Witnesses to a Sovereign People in Venezuela

Australian Solidarity Activists Visit Venezuela for 2013 Municipal Elections

By Ewan Robertson - Correo Del Orinoco
A group of Australian solidarity activists visited Venezuela during the recent municipal elections in order to find out more about the Bolivarian Revolution and strengthen solidarity between the peoples of the two countries.

The visit was organized by the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) and was the 14th solidarity brigade the organization has conducted to Venezuela since 2005. The brigade was also the AVSN’s first since President Hugo Chavez passed away earlier this year. Along with members from Australia, activists from several European countries such as Britain, Bulgaria and Croatia participated.

Brigade leader Federico Fuentes told Correo del Orinoco that despite Chavez’s death and the economic war being waged against the Venezuelan government, the brigade had found the Bolivarian movement resilient and continuing to work to transform society.

“What we have very much witnessed being here is in many ways the continued presence and reinvigoration of the Chavista movement; one which has captured the imagination of millions around the world”, he said.

Brigade participants attended campaign events in the run up to the municipal elections held on December 8th, and observed polling centers in Caracas on voting day. Along with commenting on the peaceful and orderly nature of the voting process, several noted upon people’s high level of political participation during the electoral campaign.

English socialist activist Daniel Gent compared the political activism of students at the Caracas campus of Venezuela’s Bolivarian University with the low levels of student participation during Britain’s last general election.

“It was amazing to see how in a municipal election everyone had [political] t-shirts, there were stalls and posters everywhere, and a rally with 1000- 2000 people...it was just mind blowing for someone from England to see”, he commented.

During the eleven day visit the brigade visited several institutions promoting solidarity between Venezuela and the wider world, such as the headquarters of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the PetroCaribe agreement, the Venezuelan foreign ministry, and the Salvador Allende Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).

At the ELAM, brigade members found out how Venezuela is training medical students from 42 countries around the world for free, to later go back to their communities and promote public healthcare in their home countries.

Yvonne Eunson, a retired nurse from Australia, reported on the groups’ sentiments of the ELAM. “The quality of the students was just amazing. They were so inspired and so inspiring. It’s a great project, and it gives you so much hope,” she stated.

The solidarity activists also visited communal councils, communes, and state-owned food production firm Diana Industries, which is run with workers’ participation.

Diana Industries produces low-priced cooking oil, margarine, mayonnaise and soap, and the majority of their produce is distributed directly to the population through state-run food programs in order to avoid price speculation and hoarding.

Fuentes said the visit to Diana was particularly important “to see how workers in the country are trying to work together to confront this economic war that the capitalists have been unleashing”. Brigade members also noted on the marked difference between the image the mainstream media presents of Venezuela and the reality they experienced during their visit.

“The mainstream image of Venezuela is absolutely crazy, crazier than any other country you could imagine. The fact that Venezuela reduced poverty by 20% last year isn’t a story, but that fact that in one shop at some point you couldn’t buy toilet paper is a story,” said Daniel Gent.

The activist added, “Upon coming here now I can see why Venezuela is demonized so much. It’s not just because America wants control over the oil here, but because it presents an alternative model”.

Fuentes of the AVSN also said that the information gathered during the brigade would be useful for promoting greater understanding of the Bolivarian Revolution in Australia and other countries around the world.

“We’ll continue to take all this information back to Australia, in order to strengthen solidarity between the people of Venezuela and Australia,” he affirmed.

Invitation to eyewitness Venezuela

Invitation to visit Venezuela - January 28 to February 6

While the mainstream media speculates about the future of the Bolivarian Revolution since the passing of Hugo Chavez, for the Venezuelan people, there is no question. Come learn about the process currently transpiring in Venezuela as the people, reinvigorated by the legacy of Chavez, deepen and further radicalize their struggle in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution. Come learn, connect, and show your solidarity at this critical moment for the Venezuelan process.

Through direct exchanges with community organizations, social movements, and political leaders, we will explore various areas of social transformation, including food sovereignty, education, healthcare, media, and direct citizen participation in the political process. There will also be trips to beaches, parks, and other sites of interest.

Cost for Activities: $1100. This will cover all lodging, all ground transportation, 2 meals per day, qualified trip leaders, and Spanish-English interpretation. Additional expenses during the trip will be low.
Airfare not included.

Tentative Itinerary. Start and end in Caracas; visits to the states of Maracay, Yaracuy and Carabobo.
Day 1: Caracas – Arrival; orientation/welcome; visits to social programs and discussions with community leaders and local authorities.

Day 2 and 3: Visits to urban agriculture sites and other community initiatives in different communities in Caracas, including 23 de Enero, El Valle, and Petare.

Days 4, 5 and 6: Visits to rural areas in the states of Yaracuy, Lara and Carabobo: learn about agrarian reform and agroecology through visits to agricultural cooperatives, biological control laboratories, food processing coops, and agricultural education programs

Days 7 and 8: Visit to the Afro-Venezuelan coastal community of Chuao, known for producing some of the world’s best cocoa; learn about artisanal cacao production as well as artisanal fishing and Venezuela’s progressive fishing laws; enjoy beautiful beaches.

Day 9: Caracas: free day for sight seeing, getting souvenirs

Day 10: departure for home.

To Learn more and hold a spot for the trip, email cbalbertolovera@gmail. com. Please be in touch as soon as possible, as space is very limited. Please allow several days for responses.

Sponsored by the Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle of NY.

What people are saying about our delegations:
Visiting Venezuela with the Bolivarian Circle of New York “Alberto Lovera” delegation was a great experience. "I was able to enter into dialog with the process underway at cooperatives and communal councils and see for myself the enthusiasm of the Chavista base for participatory democracy, food security and protecting the social gains of the revolution while moving forward."
Frederick B. Mills
Professor of Philosophy
Bowie State University

"The delegation gave me a fabulous window into one of the most exciting social experiments of our time, the Bolivarian revolution and the public policies committed to social Justice that it informs. It also wetted my appetite for more. I will soon be incorporating some of what I learned into my seminars, and I hope to be able to bring a contingent of students in the near future."
Claudia Chaufan
Associate Professor
 University of California San Francisco

“The Food Sovereignty delegation to Venezuela was interesting, informative and a lot of fun. We saw collective farms, factories, feeding centers and spent time with groups of people struggling for land reform and human dignity. We had lots of opportunities to see how people work together and how agriculture is changing in Venezuela. I loved the people we traveled with and created strong bonds with many of them. It’s the kind of trip that makes you want to return in a few years to see how much progress is being made. It further inspired me to work in the food democracy movement in the US and figure out ways to stay in solidarity with our Venezuelan sisters and brothers.”
Nancy Romer
General Coordinator
Brooklyn Food Coalition
http://www. BrooklynFoodCoalition.org

“Traveling with William and Christina gave me an insider perspective that I couldn’t have gotten otherwise. I highly recommend taking a trip on one of these delegations whether you are highly interested in food politics and socialism, or are new to the subject.”
Paula Crossfield
Founder and the Managing Editor of Civil Eats
http://civileats.com/ about/

“I traveled to both Venezuela and Bolivia with William Camacaro and Christina Schiavoni as the leaders of the trip. I can’t say enough about the quality of these trips and their leadership. I was astounded at the range of activities each trip provided: food centers for the elderly, African communities, women’s collectives, revolutionary centers, fishing industry in Venezuela, agricultural initiatives such as the production of quinoa in Bolivia, meetings with government officials, wonderful community cultural events (sometimes in our honor!), and more. Additionally, both William and Christina were very attentive to the people on the trips, addressed personal crises that arose, and helped in any way possible.

