Interview with the leader of the biggest workers’ union in Venezuela
Carlos López, current Secretary General of the Bolivarian Socialist Workers’ Central of Venezuela, visited Argentina in the framework of a tour with other union and social movement leaders of the region. In the talk he gave in the Venezuelan Embassy, López explained the situation of his country and how the Bolivarian revolution is being defended by the working class.
We interviewed him and discussed some of the most urgent topics of the Venezuelan juncture regarding the working class.
How is the Venezuelan working class defending itself from all the attacks it’s suffering at an economical and ideological level?
In Venezuela there’s an economic war being waged against the Bolivarian Revolution. It goes beyond what can be seen in the media, which are the queues to buy food. On one hand, the empire influenced a drop in the prices of oil worldwide, which was a severe blow to several world economies that oppose the empire, like Russia, Iran and Venezuela. The drop in the price of oil created a very difficult situation for our country, because we strongly depend on oil trade. But Venezuela is a country with many resources and many capabilities, and this economic war led us to strengthen the struggles of the working class.
Our working class has awakened in the last three and a half years that have gone by since our Workers’ Central was created and it’s taking a huge step which is to give priority to the political struggle and the struggle for productive economy, because that is the basis for the stability of all the social benefits we have obtained with the Bolivarian Revolution.
The great challenge of the working class is to take that productive leap and guarantee that workers aren’t used by the counter-revolutionary opposition. Throughout the 3 years of Nicolás Maduro’s government, the working class has remained united and stood by the Bolivarian Revolution. We have followed the legacy of Commander Hugo Chavez, and shared his conviction that the revolution had to be socialist.
The Bolivarian Revolution granted rights to all workers through the Organic Law of Labour and Workers. This law provides protects workers in ways that are enviable by many countries in the world. There’s full job stability, protection to unions, protection to working mothers and fathers and lactating women. These benefits are part of the Constitution and the Law. Our working class is aware of that, and that’s why they haven’t fallen in the traps nor the provocations of the right.
There have been attempts to recover factories so that workers can manage them, and there has even been talk about nationalizing companies that speculate with food supply. What’s the status of these initiatives?
There are companies under control of workers that are currently productive and prosperous. Some companies of the bourgeoisie were practically rubbish when they abandoned them, and when workers seized control over them to keep their jobs, they had great difficulties to keep them running. And immediately the right-wing propaganda began to say that factories ran by the working class aren’t productive. They aren’t productive yet – they abandoned them with old machinery, in a state of unproductivity, and nevertheless we have recovered them and put them to work. Now there’s a great opportunity to occupy, if necessary, private companies that lower or cease their production, that lay off workers or that hide their production. Expropriation is an extreme term that will be applied only if necessary. But it’s simply to occupy them to guarantee that they continue to be productive and that workers can keep their jobs and that goods reach the entire population.
Are you also working with the Communes?
Of course. In Venezuela there’s a new type of economy, which is still small but with a huge potential to break with productive monopolies —it’s the communal economy. We have a Commune Ministry and an Urban Agriculture Ministry, for family agriculture. So we have two ministries dedicated to small and middle-sized production and that’s a huge step because big transnational and national companies that monopolize food production are dropping their productivity and hiding the goods. So, the people will be in charge of producing and distributing what they need.
Do women in Venezuela earn as much as men?
Of course. There’s no discrimination, salary is the same for women and men, and working conditions are equal. We know that some private companies try to break the law, but the Ministry of Work is ruthless in guaranteeing women’s right to work. Besides, workers that are lactating have two hours to breastfeed at work or to go home earlier, and a 26-week maternity leave, to be distributed before and after the birth.
What’s the working class willing to do in order to defend the revolutionary process?
The working class is being tested by this difficult time of economic war and shortages, but the response has been positive —it has strengthened the process of politicization. We have even said that, if what happened in Brazil with president Dilma Rousseff had happened in Venezuela, the entire country would be up in flames. We won’t allow an overthrowing of Nicolás Maduro.
Our main goal is to organize workers, and for that, union leaders have to be directing companies to guarantee that rights are fulfilled and each person must be familiar with all aspects of the functioning of factories so that they can’t be stopped by boycotts or attempts to destabilize them. If Nicolás Maduro were to be destituted, the working class will immediately declare an indefinite general strike throughout the entire country. We won’t wait a month or two. That very day, the entire economy would be stopped until the President returned.
Has the union grown? Because it wasn’t majoritary at first.
The Bolivarian Central is the biggest of all. It groups over 60 percent of the unionized workers. It has the most important federations of the economy: oil, electricity, telecommunications, steel and aluminum, railways. In the public sector (higher education and health) we compete with an opposing federation. Thirty percent of workers are not members of any union. We must still reach out to them, but we’re highly majoritary. In an extreme situation, we’d be able to stop the country.
Last Workers’ Day, Nicolás Maduro raised the wages once again. Tell us about the conquests that the working class has had in the Bolivarian Revolution. Despite the economic crisis, the wage increases have not ceased.
If I remember correctly, there has been a 25% increase in wages in these last 17 years of revolution. But we don’t have to be blinded by this, because there is much speculation and one of the ways to confront speculation and the drop in the real value of salary is the increase of minimum wages. What we need is to end with speculation and inflation. This is the great challenge we are facing right now, and for that we need to increase productivity.
For every dollar that comes into the country thanks to our exports, there are four possible destinations: to keep jobs, to keep wages, to fund the Social Missions (housing, health, education, food, etc.) and productive investments. We’re very interested in investing in other areas so as to avoid depending so much on oil.
What message would you give to the Argentine working class and social movements?
To the Latin American working class as a whole, I would say that the only way to confront and defeat the new neoliberal offensive of the right, which is originated in the empire, is struggle, protest and taking to the streets. We believe that Brazil has to take to the streets to bring Dilma Rousseff back. We in Venezuela are out on the streets day and night since Maduro began to be threatened by the national and international right.
We hope there’s a massive response in the continent to stop and defeat the onslaught of the right.