"The Bolivarian Revolution: Enter the Oil Workers!" played to a meeting of more than 200 people at the Trinity United Reform Church on Saturday afternoon in Camden. Featuring the stories of the Venezuelan men and women who fought to save their national oil company, PdVSA, when it was shut down by managers at the end of 2002, the film was met with thundering applause.
Many in the audience were visibly moved by the passionate conviction, commitment and heroism of the oil workers, who saw themselves as saving not just the company, but their entire country from ruin. As one oil worker said, "we were saving the industry of all Venezuelans."
The film includes interviews with the contract workers who struggled for two months, together with retired workers and the community, to get oil production going again after eighteen thousand employees - the majority of them managers and executives - walked out, locked gates and scrambled computers.
This lock-out, which was portrayed as a "strike" internationally, came just months after a CIA-backed coup against the democratically-elected president, Hugo Chávez, in April 2002. The coup had been defeated when millions of grassroots people, starting with women from the poorest areas, took to the streets in protest and called on soldiers to remain loyal to the constitution and return Chávez.
The lock-out of oil workers was therefore the second attempt by the rich and (still) powerful to bring down Chávez, this time through the destruction of the Venezuelan economy. Venezuela is the world's 5th largest oil exporter; yet 80% of its population, mainly people of African and Indigenous descent, live in poverty.
In interviews the workers describe how they were able to run the oil company despite the fact that they were missing vital information on PdVSA’s oil deposits, which had been stolen by the managers when they quit.
They were also forced to contend with repeated acts of sabotage, carried out on the oil valves and roads away from the main plant. Such attacks were only stopped when grassroots activists - many of the them housewives with children - took it in shifts to guard the valves.
The source of the oil workers' extraordinary commitment, the film reveals, was their desire to protect their "Bolivarian Revolution" - the process which started when Hugo Chávez was elected to power in 1998. This has seen the end of attempts to privatise Venezuela’s oil industry and the start of using the oil revenue to tackle poverty through investment in programmes for education, health, housing, agriculture, social security and much more.
As a member of the Guide Committee, which is now building new PdVSA management, explained: "We are living a revolutionary process which must deepen. The Bolivarian Revolution is being fought, won or lost in PdVSA."
The film was followed by a talk with directors Selma James and Nina López, who were in Venezuela last month as invited international observers of the recall referendum against the Chávez government. Chávez was re-affirmed as president with a landslide of around 60% of the vote on August 15 this year.
Ms James and Ms López, of the Global Women's Strike Bolivarian Circle, said Chávez had embraced the referendum process as a chance to prove that the Bolivarian Revolution still had the support of the country. Ms López went on to describe the huge efforts made by the grassroots to ensure that the vote was a victory for Chávez.
With just two months to prepare for the referendum, she said, "Electoral Battle Units", consisting of around ten people, were formed. Each member was assigned ten people whom they had to visit, "in every block, in every street, in every neighbourhood, in the city and in the countryside." These units made sure that people had the necessary documents and had registered to vote, and on election day "got up at 3 am calling on everyone to come out and vote," she recalled.
Ms Lopez also described the system which was adopted to guard against fraud. "Given the widespread fraud during the collection of signatures to trigger the referendum (nearly one million dodgy signatures, including those of dead or underage people, workers and hospital patients forced to sign by their doctors or employers), the system of voting had to be foolproof."
She described how this time voters' fingerprints were scanned into a laptop to verify that they had not yet voted and then presented their identity card, after which they cast their vote by computer and were provided with a printout as proof that their vote had been registered correctly. They then put this paper trail in a ballot box, collected their identity card and dipped their small finger in an ink jar so they could not vote again.
Ms López's talk was accompanied by video footage of the day of the referendum, showing tired Venezuelans waiting up to 14 hours in searing temperatures to vote. Despite the uncomfortable circumstances, around ten million Venezuelans (over 70% of the electorate, a record figure) took part in the referendum, she said, returning Chávez to power with a majority of 59%, to 41% against.
But Ms James pointed out that such a majority was not grounds for complacency: "The Labour Party, if it had a soul to sell, would sell it for that," she said, "but that's not enough for Venezuela. We have to look at the 41% and see how it can be made less. Many are not represented by the opposition's elite leadership and they can be brought over to our side."
She spoke about the extraordinary relationship that exists between Chávez and the grassroots, "Chávez knows that his power comes directly from people's actions, and unlike most leaders he sees each person as an individual rather than part of a mass."
Ms James emphasised that the future of the Bolivarian Revolution lay in the hands of grassroots activists, who had helped Chávez "go over the heads" of the middle and upper classes of Venezuelan society in order to instigate his programme of reform: "In the course of eliminating poverty the grassroots is also changing: as individuals, in relation to other sectors in society and in relation to each other. And that, it seems to me, is what we call a Revolution."
The meeting closed with an address by Hector Rangel and Edgar Silva of the Bolivarian Circle CAYAPA in Barcelona, and Marielva Franco and Milano Briceño of Identidad Bolivariana in The Netherlands, who all thanked the Global Women's Strike for inviting them.
Mr Silva, who observed the voting for the recent referendum at the Venezuelan consul in Barcelona, said 700 had voted against Chávez and only 44 for him. But what surprised him, he revealled, was the aggression directed towards his team by the voters.
"We know that the majority of the people who are against the process are outside the country," said Mr Silva. "The question that's worth looking into is the aggressive behaviour of the people who came to vote. We were insulted, all of us."
Such aggression, he said, was the product of the biased nature of most media reports on the Bolivarian Revolution: "I think it comes from the media. If you want to know what's going on in Venezuela, don't go to the media."
Marielva Franco, who witnessed the election in Amsterdam with a number of Latin American supporters, said it was important to address those people who supported the revolution outside of Venezuela. "We're doing this work because we believe in what's happening in Venezuela," she said.
Ms Franco summed-up the mood of the hall when she explained, "We believe in participatory democracy, and we take very seriously the fact that the power is in our hands and that we are the ones who have to tell people what is happening in our country."
*Copies of the film "The Bolivarian Revolution: Enter the Oil Workers," and "Venezuela - a 21st Century Revolution," can be obtained from the Global Women's Strike at www.globalwomenstrike.net