There was never a sense that you were simply on your own in a foreign country, and had to fend for yourself. They were always available for questions, suggestions, and concrete help. IN SO DOING THE TRIP LEADERS CREATED A FAMILY-LIKE FEELING AMONG THE GROUP MEMBERS. I have been traveling on political/educational trips for decades, and can only say; the Bolivarian Circle’s trips are the bomb!”
Suzanne Ross, PhD.
clinical psychologist and activist with the Free Mumia Abu Jamal Coalition, NYC

“The food sovereignty tours to Venezuela are an incredible eye opener. You can read about aspects of the country’s shift to a fairer food system but to see it first hand – and meet the people that are making the change happen – is totally inspiring.”
Simon Cunich

Australian Filmmaker
Creator of the documentary GrowingChange

Venezuela: A people politically alert

Media War Against Venezuela Continues

by María Páez Victor

Commentary broadcast on the Latin American community radio, Radio Voces, Toronto,
3 December 2013; www.paezvictor.blogspot.com

Since the election of President Hugo Chávez in 1999 there has been antipathy and deliberate media distortion of the political events in Venezuela.

Last Sunday, the Toronto Star (newspaper that self-identifies as liberal, broad thinking, progressive) published a defamatory article about the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro. Once again the Canadian press goes on the attack against Venezuela, ridiculing and misrepresenting its president. And if at any time you thought that it was the personality of President Chávez that offended the world press, think again because all that media aggression now focuses on his successor, President Nicolás Maduro.

Maduro is a tall, dark, handsome man, a good orator, intelligent and friendly, but he is not charismatic like Chávez. But who could possibly be like Chávez? He was a singularity. Maduro is the first to admit it and so repeats that he is not Chávez, but with the slogan “We are all Chávez” he spurs solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution of his government.

The Toronto Star is worried about inflation in Venezuela – but did it worry in the decade of the 1970’s when inflation jumped from 7.6% to 20.4%? Or that in the decade of the 80’s the average inflation rate was 19.4% until it reached 47.4% in the decade of the 90’s?[1] And what world newspaper or politician at that time forecasted with undisguised glee the ruin of the Venezuelan economy? None. Which newspaper denounced the immoral excesses – mistresses, drinking, fraud and corruption- of presidents Betancourt, Leoni, Caldera and Carlos Andrés Pérez? None.

But now, President Maduro is ridiculed for his symbolic language and, curiously, because he is not Chavez.

I have just returned from Caracas where I witnessed that there is social order; people go out Christmas shopping to shops full of products, all anticipating the season festivities. There is however, strong political activity because of the coming municipal elections on December 8th. It is so good to see a population that is politically alert, not like Canadian elections that seem to be done by sleepwalkers due to the lack of confidence that erodes political participation here.

Not so in Venezuela. The Communal Councils and the Communes are at the front of political activity; the government does not take a step without consulting them, and the participation of the communes in local projects is essential as they are its initiators.

Maduro has taken measures to combat what is called “ an economic coup d’etat”. Chileans know what this means because before the coup that overthrew the unforgettable martyr of the Americas, President Salvador Allende, the opposition with full support of the United States unleashed a terrible economic sabotage against Chile, with the aim of, as the sinister Richard Nixon stated: “to make Chile scream”. And so it was.

Venezuela has the advantage of learning from that experience and Maduro has taken the offensive with strong measures to control the economy, which have proved to be very popular. His popularity however was not in question. In October he was considered the #1 most popular president in the Americas according to a survey by the international news outlet NTN24 and by the ICS network.[2]

Corruption in the Venezuelan private sector works like this. It is an oil economy, the private sector is not the main sources of income, and instead of investing in their own country, the private sector prefers the comfort of importing, and depending on government largess. If Venezuela let the bolívar float in the international currency market, there would be a spectacular exodus of capital because that class that believes it is “capitalist” is not. In truth, it is a bourgeois, parasitic, rentist class that produces nothing.

The merchants obtain dollars from the government at a preferential price of 6.30 bolívares supposedly because they are going to bring into the country, imported goods, which is not always the case. They then sell those goods as if the dollars had cost them the price on the black market, which could be from 60 to 80 bolívares. Thus they make a profit of 200%, 300% even up to 1,500%. Normally in capitalists countries merchants can obtain a profit of about 15% - but not even the drug traffickers have profits like those of the corrupt Venezuelan merchants.[3]

Maduro did what Chávez did not do. He got the troops out into the street to find hoarded goods in hidden warehouses, inspected the large commercial houses that obtained government dollars, compared prices, set fines and even there will be jail sentences if they do not comply.

The business elite - which led the coup d’etat in 2002- is a minority that considers itself privileged, it systematically commits fraud against the nation obtaining and misusing dollars; they create artificial scarcity through hoarding, scandalously overprices goods, practices usury, promotes capital exodus, and unleashes rumors and lies to create panic and destabilize a government that is not convenient for their immoral avarice. The problem is not economic it is political.

The Venezuelan economy is doing very well. Its oil exports last year amounted to $94 billons while the imports only reached $59.3 billons – a historically low record. The national reserves are at $22 billons and the economy has a surplus (not a deficit) of 2.9% of GDP. The country has no significantly onerous national or foreign debts. These are excellent indicators that many countries in Europe would envy, even the USA and Canada.[4]

So good is the economic future of Venezuela that even imperial banks recognize it. The multinational bank Wells Fargo has recently declared that Venezuela is one of the emerging economies that is most protected against any possible financial crisis and the Bank of America Merril Lynch has recommended to its investors to buy Venezuelan government bonds.[5]

How sad that the Toronto Star should publish an article more appropriate to the sensationalist press. Its main sources were people from the United States who oppose Venezuela, and not a single source from the Venezuelan government itself.


I am sorry for the Canadian public who are not allowed to form their opinions in a balanced manner, exposed to a press sold out to United States hegemonic interests that does not even have a Canadian perspective on international affairs.

Behind all this aggression against Venezuela is the fear of a successful socialist revolution that is profoundly democratic, so much so that it shines and reveals the democratic deficit of the capitalist powerful nations.[6]

[1] Estudio sobre la inflación en Venezuela, Estudio del Banco Central de Venezuela, Caracas 2002
[2] Maduro es el presidente más popular del continente Americano, www.aporrea.org, 01/10/13
[3] Entre usureros te veas, Luis Brito Garcia, aporrea, 2 diciembre 2013
[4] La Guerra económica y las elecciones municipales, Juan Manuel Karg, Rebelión, 2 diciembre 2013
[5] La Guerra económica y las elecciones municipales, Juan Manuel Karg, Rebelión, 2 diciembre 2013
[6] Is Venezuela in Crisis? Ewa Sapiezynska & Hassan Akram, AL JAZEERA, 2 December 2013; Venezuelanalysis.com

Commune Cultivate Land and Spirit

The Communes are the Antidote to Venezuela’s Economic Problems
by Tamara Pearson

After five regional commune conferences held through August and September, the first National Conference of Comuneros and Comuneras was held in Caracas on 16 and 17 November. While forums and cultural events were put on in various main plazas of the city, the two main components of the conference were a communal economy fair to display and sell what hundreds of communes around the country produce on the Saturday, and working group discussions on the Sunday.

The journey started outside the supermarket on one of the main roads of Merida, where I watched the sun set as I waited for the bus that would take us to Caracas. The Merida Ministry of Communes guy messaged me every five minutes or so to assure me that the bus was nearby, and when it arrived and I got on, introduced me to the other communers as “the journalist”.

