Venezuela: 100,000 celebrate May Day

By Tamara Pearson

May 2, 2010 -- -- Venezuelans marched on May 1 to celebrate International Worker's Day. President Hugo Chavez also implemented a 15% wage increase, and the government broadened social security entitlements.

The main national march was in the capital Caracas, where people chanted, danced, waved placards and banners and played music as they marched towards the presidential palace Miraflores. While there were no official or police estimates, various participants in the march told Venezuelanalysis they estimated that "hundreds of thousands" turned out, celebrating the achievements of the Bolivarian revolution and its promotion of wage increases, better working conditions and better life conditions for the poor majority. [However, more sober accounts told Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal that participation was around 100,000.]

A range of union and workers' representatives addressed the crowd from the main stage and 7000 police and guards looked after the march.

There were also smaller rallies and various cultural events and public meetings around the country. RNV reported, for example, that “hundreds of workers” mobilised in the municipality of San Francisco in Zulia state, and ABN reported a large march in Merida city, where the governor of Merida state and the state leader of Unete, Venezuela’s main umbrella trade union organisation, addressed the crowd. And in Carabobo state, ABN reported a small “caminata” or car parade marked the day.

The opposition on May Day

The opposition, through the CTV (Confederation of Venezuelan Workers) also organised a protest on May 1. By 12.30 however only around 200 people had turned up. They held placards with slogans against “importing communism from Cuba” and saying “We don’t want a military dictatorship.” The secretary general of the CTV, Manuel Cova, demanded a general 40% increase in salaries.

The CTV was Venezuela’s old trade union federation, but when it participated in the 2002 coup against Chavez, and the oil industry shutdown in 2002-03, Chavez supporters formed the UNT, now called Unete, which now has around 80% of Venezuela’s trade unions affiliated to it.

Opposition media in Venezuela boycotted or minimised coverage of the large Caracas demonstration. El Universal tried to create a sense of chaos with its headline, “Closure of Avenues Urdaneta and Libertador collapse the city”, and in general opposition press gave ample coverage to the opposition CTV protest and brief coverage to the large pro-government concentration.

For example, El Nacional’s article on the pro-revolution mobilisation was half the size of its CTV article and headlined, “Chavez didn’t attend government mobilisation for 1 May”. 

Wage increases

During a ceremony on April 30 in Caracas, where Chavez handed out 266 “Orders of Merit” to electricity, rural, social service and construction workers, he also announced that the government would bring forward a wage increase of 15% due to come into effect on September 1, to May 1.

On February 23, the government increased the minimum wage by 25%, to be paid in two parts, 10% from March 1 and the remaining 15% from September 1. With the 15% moved forward to May 1, the minimum wage is now BsF1223.89 (US$284.62).

The minimum wage is also used to calculate other salaries, for example some teachers receive three times' the minimum wage, as well as being the amount received by pensioners.

Chavez said the wage increase overall means an additional BsF10 billion (US$2.3 billion) in spending for the government. 

Further, he announced a 40% wage increase for doctors of the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security (IVSS), the same amount he announced on March 10 for doctors working for the ministry of health and which also came into effect on May 1.

More people will also be eligible for social security. Previously, widows received a 40% pension, but with the recent modification of the social security law, as of May 1, they will be entitled to a full pension, or where there are multiple “survivors” of the deceased, such as wives and ex-wives with children, the pension will be divided among them.

According to Radiomundial, 1.45 million people are currently receiving pensions from IVSS, an increase of 300% from 1998, before the Chavez government. The IVSS will also now provide special pensions to over 20,000 retired rural workers and fishers.

“The [rural workers and fishers] work their whole life and in many cases they are exploited, and no one ever thought about them when they arrived at old age”, Chavez said.

Chavez concluded by calling on the Venezuelan working class to take on a broader vision where they don’t just struggle for basic workplace demands but also for the development of a new society.

“Congratulations on your day... this century is your day, the century of revolution, of socialism, with class-consciousness and commitment to the struggle against capitalism,” he said.