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Venezuela: Ordinary people are the engine of transformation

ADRIAN WEIR on a timely pamphlet on workers’ rights and the new labour law in Venezuela

With the forces of counter-revolution apparently rampant in Caracas (although importantly not supported in barrios) and drooled over by the western press led by neoliberal free-sheet (who would pay for it) City AM, the Institute of Employment Rights has recently published the 10th booklet in its series of Comparative Notes, examining the system of labour and employment rights in countries around the world, this time in Bolivarian Venezuela.

Reading the booklet simultaneously with Victor Figueroa Clark’s biography of Salvador Allende, I was struck by the similarities between the Popular Unity era in Chile of the early 1970s and today’s Venezuela.

With regard to the right-wing gangs now on the streets in Caracas, Clark notes that “Castro privately encouraged the Popular Unity to take steps to prepare for the violence that the reactionary elite and its allies in the United States were clearly preparing.”

In the comparative context, Clark describes the industrial relations philosophy of Popular Unity. “Participation was to be demanded at every level. Workers were to participate in management of enterprises, and trade unions and other social organisations were to be incorporated into administering enterprises, and in the planning process.”

Similarly, in this booklet on Venezuela, the authors make the point. “Running through the [new labour] law, as in much of Venezuelan political life, is the nurturing of a participative democracy… ordinary people are not expected to be passive but politically active and the engine of transformation in the country.”

The passing into law of the new labour code in Venezuela was one of the last acts of late President Hugo Chávez. But this was no top-down drafting – the labour code process was a “product of more than 19,000 proposals resulting from over 1,800 popular assemblies of working people held around the country in liaison with trade unions.”

The LOTT, as it’s known by its Spanish acronym, deals with most aspects of working life and more, including contracts of employment, wages, collective bargaining and the right to strike, working conditions (including dignified employment and health and safety), outsourcing, privatisation and bogus self-employment, trade union rights, equalities and life outside work, lifelong learning and enforcement.

That such an all-embracing statute could be passed into law with the support of the unions is all the more remarkable given the unions have been in a state of flux since the advent of Chávismo. The old unions, organised in the CTV confederation, supported the coup against Chávez in 2002.

The CTV has now shrunk to a rump although union density has grown under Chávez, not least because more and more workers have been brought in from the informal labour market.

As they enter the formal sector workers now join the new unions organised in the CBST confederation. It was CBST general secretary Carlos Lopez who participated in the special commission convened to synthesise the workers’ proposals into the new legislation.

It remains a shame that the CTV is still able to claim some official recognition within the international labour movement.

This booklet is extremely timely. Given the western press’s support for the counterrevolutionary elements it’s refreshing to be able to read about just one aspect of the positive advances of working people in the Chávez era. Don’t just read it yourself, buy it and pass it on.

  • Adrian Weir is assistant secretary for the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom
  • Comparative Note 10. Bolivarian Venezuela: sustained progress for workers’ rights by Francisco Dominguez and Sian Errington. Published by IER, 4th Floor, Jack Jones House, Liverpool L3 8EG. Priced £6.50 available to Morning Star readers at discounted price of £5. Tel: 0151 207 5265


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