I sat down, and as it got dark, people constantly came up to me to tell me their commune story, their ideas and proposals. One man, from the Valle del Chama commune, an old and energetic retired teacher, told me how people are encouraged by Maduro’s latest measures with the economy. He said his son, who is as “opposition as you can get” was even positive, saying that he had confidence in Maduro now. Others emphasised strongly - and it became clear they were on to something at the Communal Economy Fair the next day - that the communes are about production, development, and being less dependent on imports and transnationals.

Around me others debated, then as it got late people settled down. One man got up and sang a song called Batalla de Carabobo, about Maduro and building the communes, and people clapped along. Then the retired teacher got up and told some fairly adult political jokes... ”Why did Capriles break up with his last girlfriend?” “Because in bed she would yell out, más duro, más duro!” (Harder, harder – but mas duro in a Venezuelan accent sounds like Maduro).

We struggled to get to sleep sitting upright in our bus seats, with the driver blaring music on full volume all night, then at around 8 a.m. we pulled into Caracas. A woman, Irene Carrizo from the Apartaderos Commune El Paso de Bolivar 1913, recited and acted out a story about Bolivar. A retired teacher proposed that the Merida communes organise a cultural event, and a woman agreed, saying “Yes, because communes don’t just cultivate land, but also the spirit”.

Saturday: Communal Economy Fair
The bus driver dropped us off at the National Communal Economy Fair, where communes sold a sample of their produce; from vegetables, to bread and sweets, coffee, handicrafts, metal pots, and clothing. For VA’s image gallery of the fair and to see the range of communes and their produce, click here. The display was impressive, especially given that each commune represents around 8-15 communal councils, and each communal council up to a thousand or so adults over 15. Also, not all communes were present. The commune ministry in each state had been in charge of providing transport to get to Caracas, but clearly there were some communes that weren’t able to attend for various logistical reasons. The Apartaderos commune on my bus for example, sent three representatives, but weren’t able to bring their organic produce because they couldn’t organise a truck for it. They brought a small sample of organic butter and other things though.

The fair was absolutely packed, both with comuner@s selling their produce, as well as locals buying it. The queues for each section (manufacturing, produce, handicrafts etc) were a good 100 people or so deep, all day. It showed that communally produced products are seen as just as legitimate as commercially produced items. Unfortunately though, it was hard to have long conversations with anyone, as the plaza was so packed, and a stage at one end blasted out speeches and communal cultural events all day.

However, Lorena Gracia of the El Valle del Chama commune reflected on the fair, telling me, “It’s lovely, because there is a lot of integration, you can see the work that is being done, and the organisation. The people are enthusiastic about building the communes... the fair shows what communes can do, that we’re capable of countering this economic sabotage ”.

The Minister for Communes, Reinaldo Iturriza, arrived at the fair at around 10 a.m. People at the stalls chatted with him, while others beside them kept selling and talking to customers. As he moved on, the fruit sellers continued to yell to customers “Come here, come here, we are the comuneros, working for the people!”

At around 2:30 p.m. Iturriza also addressed the public and the press. I thought it was notable, but unsurprising, that only public press and alternative media were present, with the odd exception of Cadena Capriles. The work of the communes is completely silenced by private media, especially the international private media. And, while public media journalists are often harassed and even kicked out of opposition events, the Cadena Capriles journalist stood right next to the minister and was treated well, like the rest of us.

As Iturriza tried to speak, people yelled out the names of their communes, wrote the names down on pieces of paper and passed them to him, and they cheered as he repeated the names or read them out. Their pride in their commune was clear. Iturriza's hands were eventually full of pieces of papers, and as someone from the VTV crew put a microphone on him, to go live, he was relaxed, happy, and came across as being very down to earth. “We’re going on air” one cameraman yelled out, and another argued with him about the timing. Iturriza laughed. VTV and Radiomundial went live, and the crowd chanted “Poder popular!” (Grassroots power!) and “Commune or nothing” over and over, barely letting Iturriza speak.

Afterwards, I walked around the stalls again. It was sweet, the number of communes called Hugo Chavez. It was also inspiring to see the incredible range of talent that people have, not just in the cultural events the communes put on (dance, stilts, rap, storytelling, singing, and more) but in terms of the creative and colourful handicrafts, clothing, and sweet food, and in terms of people’s technical knowledge. It was important that the products were sold directly to customers, without intermediaries- who are often the ones who jack up prices, and who make the production-consumption process more alienating.

There were a lot of agro-ecological products and products made from recycled materials. The environmental awareness of the comuner@s impressed me, and I felt it contrasted somewhat with the awareness of some people in the commune ministry. The ministry in Caracas was in charge of the logistics of the fair, including the lunch for the participants, and that arrived in foil containers with polystyrene lids, cans, plastic bottles and so on. Unfortunately that sort of thing is common in most mass events in Venezuela (and to be fair, most other countries too). The ministry in Merida had told me though to bring my own cutlery and plate, as they had the idea of eating cooked food and not producing so much rubbish, but I guess the ministry in Caracas had a different idea. One person from the Merida ministry told me that the ministry in Caracas had organised everything, and the other state ministries knew little about what was going on.

On the other hand, it was useful that the comuner@s and the ministry workers travelled together in the bus, it broke down what little barriers there might have been between the two groups. While ministry workers in other countries wouldn’t travel overnight on uncomfortable buses with ordinary people, the one with us read out quotes from the Blue Book by Chavez and gave us a detailed lesson on Middle Eastern politics. Later though, he told me was concerned, because the communes are “meant to be an antidote to bureaucracy and corruption”, yet he saw a few of the communer@s replicating institutional ways and being individualist. I argued though that such behaviour, for people who have grown up under capitalism, is inevitable when a project is just starting off.

We spent the night in a worker run factory called Social Property Company (EPS) Confecciones La Veguita, in the Macarao Commune. The factory has been making bags, school uniforms, and baby clothes for four years now, and another carpentry factory was under construction next door. The commune also has a bookshop, its own transport and blacksmiths, and has substituted shanties in the community for dignified housing.

Written on the wall of the main sowing area was, “In socialism, the economy is at the service of human beings, and it is a key instrument for creating equality” – Hugo Chavez, Alo Presidente 455.

As around 60 communers from Merida found places in the factory for their mattresses, sheets, and pillows (previously used for victims of the 2010 floods), workers and members of the Macarao factory and commune served us some spaghetti Bolognese they had prepared for dinner.

That night a few communers per commune were able to meet with Maduro and Iturriza, in a live televised discussion. Those from Merida who participated later reported back to us that at the meeting Maduro emphasised four main things. The first was the importance of the “movement for peace” and the communes’ role in combating violence. The second was the Barrio Tricolor mission, which he said should become a mission of the communes, where rather than focusing on building and repairing houses and buildings, the focus should be on “building community”. Thirdly, and “most importantly”, was the role of the communes in transforming the economic structure. “Without that, we’ll never arrive at socialism,” the reporting comunero said. Communal based production should be interconnected, rather than isolated, he emphasised. Finally, Maduro talked about combating the “economic war”, through increased production and with the state supporting small and medium business. He suggested the communes organise censuses of such businesses in their area.

“You all are the vanguard, without you there wouldn’t be a new Venezuela. The communes are the epicentre for a truly human life, for a socialist life,” Maduro said at the meeting.

