Venezuela: First national meeting of Socialist Workers’ Councils discusses workers' control

Image removed.

Photo by Prensa Sidor.

By Tamara Pearson

Mérida, May 24, 2011 – – More than 900 workers’ council delegates from across Venezuela met at the Sidor steel plant in Puerto Ordaz to advance the organisation of Socialist Workers’ Councils and analyse progress, strengths and weaknesses of workers' control in Venezuela. The meeting, which took place on May 20, 21 and 22, opened with the singing of Venezuela's national anthem as well as the "Internationale".

It aimed to “strengthen the struggle for productive independence through workers' control”, Prensa Sidor (Sidor Press) reported. Workers, coming from a range of nationalised and worker-occupied and -run companies, and from most of Venezuela’s 23 states, evaluated the management model of  the “Socialist Workers’ Councils”.

Sidor, one the most important steel factories in Latin America, was privatised in 1997 and following that, the workforce was reduced from 15,000 to just over 5000. The Venezuelan government nationalised it in 2008 after over a year of struggle by Sidor workers, together with the people of Puerto Ordaz.

President Hugo Chavez first called for the creation of socialist workers’ councils in November 2007. VTV, the state-owned national television station, for example, elected its worker council in June 2010, with 849 workers voting to elect 36 spokespeople that make up the council.

“The workplace has to be linked to the community”, Chavez said as he made the call.

The recently passed Organic Law of Popular Power recognises socialist workers’ councils among the various popular power organisations, thereby creating a legal basis for the councils. The Network of Socialist Workers’ Councils is also calling for the creation of a special law for workers’ councils.

In February 2011, workers held regional meetings of socialist workers’ councils. With 50 such councils, represented by 300 delegates, meeting in the greater Caracas region on February 26.

The May 20-22 national meeting was divided into three parts: exchange of experiences in the various factories and companies organised according to region of the country; a discussion in 30 working groups about problems in constructing workers' control; and a plenary session where representatives from the working groups read out their conclusions.

The conclusions went towards a document titled, Manifesto of the First National Meeting of Worker Control, which participating workers hope to present to Chavez.

The conference analysed what is happening in nationalised and worker-occupied companies and rejected the actions of some government functionaries against workers' organisation, as well as the negative role right-wing unions have been playing, Aporrea reported.

Workers also proposed the formation of a national front that will promote the workers' council model, as well as the strengthening of ideological training and class consciousness, and finally, a greater use of criticism and “revolutionary self-criticism as an instrument of class struggle”, Sidor Press reported.

Participants said the meeting was significant as an opportunity to strengthen workers' control in Venezuela. They agreed to meet next on June 18 in Anzoategui state, to form the proposed national front and to plan actions to concretise the proposals made at the conference.

According to Lucha de Clases, the meeting was “organised from below, [and] a key factor in the mobilisation and logistics of the meeting was the participation and organisation of the workers of [Puerto Ordaz, Bolivar state] who opened up their homes to put up comrades participating from other states”.

Aporrea writer Luis Roa criticised the fact that “no representatives of the state government ... or the National Assembly ... or any union” participated in the conference.

Slogans of the conference included “Neither capitalists nor bureaucrats, all power to the workers” and “Without workers’ control there’s no revolution”.