuela for 40 years. One must understand like any Latin American countries, Venezuela is a deeply divided society. There is huge wealth gap between rich and poor and this gap also take in racial terms. Venezuelan poor were systematically hidden away from world view (unless you visit Venezuela), excluded and suppressed. One must visit Caracas, the capital, to view the economic apartheid or segregation that Venezuela has to overcome. The upper class still lives in their fortress walled compounds with barbed wires. Venezuela still has two worlds, one for the rich and one of the poor – literally next to each other. Moreover, Chavez inherited a Venezuela that still glorify white supremacy and demonize non-whites such as Afro-Venezuelans and Indigeneous (as criminals). I would argue that Chavez’s gigantic impact is not so much on his charisma but to reduce the gap between the rich and poor.

Young Chavez mural at Tiuna El Fuerte

Young Chavez mural at Tiuna El Fuerte

Once elected, Chavez led the Bolivarian revolution to make sweeping changes in the country. One of the first major steps in the remaking of Venezuela is rewriting the constitution. It is a lasting legacy of Chavez which created 5 branches of government (instead of three). Critically, it meant the Electoral Council is now a totally independent branch. Today, Venezuela has one of the most advanced, secured and accessible election systems in the world. More than granting political rights, Venezuelan constitution of 1999 made healthcare and education free, empowering women rights, paving the transition to participatory democracy and an economy more sided to small and medium businesses. From one of the most progressive Constitution,  Venezuelan dramatically reduced poverty, elimination of illiteracy and positive rise in healthcare indicators.

Chavez Poster at Plaza Bolivar.

Chavez Poster at Plaza Bolivar.

In order to fulfill the goals of the constitution and Millenium Development goals, Chavez government reassert a largely autonomous state oil company (critical as Venezuela is super dependent on oil reserves) and stepped tax revenue collection. Chavez personally brought OPEC together to bring about a fair oil price for the benefit of member states. However, these changes provoked a severe backlash from the existing elites and oligopolies of Venezuela. Changes to oil sector provoked the right-wing section of the military and opposition to launch a failed coup in 2002. Venezuelan poor and loyalists military quickly smashed the coup. Chavez, surprisingly gave a chance to coup-plotting opposition to turnaround. Later down the year, state oil company staged an economic lockdown which resulted the worst Venezuelan crisis in many years. With loyalist workers to the rescue, oil lockout collapsed and Venezuela capitalized a dramatic economic boom.

Chavez in environmental context at Cuartel del Montana

Chavez in environmental context at Cuartel del Montana

Meantime, Chavez began to implement his vision of multipolar world to resist the United States domination across the world. He spearheaded the collapse of Free Trade Area of Americas which was dubbed as planned annexation of Latin American Economies. He created regional alliances in Latin America, strategic partnerships with Russia, China and beyond. As far I am concerned, he could be most travelled Latin American leader in modern history. This diversification of alliance is part of his plan to steer away from American dependency on economic, political and military terms.

Eyes and signature of Chavez at Grand Housing Mission, Tiuna El Fuerte

Eyes and signature of Chavez at Grand Housing Mission, Tiuna El Fuerte

As the revolution began to deepen, the people took more protagonist role in shaping their destiny. In an entrenched media warfare against Venezuela, the most distorted view on Venezuela presented is revolution equals Chavez. As Chavez took a significant left turn since 2005, transition to participatory democracy and growing workers control movement started to rattle the country more. Chavistas (supporters of Chavez) are becoming the owners of their revolution and destiny. They do acknowledge and grateful of the presence of Chavez, but constantly reminded the audience that people is the revolution (not Chavez)

Eyes of Chavez at Banco de Venezuela

Eyes of Chavez at Banco de Venezuela

Although Chavez is hailed as hero of poor and the left movements, he became a detestable figure in the Venezuelan opposition circles, international media and most importantly, United States. As mentioned divisions before, the deepen Venezuelan revolution meant the power relations between rich and poor is changing like never before. Venezuela’s dominant private media constantly warring with Chavez’s government and labelling him a dictator, tyrant and any possible negative connotation. Though Venezuela is divided historically, Chavez’s policies made them so apparent in the international stage. His government policy of expropriating business, currency controls and price controls has led many of the middle class Venezuelan emigrating and made business functions very difficult. Plus, Chavez government is constantly under attack through coups, US supported opposition aligned NGOs, sabotages and threats of assassinations. Despite Venezuela has one of the lowest inequality levels in Latin America, rampant crime did not decline. Corruption in Venezuelan government (sometimes misuse of funds in participatory democracy mechanisms) remains unabated. The abolition of term limits for all elected offices have raised concerns among the opposition.

Chavista at Great Patriotic Pole Congress at Cuartel del Montana

Chavista at Great Patriotic Pole Congress at Cuartel del Montana

Though he was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, he continued his full dedication to the revolution. However, this became more an issue when he won his presidential elections in 2012. His cancer took a worse turn later that year and realizing end was near, he announced to his supporters to vote Maduro, the VP. He was physically unable to attend his own inauguration and finally succumbed at 4.25 pm March 5th. Millions of supporters, some even travelled for days, came to pay their last respects. Such was a leader who made personal impact on every Venezuelan for the good and bad.

Chavez poster opposite of Election Council Office

Chavez poster opposite of Election Council Office

His super-lengthy speeches, jokes and songs are truly missed. The whole story of Venezuela now is continuing what Chavez started in the revolution. However, one must understand this saying, “Chavez is great revolutionary but he ain’t the revolution. The people of Venezuela is the revolution”

Some of the photos are credited to brigadistas

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