Sunday – Discussion groups

Sunday was discussion day; it was held at the Bolivarian University, and consisted of working group discussions and proposal making in classrooms. The four areas of discussion were: national networks of grassroots communication, networks of production and consumption against speculation and hoarding, consolidation of the national commune congress, and education schools for comuner@s. I joined the Andean region on the third floor, and the communication discussion. It was facilitated by people from the School of Socialist Education, and began with a string activity for people to get to know each other and their different communes. Then there was an all in general discussion, followed by breaking into four even smaller groups to formulate concrete proposals, which people then wrote up on large pieces of paper and were also typed up on a computer in each classroom.
Discussion (Tamara Pearson / Venezuelanalysis.com)

People argued for the importance of making the commune movement more visible in national media, and also criticised the lack of internal communication for the organisation of the national conference. Apart from the lack of information regarding the logistics of the event, people criticised that no one had the proposals that came out of the regional conferences, and we couldn’t develop on those proposals, as was the aim. Few people were aware that there is a plan for a national congress, and that Sunday’s discussion was to contribute to the organising of that. On the other hand, most people told me that they felt that the discussions gave them lots of ideas to take back and implement in their commune. Nevertheless, it was frustrating that there was no all in wrap up of the discussions and proposals coming out of each discussion area.

“It was important that we exchanged information between different communes from different states, we exchanged phone numbers, and that will help us develop grassroots markets in our district,” Gracia told me.
To close the conference, there were more cultural performances by various communes, and an open mike for comuner@s to speak on, followed by some closing remarks by Iturriza.

“The conference has been very good, communes should be part of the government, they should be felt and lived, we’re part of the battle against speculation,” said one comunera on the open mike.

“We’re here, we need to continue working together,” said a comunero from Trujillo state.
“This is one more experience for us, so that we can fulfil the dream that Chavez planted. We feel proud to be part of the giant commune family,” said a comunero from Lara.

For Iturriza, the conference was “an absolute success, it surpassed our expectations in terms of the amount of food sold and in terms of participation. This is a people who are very motivated... our hope for the future is that this important commune movement... starts to have more and more weight in national politics”.
Interview: the commune movement is slowly growing

“I want to build my commune because it’s a totally different form of life. I dream about this, about building something with different values. I don’t think ‘commune’ is just a word, just another meeting, it’s a lot deeper than that. Many of us still aren’t clear about what a commune is, it’s not an event, it’s a new state of things, where there’s no exploitation, there’s equality, love, simpleness, wellbeing for all, not just for me and my pocket... that’s why I fight for it,” Antonio Portillo of the El Valle del Chama Commune, Merida, told me after the conference was over.

“When Chavez died, at first there was pain, anguish, sadness, crying... it was a beating to the soul, but it didn’t stop us going on, and the proof in that is that Maduro won the elections. True, there was a slump in motivation, but we’ve climbed back up, and I think slowly we’re getting there. I’m confident that we’ll win the municipal elections, and that will help with stability,” Portillo said.

I asked him then if being involved in a commune had changed him, “Yes I think it has, we have more friendships in our community, it’s enabled me to meet more people, and not just in my community, but in the whole municipality. This gathering shows how we’ve changed, we’re sharing experiences”.

“There are still difficulties. Sometimes we call a general meeting and only 40% of the community attend, it’s a lot of effort to get that many people, normally we just get 15%. There are people in my community who have a negative influence on the process, they tell people that the commune and the communal councils are useless, and the people have to listen to this every single day, and some of them start to believe it. So we have to talk to people all the time and insist that yes, things can be achieved. For example, we fixed the road. The government provided us with the resources but it was our voluntary work. I participated in that, even though I don’t know much about construction. We could fix even more if we had more material support. It helps us to convoke people and do things.”

And how is the national commune movement going? I asked him. “I see two things. One, things are going well, there is an upward trend. Two years ago we proposed a regional meeting, but we didn’t do it because we weren’t capable then. Now we have this national meeting. Then there is the negative part. I think the communes are very far away from consolidating themselves. We lack a lot for our commune to be a real commune. We have projects for example, for agricultural production, but we aren’t implementing them yet”.

According to the communes ministry, a total of 677 registered communes and communes under construction were represented at the national meeting.

Opposition in Venezuela Try to Destabilize Maduro Government

On the eve of another election in Venezuela
by W.T. Whitney,Jr.

Nicolas Maduro won Venezuela’s presidential election in April 2013 by a slim margin, a result still unrecognized by the U.S. government. [Right wing]Opposition demonstrations quickly spread, killing 13 people. Now his government faces municipal elections on December 8, 2013 and engineered social turmoil has returned. Although polls have been favorable, the confidence marking election campaigns under predecessor Hugo Chavez, now dead, is gone.

Opposition forces have used destabilization to cast both the Chavez and Maduro governments as dysfunctional.

Powerful forces inside and outside Venezuela targeted the Chavez – led Bolivarian movement because of its decisive role in promoting continent-wide unity and social justice. The U.S. government is widely believed to have encouraged the unsuccessful right wing coup of 2002 and subsequent disruption of Venezuela’s oil industry.
Venezuelan – U.S. lawyer Eva Golinger has discovered a script for what’s happening now. Golinger, well known for her reporting on U.S. payments to Venezuelan opposition groups, recently arranged for publication of a document outlining opposition preparations in advance of the municipal elections. Entitled “Venezuelan Strategic Plan, it appeared in the Russian Times.

The [U.S.] Plan’s 15 “action points” cover sabotage, “massive mobilizations,” food shortages, “insurrection inside the army,” and control of publicity. The authors anticipate “crisis in the streets that facilitate the intervention of North America and the forces of NATO, with support of the government of Colombia.” The resulting “violence should cause deaths and injuries.”

According to Golinger, this plan emerged from a meeting on June 13, 2013 attended by Mark Feierstein, regional head of the US Agency for International Development and by representatives of three other organizations: Florida – based FTI Consulting; Colombia’s “Center for Thought Foundation,” linked to former president Alvaro Uribe; and the U.S. Democratic Internationalism Foundation, promoted by Uribe.

U. S. funded opposition groups are currently demonstrating in Venezuelan streets and forcing shortages of consumer goods. For Jose Vicente Rangel, vice president under Chavez, their attacks on electric power plants, city transportation services, and oil refineries are terrorist in nature. Stores are running short of milk, textiles, sugar, shoes, electronic equipment, and more. The government accuses importers and retail distributors of hoarding. Retail prices have skyrocketed.

The government sells dollars gained from oil sales at a fixed rate to importing companies. Importers sell goods they purchase with dollars to retailers who charge exorbitant prices payable in undervalued bolivars, the national currency. Inflation is up 54 percent in 2013. Movement of dollars out of the country and dollars sales on the black market contribute to inflation. Government spokespersons condemn profiteering, speculation, and hoarding.
Venezuelan, European, and U.S. mass media feature stories of popular frustration, even anger.

Worried Maduro partisans recall Chilean distress prior to the U. S. supported coup that removed President Salvador Allende in 1973. The Nixon administration wanted then to “make Chile’s economy scream.” A statement from 45 high-level retired Venezuelan military officers calling for military intervention testifies to high stakes in play now.
Maduro announced the creation of a National Center of Exterior Commerce that would regulate foreign exchange and control acquisition and distribution of foreign currency. His government seeks passage of a temporary enabling law that would authorize limits placed on profit-taking and speculation.

Because the Daka electric appliance chain was selling goods at a 1200 percent mark-up over import costs, the government occupied its stores on November 8 to ensure a “fair price.” Maduro asks consumers to show “consciousness, patience, and peacefulness in anticipation of prices being stabilized.” The government is expanding its popular Mercal grocery system that markets subsidized food products.

Venezuela’s Communist Party is not satisfied. Secretary General Oscar Figuera called for “complete nationalization” of overseas commerce so “the state can centralize national purchases of essential items based on national development priorities and on the private sector using bolivars to import goods.”

