In the midst of the Venezuelan Presidential crisis, a new coalition of Venezuelan socialists and trade unionists has formed in opposition to both the incumbent President Nicolás Maduro and his National Assembly-backed challenger Juan Guaidó.
The Presidential crisis began on 10 January 2019 when the National Assembly, held by the right-wing coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), disputed the process and results of the May 2018 Presidential election, which saw Maduro re-elected. Guaidó declared himself interim President of Venezuela on 23 January 2019, setting off the fiercest challenges yet to Maduro and the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV).
Guaidó enjoys support from numerous foreign governments, including those of the United States, Brazil, and Colombia. Russia and China continue to back Maduro.
These intense months have included clashing protests in the streets, barricades at the Venezuelan border, and a failed attempt by Guaidó to spark a military uprising against Maduro on 30 April.
As reported on the Venezuelan Voices blog on 7 June, the new socialist and trade unionist coalition, named “Workers in Struggle”, seeks “to confront the brutal anti-worker policies of the Maduro Government and to repudiate imperialist interference”. According to the report:
“This alliance counts with the participation of, among others, the following workers’ leaders: Eduardo Sánchez from the university workers’ sector, president of SINATRAUCV (National Workers’ Union of the Central University of Venezuela) and FETRAESUV (Venezuelan Federation of Higher Education Administrative Workers); José Bodas, secretary general of the FUTPV (Unitary Federation of Oil Workers of Venezuela); Jairo Colmenares, fired trade union leader of the Caracas Metro; Thony Navas, president of SITRASALUD (Health Workers’ Union) in the capital district; Deyanira Romero, general secretary of the SINATRAUCV local of the Maracay campus of the Central University of Venezuela; Horacio Silva, from the oil industry; Orlando Chirino, coordinator of C-CURA (Classist, Unitary, Revolutionary and Autonomous Current); as well as the organizations Marea Socialista, Lucha de Clases, Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo, Izquierda Revolucionaria and the Partido Socialismo y Libertad (Socialism and Freedom Party).”
We welcome this move. While it is doubtful that many (if any) of the coalition members share Workers’ Liberty’s Third Camp socialist tradition or our specific analysis of the Chavista regime as Bonapartist, this initiative clearly understands the need to organise around an explicitly left-wing political programme that combines resistance to the Venezuelan right and its imperialist backers with resistance to the brutal, anti-working class policies of Maduro’s ostensibly socialist government. Promisingly, the grouping includes Venezuelan labour organisers with a credible history of struggle. It has also brought political tendencies that have long been sceptical of Chavismo into common cause with tendencies that were previously in the PSUV, only to become dissidents.
We have reproduced the coalition’s public declaration in full below. In addition, for the sake of context, we have included part of an interview I conducted with Andrea Pacheco, a member of the Trotskyist organisation Marea Socialista, a few weeks before the events of January. Marea Socialista split from the PSUV in 2015 and now participate in Workers’ in Struggle. Pacheco provides a valuable inside perspective on the stranglehold the PSUV bureaucracy has over organised labour in Venezuela, and on Maduro and the mining unions’ complicity in the environmentally destructive extraction of minerals in the Arco Minero region.
Public Declaration of “Workers in Struggle”
The Venezuelan workers and popular sectors are passing through the most frightening social and economic crisis of the last few decades. The oil industry is in shambles. Production of our main resource rapidly decays, to the level it had in the 1920s. The basic industries in Guayana are wrecked, public services destroyed. There are cuts in running water and electricity in much of the country. Public transportation is a disaster.
We suffer an unstoppable hyper-inflation that destroys our salaries. Collective bargaining agreements are no longer discussed. The government applies a brutal austerity package, including a mega-devaluation while at the same time applying Memorandum 2792, by which it benefits and satisfies private capital, turns wages to dust, eases layoffs, and attempts to delegitimize trade unions and collective agreements. It unilaterally applies wage tables drawn without consultation that subject us to wages of hunger.
On its side, the bosses’ Opposition headed by Guaidó, supported by Trump and U.S. imperialism, seeks to profit from this situation to impose its policies of subjection and corporate giveaways, resorting to putschism and the worst of demagogy. Imperialism has applied economic sanctions that only add to the suffering of the people, confiscated Venezuelan State accounts and PDVSA/CITGO actives abroad, taking control over billions of dollars. And since January, they have attempted to develop a military coup to seize power and apply their Plan País, made up of austerity, privatizations, low wages, and giveaways to transnational capitals.
Before this terrible tragedy, the Government chose to side with the capitalists, and auction the country off to transnational sectors. The Maduro Government is anti-worker, authoritarian, anti-democratic and repressive. It is a government that has nothing to do with socialism, and the workers’ and people’s interests.
Both the right-wing Opposition and the national Government pay tribute to capital, are subordinated to foreign interests, and seek to maintain the privileges of their respective elites against the needs of the people. They negotiate according to their interests behind the back of the working people.
In this context, we call to form the widest unity of the working class in defense of our interests and rights. We must build and political and sindical alternative for workers, autonomous from the Government, the right-wing Opposition, and any other bosses’ proxies.
