Venezuela: Discussing the workers' control movement: An interview with 'Cayapa' radio show

The workers at Grafitos del Orinico are proud of their collectively run factory. Photo by Ewan Robertson.

By Ewan Robertson

June 3, 2011 -- AlertaQueCamina via Venezuelanalysis -- On Sunday, May 22, 2011, Spanish-language radio program Cayapa, based in Windsor, Canada, broadcast a program discussing the social and political changes underway in Venezuela, in the context of a recent solidarity brigade to the country by activists from the English-speaking world, and the country’s growing workers' control movement. This article provides an overview of the program in English, followed by a translation of an interview with the program about the workers' control movement in Venezuela, particularly in the Guayana region in the east of the country. You can listen to the full program (in Spanish) here or in the player below (apologies for the strange advertisement at the beginning!).

Discussing the revolution

The program, hosted by freelance journalist Alex Utrera, took interviews from several members of the recent Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) solidarity brigade to Venezuela, which ran between  April 25 to May 5, 2011. The brigade comprised activists, journalists and students, which between them represented Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland and the United States. The brigade visited various examples of Venezuela’s growing infrastructure of social services as well as examples of popular participation and commmunity organisation which form part of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution”.

The brigade also visited some of the country’s new institutions such as the headquarters of ALBA (Alliance for the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas), an international Latin America alliance founded by Cuba and Venezuela which seeks to promote regional integration and development based on alternative values to neoliberalism and "free trade", and BanMujer, the government institution which provides credits and services to women in order to help them form cooperatives and achieve a greater level of independence and self-determination in Venezuelan society. Importantly, the brigade also visited the city of Puerto Ordaz in the east of Venezuela, to discover more about the workers' control movement in that part of the country, both as part of “Plan Socialist Guyana” in the region’s nationalised industries, and other independent examples such as the Grafitos del Orinoco factory.

In among the interviews, the program also played a range of music from Venezuela and Latin America which reflect the roch wind of social change and revolution which have been blowing through the continent for the last decade, providing an appropriate context to the topics being discussed.

The first interview was with Alejandro Rodriguez, who acted as one of the translators on the brigade and gave an introduction to what the brigade was and what had been seen. It had been stressed during the brigade by participants that the aim was not only to see for ourselves the reality of Venezuelan society and report back our impressions as a counter to the distortions of the mass media (such as Fox News or the British BBC), but also to learn the lessons of the Venezuelan struggle for our own movements in our own countries.


The second interview was with Mexican Lulu Garcia Larque, who reported on changes to the situation for women in Venezuela. She outlined how there had been many improvements for women in Venezuela, in line with the social gains made by the general population, however she reported that women continue being a more vulnerable group in Venezuelan society. In this context she mentioned the importance of the increase in access to services such as health, and the increase in centres dealing with information and services on reproductive rights and promoting the health of mothers and babies. She also opined on the difference between the social, political and economic situation of Venezuela with other countries such as her native Mexico, stating that: “access to health, education and the right to participate doesn’t exist for many other Latin Americans, for example in Mexico, where the economy is deteriorating, government decisions are not made in order to benefit the poor, and people don’t have the same rights of expression as in Venezuela”. Finally, commenting on the social progress in general and gains for women in particular in Venezuela, Lula concluded by stating her belief that ”the next generation are going to build another world”.

The final interview was with Alexis Ardarfio, who helps organise the social and political activities of the iron extraction company Ferrominero in Guayana and is also an activist of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Alexis also played a key role in organising the Puerto Ordaz section of the brigade. Alexis mentioned the importance of having activists from other countries coming to see Venezuela for themselves, particularly the workers' control movement in Guayana. He stated that in this movement “we are creating a new model of industrial organisation -- a model of popular participation in industrial production, production of quality and effectiveness, in order to resolve societal and human problems, for example in producing resources for Gran Mision Vivienda (the Venezuelan government’s current effort to provide housing for everyone in the nation by building 2 million homes by 2017) …in this vein, the best manner of [solving humanity's problems] is with workers' control.” Alexis invited anyone interested in finding out more about Venezuela and the revolutionary process to contact him with questions. His email and articles on worker control can be found on the Aporrea website here.

Interview: Impressions of workers' control in Venezuela

The final interview of the program was with myself. Alex Utrera asked me to report on what the brigade had seen of the workers' control movement in the Guayana region of Venezuela. As I am in the process of preparing a fuller article on the topic, I felt it would be useful to include a translation here of my initial report and observations. For more information in English about the workers' control movement in Venezuela, there are several articles available on among other sources, including an article about the recent national conference of the worker control movement here.

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Alex Utrera: Ewan, can you tell us what is workers' control?

Well, that is the great debate going on in Venezuela at the moment, on that question exactly. However generally, the idea is that workers should have control over the decisions in a company or workplace, and so the company, the production and all of the decisions, are under the control of the workers … and this is a democratic idea, that all the workers have an equal role in the process of taking decisions about [the running of] a factory or workplace: that, basically, is worker control.

You visited various factories [in the Guayana region of Venezuela], how was your experience of these factories?