Economist Mark Weisbrot is optimistic. In 2012, oil revenues totaled $93.6 billion while $59.3 billion were spent on imports. Interest payments on foreign debt were relatively low. Currency reserves now approach $37 billion. So, “This government is not going to run out of dollars.” The fact that inflation fell in 2012 coincident with the economy expanding by 5.7 percent is a favorable sign, he suggests. And, “the poverty rate dropped by 20% in Venezuela last year.

NSA documents appearing recently in the New York Times courtesy of Edward Snowden identified Venezuela as one of six “enduring targets” for electronic eavesdropping in 2007. (Others were China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Russia.) The strategic goal then – and probably now – was to prevent Venezuela “from achieving its regional leadership objective and pursuing policies that negatively impact US global interests.”

Ángel Guerra Cabrera is betting on President Maduro. The Cuban journalist, a correspondent for La Jornada, claims Maduro has “ruined the dreams of imperialists and the right who were counting on his inability to maintain unity and the revolutionary direction of ‘Chavismo.’ We have seen a leader fortify himself with his own profile…With the cadres formed by commander [Chavez] , he has consolidated a cohesive and efficient.

Maduro’s government recently expelled three U.S. diplomats on charges they conspired with opposition groups with intent to destabilize. Neither country has posted an ambassador to its counterpart nation for three years.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

Preparing for December Elections

Slow Motion Coup in Venezuela

In the run up to the December 8 municipal elections the campaign of speculation, hoarding, profiteering, overpricing and sabotage of the economy has intensified. The Venezuelan government of President Maduro has denounced that there is a “slow motion coup” being implemented. The year on year inflation rate has reached 74% and the scarcity index is at a record level of 22%.

In the last few days the Bolivarian government has taken a series of measures to check on the prices at which a wide range of goods are being sold and forced businesses to adjust their prices. In many cases government inspectors found overpricing of 1,000% or more.

Businesses import goods with dollars they receive from the government at regulated prices and then mark them up for sale at prices calculated on the basis of the black market exchange rate. The government has denounced this as robbery against the consumers.

The government has also taken measures to fight against hoarding, discovering, once again, warehouses full of goods (from food to electronics) which are scarce in the shops. Once seized, they have been sold at regular prices.
Dozens of businessmen have been arrested pending trial as a result of these actions.

These measures have been received with enthusiasm by the Venezuelan people as they have made products available at normal prices.

from Hands Off Venezuela

Economic Offensive to Reduce Price Jacking

Implementing Profit Limits in Venezuela
By Ewan Robertson

Mérida, November 2013 – The Venezuelan government is planning to implement profit limits across the economy as part of a crackdown on overpricing.

The plan responds to the revelation of mass price speculation by retailers earlier this month, where some companies were found to be taking advantage of cheap imports at the government’s official exchange rate to then mark up prices and make profits of over 1000%.

Vice President Jorge Arreaza said that a deadline will be announced by which retailers must adjust their prices “in line with reality and fairness”.

President Nicolas Maduro has suggested that such profit limits will be around 15% - 30%, which he said would make profit margins similar to other Latin American countries such as Argentina and Chile.
A new register of small and medium companies is also being designed in order to monitor these companies’ supply costs and maintain “fair costs” along the production chain. A national fund will support companies which respect the new price limits.

A crackdown against overpricing has been underway for the past week and a half, with consumer agency officials and the National Guard forcing electronics and other retailers to lower prices judged as speculative and sell their stock to the public.

Due to inspections and agreements reached with industry sectors, since the beginning of this “economic offensive” retailers of electronic appliances, auto parts, toys, clothes and hardware have reportedly lowered prices from between 30 – 70%.

Maduro reported that over 100 businesspersons had been arrested for usury and price speculation, and 1,400 shops had been inspected.

Inspections continued in big name stores like Traki, EPA and General Import on Sunday.

“The discount margins are a protection measure so that a fair price exists for the consumer and a fair profit for the retailer,” said Luis Dominguez, a government development minister, during an inspection yesterday.

The crackdown is part of the government’s response to what it argues as an “economic war” being waged against it by business federations aligned with the conservative opposition. Officials say that such groups hoard products and speculate on prices to create shortages and drive inflation.

The country is currently experiencing a tenfold gap between the official and black market dollar price, annual inflation of 54%, and shortages of some food and household products.

Critics disagree that current problems are politically motivated and argue that government regulatory policies such as currency and price controls are to blame. They say that fiscal and monetary measures are required to address the situation, and the crackdown on overpricing will only exacerbate existing problems.

“The hangover that we’re going to have after this consumer binge, imposed by the government, will last much longer than the joy of buying electronic appliances in the party that is now ending,” said head of business federation Fedecamaras, Jorge Roig, to conservative paper El Universal yesterday.

Meanwhile Maduro vowed to continue course against the “economic war”.

“I congratulate everyone; vice president, ministers, high military command and the entire people, for the success of the economic offensive. Down go prices,” he wrote on twitter.

Behind Obama's Lies

Obama promises to ensure the flow of oil
”by Gregory Wilpert -
NY Times eXaminer

Venezuelanalysis.com founder Gregory Wilpert critiques the New York Times’ coverage of Venezuela – U.S. relations following the expulsion of three U.S. diplomats from Venezuela by President Nicolas Maduro.

“Stepping up hostilities with the United States, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela expelled the top American diplomat,” reads the first sentence of the New York Times’s coverage of the three diplomats President Maduro expelled on Monday (“With Accusations of Sabotage, Venezuela Expels 3 U.S. Embassy Officials,” by William Neuman, NYT, Oct. 1, 2013, p.A6).

After explaining that Maduro accused the diplomats of fomenting sabotage and protest activity among the opposition, the rest of the article goes on to say, “The expulsions were the latest diplomatic swipe at Washington by Mr. Maduro since he took over for the country’s longtime president…” and that Maduro is intent on “painting the United States as an imperialist aggressor out to undermine his government.”

In other words, it is the Venezuelan government that is worsening relations between Caracas and Washington and that the U.S. government is an innocent victim of Maduro’s verbal and presumably not-so-diplomatic onslaught. The fact that the U.S. first initiated almost every turn in the worsening relations between the U.S. and Venezuela is conveniently omitted in Neuman’s article.

For example, it was ambassador-designate Larry Palmer, in August 2010, who first cast aspersions on Venezuela’s military and thereby torpedoed his acceptance as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela.

Then, in May of 2011, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA for doing business with Iran. Later in that same year the Obama administration accused four Venezuelan government officials of providing support to Colombia’s guerrilla, the FARC, and levying sanctions in these officials.

Shortly thereafter Obama himself accused the Chávez government of restricting human rights and of violating democratic principles in Venezuela. In January of 2012 Obama proceeded to expel Venezuela’s consul general in Miami for allegedly engaging in a spying operation against the U.S. while she was stationed in Mexico a year earlier.

What happened was that she had met with someone connected to the Venezuelan opposition who tried to entrap her by claiming to have information about U.S. nuclear facilities. Other than meeting with someone who unsuccessfully tried to give her false information, she never actually engaged in any spying activity.

Finally, the day that Chávez died, Maduro revealed that two U.S. diplomats were meeting with Venezuelan military officials, proposing destabilization plans.

Reading the New York Times on U.S-Venezuelan relations, one could get the impression that either none of these above-named incidents happened or that if they did, they were meaningless and do not deserve a reaction from the Venezuelan government. The fact that the Venezuelan government did react each time and did not tolerate these actions can—in the NYT worldview—only mean that the Venezuelan government is either hell-bent on sabotaging U.S.-Venezuela relations and/or that these actions are merely a smokescreen to distract from domestic Venezuelan problems.

