charley allan | 15.09.2004 00:12 | Venezuela
The more established of the two, the CTV (Confederación de Trabajdores de Venezuela), is allied with traditional ruling party Accion Democratica and has a long history of supporting neo-liberal economic policies. It has also joined forces with Venezuela's biggest business federation (FEDECAMERAS) in the struggle to remove Chávez from power, by any means necessary.
On April 11th 2002, its leader Carlos Ortega directed a huge anti-government rally outside the national oil company headquarters to march on the presidential palace, where another huge rally was taking place (this one in support of the government). Also waiting for them outside the palace were CIA-trained snipers, three of whom were arrested, then released during the bloody, botched coup.
Later that year the CTV launched an indefinite general "strike" (in reality, a bosses lock-out) to demand an immediate recall referendum on Chávez (refusing to wait until half-way through his term to exercise this new constitutional right). Although this attempt at regime change also failed, it caused much damage to the economy (over $10-billion), which of course was blamed on Chávez.
The UNT (Union Nacional de Trabajadores, pronounced U-NE-TE, ie unity) was formed one year after the coup as an alternative to these criminals, and is the new Bolivarian union which is rapidly gaining credibility and power. By "Bolivarian" they mean they are committed to the 1999 Constitution, which was torn up during the CTV-sponsored two-day coup.
Detractors from the notoriously anti-democratic CTV try to portray the UNT as a puppet of the government, but the new union's demands, which include nationalisation of the banks, a 36-hour week, and giving workers the "right to run" businesses that close down, go far beyond Chávez' current programme.
Although Chávez declares he intends to take Venezuela "beyond Capitalism", so far he has resisted pressure to institute large-scale Socialism and nationalise private industry, instead deploying the country's vast oil wealth to build the foundations of a parallel, worker-controlled economy, running in competition with the corporations. Indeed, this seems to be the most effective method of achieving the mythical "Third Way".
The question of why Blair has shown no support for Chávez, despite the latter's many overtures, was raised in Westminster last week by MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. At a public meeting in Parliament on Tuesday, organised by the solidarity campaign Hands Off Venezuela, Jeremy Corbyn reminded the sixty or so activists and others present that Dennis McShane, on behalf of the Foreign Office, had actually supported the coup, a position Corbyn described as "scandalous".
John McDonnell revealed that in the lead-up to the recent referendum, the Foreign Office had been privately briefing that Chávez was "on the rocks" and describing the referendum as "an opportunity for the people themselves to kick him out". He explained that the campaign's focus in Parliament must now be to "harass this government into taking a progressive position on Venezuela, and to put it on the spot when it does not".
He also emphasised that in the UK, "campaigning within the Trade Unions is critically important because as soon as you raise the issue, as soon as you put the arguments, as soon as you explain the Chávez programme, that they're attacking poverty and illiteracy, health programs and all the rest of it, it rings the same tone with workers in this country."
After Jorge Martin, international secretary of Hands Off Venezuela, raised the need to challenge all the false propaganda that appears even in the so-called progressive press, Jeremy Corbyn took up the issue of making the media responsible: "I think one should say, in a friendly and kindly way, to the Venezuelan official representatives in Britain: What were you doing to counter the lies in the British press about what Chávez was doing?"
Corbyn described campaigning in solidarity with the Chilean people after the 1973 coup against Allende, and with hindsight added, "I think they would've been quite grateful if we'd set one up in 1970, before the fascist government took over. That's why I think it's important that we mobilise opinion in this country." Trade Unions in the UK clearly have an important role to play in this mobilisation.
Firstly, they must break off relations with the corrupt, discredited CTV and establish links with the new, popular UNT. Secondly, they should inform their members about the great advances in workers' rights that the Bolivarian government in Venezuela is making. And they might like to consider joining forces with other progressive groups and institutions that are trying to bring about, here, the kind of peaceful, democratic revolution that Venezuelans currently enjoy.