We [the AVSN brigade] had two distinct experiences. The first was of the nationalised basic industries that form part of the regional production plan called “Plan Socialist Guayana”, particularly Sidor and Ferrominero, the steel production and iron ore extraction companies. In these companies, as part of Plan Socialist Guayana, they are developing a strategy to implement workers' control … this process is at the stage called sensibilizacion, which is to say, a stage of debate and education with the participation of the workers on how to implement workers' control. Thus, this is an important stage because it is with the participation of the workers, in a debate about what form workers' control should take, however it is not at the stage of the actual implementation of workers' control… So this experience was of a debate about how to implement workers' control in factories with over 1000 workers [Sidor has over 10,000 workers, for example].

The other example we experienced was a visit to a factory called “Grafitos del Orinico” [which produces products important for the production of steel in Sidor, and was taken over by its workers after an eight-month occupation and struggle against the former owners], which is a factory with 54 workers. The system in this factory is one is which every worker has a vote and an equal role, and [the decision-making body] of the factory is the assembly of all the workers: all the decisions about the running of the factory, including finance (and what to pay themselves), are made in the assembly… Thus this is a revolutionary and democratic idea, because it is a new model of organisation, of how to manage a factory … and so for us, this example was very, very interesting.

Can you tell us what is the difference between a factory which has workers' control and one that doesn’t?

Basically, for me the difference is one between exploitation and oppression, and freedom and emancipation … in the factories with workers' control. The workers have control over their lives, they can take decisions about their life in the workplace, decisions about their life, their work, and they can develop themselves as human beings… [This is because] the aim is workers' control is not to make profits for the owner, but the human development of the workers and to help the community, thus the wealth created by the workers above what is needed for a dignified life goes to the community, for schools and children's services in the area, and to help the community generally. Thus it is a different conception of how to imagine and organise production: is the aim of production to create profits for the boss, or for the wellbeing of the workers and the social development of the community and society?

Therefore, this is the difference: one is a democratic model, opposed to a [heirarchical] capitalist model of oppression and exploitation, which aims not to make money for the boss but to the human and education development of the workers, and to help the community as well. Those are the most important differences in my opinion.

This is the most revolutionary idea, because it is the union of socialism and democracy … but to realise this in the entire Venezuela economy is, in my opinion, going to require a revolution within a revolution, because in order to conquer the spaces of popular power necessary for this process, you need to fight, or course, against the bosses and capitalism, but also against those sections of the revolution that are the most reformist, the bureaucracy… However there is a possibility, a possible future for humanity: workers' control offers a future [path] for humanity: but it is an idea which must be struggled for, and is going to require a struggle to be realised. Thus it is possible, but it is a struggle, a struggle for humanity.

Finally Ewan, what is the impact of the implementation of this first phase of education and debate toward workers' control in Venezuela? Is it creating an impact on the average worker? What are the possibilities?

In Plan Socialist Guayana in the sensibilizacion stage, the possibility [of full workers' control] definitely exists, but something very important for this is the future of the proposition for a new organic law of Trabajo [an organic law is the highest form of law in Venezuela, and is rooted in and given the same weight as the constitution]. In this law, which is being debated and promoted by various sections of the labour movement, workers' councils, the PCV (Communist Party of Venezuela) and sections of the PSUV, is a proposition for a new legal status for workers' councils… Another clause in the law is for paid time during the workday for the political and educational activities of workers. Thus this law contains powerful proposals for workers struggling for workers' control in all of the factories and workplaces of Venezuela, and so it is very important… Chavez stated during the giant May Day march in Caracas that he thought this law should be passed in the country’s National Assembly.

Aside from this, workers can still struggle to implement workers' control and bring sovereignty to the workers, giving real democracy to the workplace… If workers have success with this, then yes, it is possible that there can be workers' control in the factories [and workplaces] of Venezuela.

Thus it is important to investigate and understand the process of changes underway in Venezuela in this moment, particularly the movement toward workers' control, because the examples of workers' control, for example in Merida with the nationalised milk company Enlaces, with Grafitos del Orinoco, with Invepal [worker-run paper factory in Maracay] and others, are important in my opinion because they offer another model to organise the workplace, along democratic lines, and thus understanding this process is important for all of humanity. Therefore in my opinion it is a good idea for all people to understand this process, what is happening at the moment, and learn the lessons the struggles in our countries as well.

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Both the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network solidarity brigade, and the reportage of Cayapa radio show highlight the importance of investigating and understanding the changes underway in Venezuelan society and politics today. To date, the successes and possibilities of the country’s popular movements, and the social gains promoted by the current government, throw into sharp relief the poverty of the view that “there is no alternative” to the way humanity is organised and relates to itself, and is a counter to the demoralisation and apathy that this perspective encourges among those who would look to seek to build an alternative. 

Thus understanding, supporting and learning from movements such as the workers' control movement in Venezuela are important for showing us not just that “another world is possible”, but what that world could look like and how we can get there. To that end, in the coming weeks I will be publishing more of my (and other’s) investigations about the workers' control movement in Venezuela, and indeed more about the social and political changes underway in Venezuelan society in general.