Distraction is precisely what Neuman suggests when he quotes Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, “He [Maduro] needs diversions and distractions … The situation is so dire in Venezuela that he needs to find a scapegoat, and it’s convenient and politically so tempting to kick out U.S. diplomats,” and Neuman follows up with his own comment that “the country’s economic woes are getting worse.”

Given the lack of information about earlier U.S. actions against Venezuela, distraction appears to be a compelling explanation for Maduro’s apparently irrational attacks against the good-hearted Obama administration. Unfortunately for this narrative, the facts don’t quite fit.

That is, while the article cites an unusually high inflation rate of 45 percent for 2013 so far, it fails to mention that inflation has been declining recently, from a high of 6.1 percent in May 2013, and dropping to 3.2 and 3.0 percent in July and August, respectively. Also, while economic growth has been sluggish, it has been fluctuating between 0.5% and 2.6% per quarter this year. Another area that is written about a lot is shortages, but these too have become less acute than earlier this year, according to official statistics. In short, while there are no doubt economic problems in Venezuela, they have been improving recently, contrary to Neuman’s claim that the situation is “getting worse.”

Once again, it seems that the New York Times’s determined to present official enemies of the U.S. as irrational and deceptive, while the U.S. government is the innocent victim of these enemies. However, it really should not be all that difficult to believe that countries of strategic importance, such as Venezuela, which has one of the world’s largest oil reserves, would be a target of U.S. covert (or not so covert) intervention.

After all, in Obama’s recent UN speech he promised, referring to the Middle East, “We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.” We have no reason to expect the U.S. to treat Venezuela any differently, especially if Obama can count on the New York Times to provide the media distortions it needs.

Gregory Wilpert is a political sociologist, activist, and freelance writer.

Get out of Venezuela, Yankee go home!

Nicolas Maduro Expels Three US Diplomats from Venezuela for Alleged Conspiracy

by Ewan Robertson

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro today ordered the expulsion of a top US diplomat and two other embassy officials for alleged Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro today ordered the expulsion of a top US diplomat and two other embassy officials for alleged conspiracy with the opposition. (AVN)

Mérida, 30th September 2013 – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro today ordered the expulsion of a top US diplomat and two other embassy officials from Venezuela for alleged conspiracy with the opposition.

“Get out of Venezuela. Yankee go home. Enough of abuses against the dignity of a homeland that wants peace,” said Maduro during a televised political event this afternoon.

The US officials named were chargé d'affaires Kelly Keiderling, and two other embassy employees, Elizabeth Hunderland and David Mutt. They have 48 hours to leave the country.

President Maduro accused these officials of “meeting with the extreme Venezuela right to finance actions to sabotage the electricity system and the Venezuelan economy”.

“We’ve been monitoring some officials of the American embassy in Caracas…I have the proof [of conspiracy] in my hands,” he added.

Maduro has repeatedly referred to blackouts and relative shortages of some food products this year as an opposition attempt to “sabotage” the Venezuelan economy and destabilise the country.

The Venezuelan president added today that he “doesn’t care” what the response from Barack Obama’s administration would be, declaring, “We’re not going to allow an imperial government to come and bring money to stop companies operating, [and] to take out the electricity to shut Venezuela down”.

“Señores gringos, imperialists, you have before you men and women of dignity that…will never kneel before your interests and we’re not afraid of you. We’ll confront you on all levels, the political, the diplomatic,” Maduro added.

The U.S. State Department responded to the declarations by stating that it has not yet received official notification of the decision to expel the diplomats. The statement added that the U.S. "completely rejects" the Venezuelan government's accusation of its officials participating in the alleged conspiracy plans.

Venezuela – US relations have remained cold since the administration of late President Hugo Chavez, who accused the US of supporting a short-lived coup attempt against his government in 2002.

The two countries have not had an exchange of ambassadors since 2010. Attempts to improve relations this year were cut off by Maduro after the US’s new ambassador to the United Nations made comments about Venezuela that were regarded by Venezuelan officials as “unacceptable and unfounded”.

Venezuela blasts US at UN General Assembly

Last Friday, Venezuelan foreign minister Elias Jaua addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he criticised the US and its allies as “hawks of war” who had “hijacked” the UN Security Council.

Jaua said that when UN member states stand against interventionist actions of the US and its followers, these states “simply bang on the table and do whatever they want, which is exactly what will happen when they later declare bombings on Syria”.

“We’re here to report a kidnapping” added the Venezuelan official, claiming that the US had “kidnapped” the UN. He went on to repeat arguments made by Bolivian president Evo Morales, that the UN headquarters should be moved to a location where “all nations would be respected”.

Foreign Minister Jaua referred specifically to accusations that the US had tried to impede members of the Venezuelan delegation from attending the UN General Assembly meeting by not granting them US entry visas.

He added that President Maduro had been unable to attend the gathering due to “a whole range of delays, obstacles and lack of guarantees imposed by the government of the United States” in “flagrant violation” of diplomatic obligations.

Last Wednesday Maduro cancelled his planned visit to the UN General Assembly, ostensibly due to fears for his personal safety after receiving information of alleged “crazy” plots involving ex-US officials Otto Reich and Roger Noriega.

US government spokespersons have denied placing obstacles or refusing to grant entry visas to the Venezuelan delegation’s UNGA attendance.

However, an unnamed Obama administration official told Bloomberg news that a possible concern of the Maduro delegation was that the Venezuelan president’s plane, which was on loan from Cuba, may have been seized in New York due to the rules of the US government’s decades-long embargo on Cuban government assets.

Maduro’s own presidential plane had suffered a mechanical problem after undergoing maintenance for five months at Airbus SAS in France. The Venezuelan government is considering legal action against the aviation company on the issue.

Further, the US and Venezuela had already fallen out last Thursday 19 September when Washington allegedly prohibited Maduro’s presidential plane from passing over Puerto Rico en route to a state visit in China. The incident provoked hurried diplomatic talks to allow the presidential flight to continue its planned route.

Coupled with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s anger over US spying of her government and the refusal of permission for Bolivian president Evo Morales’ presidential flight to pass through European air space in July, recent US actions toward Venezuela have caused some concern in Latin American diplomatic circles over respect for the region’s governments from Washington and its allies.
Reprinted from www.venezuelanalysis.com

President Nicolas Maduro Denied Travel through U.S. Airspace

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, aims to “crackdown on civil society” abroad, including in Venezuela

Sep 19th 2013, by RT News
(Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told media that an aircraft carrying President Nicolas Maduro was denied travel over Puerto Rico’s airspace.

President Maduro’s flight, which was en route to China, was forced to find an alternate path according to Jaua, who denounced the act as “an act of aggression.”

“We have received information from American officials that we have been denied travel over its airspace,” Jaua said, speaking to reporters during an official meeting with his South African counterpart.

“We denounce this as yet another aggression on the part of North American imperialism against the government of the Bolivarian Republic,” he added.

"No one can deny airspace to a plane carrying a president on an international state visit." There is “no valid argument” for denying travel through American airspace, Jaua said, adding that he expected the US to rectify the situation.

President Maduro was due to arrive in Beijing this weekend for bilateral talks with the Chinese government. Jaua was adamant that the Venezuelan leader would reach his destination, regardless of any perceived interference.

Though the US has yet to issue an official response, the latest incident will likely add to the already strained relations between the two countries.

In July, the Venezuelan president announced that his government was halting attempts to improve relations with the US. The move was in response to comments made by the newly appointed US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, who told a Senate committee that her new role would include challenging the “crackdown on civil society” abroad, including in Venezuela.