An alternative of struggle, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and anti-patriarchy, that confronts with organization and mobilization the imperialist intervention, the putschism headed by Guaidó and the traditional right-wing parties, and the nefarious policies of the Maduro Government. An alternative that rejects the interference of North American imperialism and the Lima Group, but that also repudiates the interference of China and Russia, opposing the negotiations by great powers behind the backs of the Venezuelan working people.
We stand for the construction of a plan of struggle at a national level that corresponds to ongoing workers’ conflicts, to confront the Government’s austerity package, along with any other variant, such as the Plan País proposed by Guaidó.
We workers must struggle for our fundamental demands. We have to fight for a living wage adjusted to inflation, for our collective bargaining agreements. Ultimately, we must struggle for a workers’ and popular Emergency Plan that begins immediately with the massive importation of food-stuff, medicines and production inputs; that repudiates the foreign debt; that achieves the statization of oil, without transnationals or mixed companies; that confiscates the wealth of the corrupt and the capitalists that have pillaged the country; and that pushes a democratic and structural agrarian reform that ends the great landlords, and that grants land, inputs and technical support to the poor peasantry.
We demand the fulfillment of Articles 89 through 91 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and the Basic Labor Law, that establish that wages, pensions, retirements and social benefits must equal the basic costs of family life.
We denounce the interference of the National Electoral Council and the Ministry of Labor in trade union elections, placing obstacles in the legitimation of trade unions, federations and professional associations.
We demand the recognition of trade union leaders without political conditions.
We demand the repeal of Memorandum 2792 from October 20 of 2018, that pretends to encroach on collective bargaining agreements and labor norms, positioning the Labor Ministry as a watchman for capital.
We condemn the bosses’ persecution, harassment, assaults and threats against workers and trade unions.
We demand an end to the assaults, harassment and criminalization by the State security bodies (Bolivarian National Police, Special Armed Forces, Bolivarian Investigation Service, CICPC and the Bolivarian National Guard) against workers’, peasants’ and popular struggles and leaders.
We condemn the criminalization of protest as a mechanism of bosses’ terrorism.
We demand the repeal of all laws, practices and norms that criminalize the rights to strike and struggle.
We denounce the massive direct and indirect layoffs of workers, and the deterioration of existing working conditions.
We demand the reincorporation of all those fired for struggling for their rights, victims of anti-union retaliation.
We demand full freedom for all workers, peasants and others imprisoned for struggling.
We denounce the theft of our social benefits (pensions and funds) through the monetary reconversion and hyper-inflation. And we demand the indexing to inflation of these social benefits.
Enough with imperialist aggression. We oppose economic sanctions, and stand for the return of CITGO and our confiscated wealth.
Based on this standpoint, as members of the organizations forming the space, we believe that permanent organization and mobilization is our duty in the struggle for our rights, through regional conventions and protest actions. We stand in solidarity with the ongoing labor struggles, among which we can point out those in the Hyper Mercado Modelo, Bridgestone-Firestone, Chrysler, and the Caracas Metro. We also issue a convocation to accompany our plan of actions and mobilizations in defense of the living wage, against layoffs, and for solidarity with those in struggle.
Marea Socialista activist Andrea Pacheco on Venezuelan unions
Interview and translation by Eduardo Tovar
Here there’s a phenomenon that you can’t imagine in countries like England because these unions are not from a country that has an organic, organised political tradition of anarchism or communism: there isn’t one to see. Here trade unionism is almost permeated with elected mafias. So the union today follows that conception, the one which really functions like an intermediary in negotiations or engages in the most illegal activities, the most extractive, far away from the city. The construction unions act with that same logic. Heavy mafias, violent mafias: that is a characterisation of trade unionism today in Venezuela.
The most we are accustomed to seeing is from the people justly in the education sector, the health sector, etc. They are always important unions. Today they’re basically dominated by the government bureaucracy. None of their directions today are legitimated by an electoral process and one has to see that this problem’s been dragging along for a considerable time: the completion of the state’s co-option of the unions. Under governments before Chavismo, there had remained some autonomy in the unions in relation to the party because you could have an adeco  government and an adeco union, but the adeco union would still fight for workers’ rights.
The Chavista union doesn’t do that. The Chavista union bureaucracy aligns directly with the party bosses, and sabotages and persecutes all dissent. In this, I tell you, they apply mafioso logic. There you often see the great courage of workers who rise up because their workplaces have people who threaten them and who we know to be armed. It’s to do trade unionism as workers’ struggle. In truth, it’s a rebellion, a great bravery, because to confront all this, even within one’s own trade union sphere, is very difficult. Today there is a resurgence of the labour movement, of trade unionism, with this blow so strong that the government is dealing against the workers.
This Venezuelan is not one who knows a normal capitalism. It’s another face of the capitalism you experience over there. The one here is much more macabre. In those places where there there was mining related to steelmaking, today the development of natural resources - of minerals that are in the Arco Minero zone of the Orinoco - has started. In all these zones developed all this mafia of the unions. Generally, that’s what the people call the mining unions. In this southern zone of Bolívar, these mining unions have constituted a new order in complicity with the state, in direct relation with the security forces because there is no institution of environmentalist labour organising. The state as a provider of rights and services doesn’t exist. There exists the repressive state, and that state is funded by the mining mafia and by that which is dominated by bad unions.
 Of Acción Democrática (‘Democratic Action’), the social-democratic party that was a large part of the (broadly conceived) left in Venezuela before Chavismo.