Relations under former President Chavez had been acrimonious, as he had long held suspicions that the US had actively intervened on behalf of an attempted coup in 2002. Since his election in April, President Maduro has often made pointed criticisms at alleged US interference in Venezuelan affairs.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, who's own plane was grounded this summer allegedly due to suspicions by US authorities that the aircraft was transporting whistleblower Edward Snowden, has said ALBA bloc nations should consider a boycott of the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York as a response.

"We cannot accept that the U.S. carries on with politics of intimidation and the prohibition of flights by presidents," said Morales, adding that the latest incident "demonstrates the country's predisposition to humiliate other governments" and committing crimes against other nations.

Climate Change: A Civilizational Wake Up Call

Overcoming 'Overburden': The Climate Crisis and a Unified Left Agenda

Why unions need to join the climate fight
by Naomi Klein

The following remarks were delivered on September 1, 2013 at the founding convention of UNIFOR, a new mega union created by the Canadian Autoworkers and the Canadian Energy and Paper Workers Union in Canada, and provided to Common Dreams by the author for publication.

I’m so very happy and honoured to be able to share this historic day with you.

The energy in this room -- and the hope the founding of this new union has inspired across the country – is contagious.

It feels like this could be the beginning of the fight back we have all been waiting for, the one that will chase Harper from power and restore the power of working people in Canada.

So welcome to the world UNIFOR.

A lot of your media coverage so far has focused on how big UNIFOR is -- the biggest private sector union in Canada. And when you are facing as many attacks as workers are in this country, being big can be very helpful. But big is not a victory in itself.

"We need to figure out together how to build sturdy new collective structures in the rubble of neoliberalism."

The victory comes when this giant platform you have just created becomes a place to think big, to dream big, to make big demands and take big actions. The kind of actions that will shift the public imagination and change our sense of what is possible.

And it’s that kind of “big” that I want to talk to you about today.

Some of you are familiar with a book I wrote called The Shock Doctrine. It argues that over the past 35 years, corporate interests have systematically exploited various forms of mass crises – economic shocks, natural disasters, wars – in order to ram through policies that enrich a small elite, by shredding regulations, cutting social spending and forcing large-scale privatizations.

As Jim Stanford and Fred Wilson argue in their paper laying out UNIFOR’s vision, the attacks working people in Canada and around the world are facing right now are a classic case of The Shock Doctrine.

There’s no shortage of examples, from the mass slashing of salaries and layoffs of public sector workers in Greece, to the attacks on pension funds in Detroit in the midst of a cooked up bankruptcy, to the Harper government’s scapegoating of unions for its own policy failures right here in Canada.

I don’t want to spend my time with you proving that this ugly tactic of exploiting public fear for private gain is alive and well. You know it is; you are living it.

I want to talk about how we fight it.

And I’ll be honest with you: when I wrote the book, I thought that just understanding how the tactic worked, and mobilizing to resist it, would be enough to stop it. We even had a slogan: “Information is shock resistance. Arm yourself.”

But I have to admit something to you: I was wrong. Just knowing what is happening – just rejecting their story, saying to the politicians and bankers: “No, you created this crisis, not us” or “No, we’re not broke, it’s just that you are hording all the money” may be true but it’s not enough.

It’s not even enough when you can mobilize millions of people in the streets to shout “We won’t pay for your crisis.” Because let’s face it – we’ve seen massive mobilizations against austerity in Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Britain. We’ve occupied Wall Street and Bay Street and countless other streets. And yet the attacks keep coming.

Some of the new movements that have emerged in recent years have staying power, but too many of them arrive, raise huge hopes, and then seem to disappear or fizzle out.

The reason is simple. We are trying to organize in the rubble of a 30 year war that has been waged on the collective sphere and workers rights. The young people in the streets are the children of that war.

And the war has been so complete, so successful, that too often these social movements don’t have anywhere to stand. They have to occupy a park or a square to have a meeting. Or they are able to build a power base in their schools, but that base is transient by its nature, they are out in a few years.

This transience makes these movements far too easy to evict simply by waiting them out, or by applying brute state force, which is what has happened in far too many cases.

And this is one of the many reasons why the creation of UNIFOR, and your promise of reviving Social Unionism - building not just a big union but a vast and muscular network of social movements – has raised so much hope.

Because our movements need each other.

The new social movements bring a lot to the table – the ability to mobilize huge numbers of people, real diversity, a willingness to take big risks, as well as new methods of organizing including a commitment to deep democracy.

But these movements also need you – they need your institutional strength, your radical history, and perhaps most of all, your ability to act as an anchor so that we don’t keep rising up and floating away.

We need you to be our fixed address, our base, so that next time we are impossible to evict.

And we also need your organizing skills. We need to figure out together how to build sturdy new collective structures in the rubble of neoliberalism. Your innovative idea of community chapters is a terrific start.

It’s also important to remember that you are not starting from scratch. A remarkable group of people gathered a little less than a year ago for the Port Elgin Assembly and produced what they called the Making Waves agenda.

The most important message to come out of that process is that our coalitions cannot just be about top-down agreements between leaders; the change has to come from the bottom up, with full engagement from members.

And that means investing in education. Education about the ideological and structural reasons why we have ended up where we are. If we are going to build a new world, our foundation must be solid.

"We can’t just reject their lies. We need truths so powerful that their lies dissolve on contact with them.

We can’t just reject their project. We need our own project."

It also means getting out there and talking to people face to face. Not just the public, not just the media, but re-invigorating your own members with the analysis we share.

But there’s something else too. Another reason why we can’t seem to win big victories against the Shock Doctrine.

Even when there is mass resistance to an austerity agenda, and even when we understand how we got here, something is stopping us – collectively – from fully rejecting the neoliberal agenda.

And I think what it is is that we don’t fully believe that it’s possible to build something in its place. For my generation, and younger, deregulation, privatization and cutbacks is all we’ve ever known.

We have little experience building or dreaming. Only defending. And this is what I’ve come to understand as the key to fighting the Shock Doctrine.

We can’t just reject the dominant story about how the world works. We need our own story about what it could be.

We can’t just reject their lies. We need truths so powerful that their lies dissolve on contact with them. We can’t just reject their project. We need our own project.

Now, we know Stephen Harper’s project – he has only one idea for how to build our economy.


Dig lots of holes, lay lots of pipe. Stick the stuff from the pipes onto ships – or trucks, or railway cars – and take it to places where it will be refined and burned. Repeat, but more and faster. Before anyone figures out that this is his one idea, and what has allowed him to maintain the illusion that he is some kind of responsible economic manager, while the rest of the economy falls apart.

It’s why it’s so important to this government to accelerate oil and gas production at an outrageous pace, and why it has declared war on everyone standing in the way, whether environmentalists or First Nations or other communities.

It’s also why the Harper government is willing to sacrifice the manufacturing base of this country, waging war on workers, attacking your most basic collective rights.

This is not just about extracting specific resources – Harper represents an extreme version of a particular worldview. One that I sometimes call “extractivism”. And others times simply call capitalism.


It’s an approach to the world based on taking and taking without giving back. Taking as if there are no limits to what can be taken– no limits to what workers’ bodies can take, no limits to what a functioning society can take, no limits to what the planet can take.

In the extractivist mindset, labour is a commodity just like the bitumen. And maximum value must be extracted from that resource – ie you and your members – regardless of the collateral damage. To health, families, social fabric, human rights.

When crisis hits, there is only ever one solution: take some more, faster. On all fronts.

So that is their story – the one we’re trapped in. The one they use as a weapon against all of us.

And if we are going to defeat it, we need our own story.


So I want to offer you what I believe to be the most powerful counter-narrative to that brutal logic that we have ever had.

Here it is: our current economic model is not only waging war on workers, on communities, on public services and social safety nets. It’s waging war on the life support systems of the planet itself. The conditions for life on earth.

Climate change. It’s not an “issue” for you to add to the list of things to worry about it. It is a civilizational wake up call. A powerful message – spoken in the language of fires, floods, storms and droughts -- telling us that we need an entirely new economic model, one based on justice and sustainability.

It’s telling us that when you take you must also give, that there are limits past which we cannot push, that our future health lies not in digging ever deeper holes but in digging deeper inside ourselves – to understand how ALL our fates are interconnected.

"Climate change. It’s not an 'issue' for you to add to the list of things to worry about it. It is a civilizational wake up call."

Oh, and one last thing. We need to make this transition, like, yesterday. Because our emissions are going in exactly the wrong direction and there’s very little time left.

Now I know talking about climate change can be a little uncomfortable for those of you working in the extractive industries, or in manufacturing sectors producing carbon-intensive products like cars and planes.

I also know that despite your personal fears, you haven’t joined the deniers like some of your counterparts in the U.S. – both of your former unions have all kinds of great climate policies on the books.

And this isn’t some recent conversion either: the CEP courageously fought for Kyoto all the way back in the 90s. The CAW has been fighting against the environmental destruction of free trade deals even longer. [Former CEP President] Dave Coles even got arrested protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. That was heroic.

But...how to say this politely?...I think it’s fair to say that climate change hasn’t traditionally been your members greatest passion.

And I can relate: I’m not an environmentalist. I’ve spent my adult life fighting for economic justice, inside our country and between countries. I opposed the WTO not because of its effects on dolphins but because of its effects on people, and on our democracy.

The case I want to make to you is that climate change – when its full economic and moral implications are understood -- is the most powerful weapon progressives have ever had in the fight for equality and social justice.

But first, we have to stop running away from the climate crisis, stop leaving it to the environmentalist, and look at it. Let ourselves absorb the fact that the industrial revolution that led to our society’s prosperity is now destabilizing the natural systems on which all of life depends.

I’m not going to bore you with a whole bunch of numbers. Though I could remind you that the World Bank says we’re on track for a four degrees warmer world. That the International Energy Agency –not exactly a protest camp of green radicals – says the Bank is being too optimistic and we’re actually in for 6 degrees of warming this century, with “catastrophic implications for all of us”. That’s an understatement: we haven’t even reached a full degree of warming yet and look at what is already happening.


97% of the Greenland ice-sheet's surface was melting last summer – as Bill McKibben says, we’ve taken one of the great features of the planet and broken it.

And then there are the extreme weather events. Hell, I was in Fort McMurray this summer and the contents of the town’s museum – literally, its history – was floating around in the water.

I was trying to get interviews with the big oil companies but their headquarters in Calgary were all empty as the downtown was dark and the city was frantically bailing out from the worst flood it has ever seen.

And not even the provincial NDP had the courage to say: this is what climate change looks like and we are going to have a lot more of it if those oil companies get their way.

We know that this climate emergency is only getting more dire. And our excuses about why we can’t do anything about it – why it’s somebody else’s issue – are melting away.

But engaging on climate does not mean dropping everything else you are doing and turning into a raving environmentalist.

Because I know that the fights you are already waging against austerity, against new free trade deals, against attacks on unions have never been more important.

Which is why I’m not calling you to drop anything.


My argument is that the climate threat makes the need to fight austerity all the more pressing, since we need public services and public infrastructure to both bring down our emissions and prepare for the coming storms.

"Confronting the climate crisis requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook -- and that we do so with great urgency."

Far from trumping other issues, climate change vindicates much of what the left has been demanding for decades.

In fact, climate change turbo-charges our existing demands and gives them a basis in hard science. It calls on us to be bold, to get ambitious, to win this time because we really cannot afford any more losses. It enflames our vision of a better world with existential urgency.

What I’m going to show you is that confronting the climate crisis requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook -- and that we do so with great urgency.


So I’m going to quickly lay out what I believe a genuine climate action plan would look like. And it’s not the market-driven non-sense we hear from some of the big green groups in the U.S. – changing your light bulbs, or carbon trading and offsetting. This is the real deal, getting at the heart of why our emissions are soaring.

And you will notice that a lot this will sound familiar. That’s because much of this agenda is already embraced in the vision of your new union, not to mention everything you have been fighting for in the past.

First of all, we need to revive and reinvent the public sphere. If we want to lower our emissions, we need subways, streetcars and clean-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone.

We need energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines. We need smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy. We need garbage collection that has, as its goal, the elimination of garbage.

And we don’t just need new infrastructure. We need major investments in the old infrastructure to cope with the coming storms. For decades we have fought against the steady starving of the public sphere.

"It is not hyperbole to say that our future depends on our ability to do what we have so long been told we can no longer do: act collectively. And who better than unions to carry that message?"

Again and again we’ve seen how those decades of cuts have left us more vulnerable to climate disasters: superstorms bursting through decaying levees, heavy rain washing sewage into lakes, wildfires raging as fire crews are underpaid and understaffed. Bridges and tunnels buckling under the new reality of heavy weather.

Far from taking us away from the fight for a robust public sphere, climate change puts us right in the middle of it -- but this time armed with arguments that raise the stakes significantly. It is not hyperbole to say that our future depends on our ability to do what we have so long been told we can no longer do: act collectively. And who better than unions to carry that message?

The renewal of the public sphere will create millions of new, high paying union jobs – jobs in fields that don’t hasten the warming of the planet.

But it’s not just boilermakers, pipefitters, construction workers and assembly line workers who get new jobs and purpose in this great transition.

There are big parts of our economy that are already low-carbon.

They’re the parts facing the most disrespect, demeaning attacks and cuts. They happen to be jobs dominated by women, new Canadians, and people of colour.

And they’re also the sectors we need to expand massively: the care-givers, educators, sanitation workers, and other service sector workers. The very ones that your new union has pledged to organize. The low-carbon workers who are already here, demanding living wages and respect. Turning low-paying low-carbon jobs into higher-paying jobs is itself a climate solution and should be recognized as such.

Here I think we should take inspiration from the fast-food workers in the United States and their historic strikes this past week. They are showing how this organizing can be done. Maybe it will turn out to be the first uprising in a sustained rebellion fighting for both real wages and real food! One in which the health of the workers and the health of society are inextricably linked.

It should be clear by now that I am not suggesting some half-assed token “green jobs” program. This is a green labour revolution I’m talking about. An epic vision of healing our country from the ravages of the last 30 years of neoliberalism and healing the planet in the process.

Environmentalists can’t lead that kind of revolution on their own. No political party is rising to the challenge. We need you to lead.


So the big question is: how are we going to pay for all this?

I mean, we’re broke, right? Or so our government is always telling us.

"I am not suggesting some half-assed token 'green jobs' program. This is a green labour revolution I’m talking about."

But with stakes this high, crying broke isn’t going to cut it. We know that it’s always possible to find money to bail out banks and start new wars. So that means we have to go to where the money is, and the money is with the fossil fuel companies and the banks that finance them. We have to get our hands on some of their super profits to help clean up the mess they made. It’s a simple concept, well established in law: the polluter pays.

We know we can’t get the money by continuing to extract more. So as we wind down our dependence on fossil fuels, as we extract LESS, we have to keep MORE of the profits.

There’s lots of ways to do that. A national carbon tax and higher royalties are the most obvious. A financial transaction tax would be a big help. Raising corporate taxes across the board would too.

When you do that, suddenly, digging holes and laying pipe isn’t the only option on the table.

Quick example. A recent study from the CCPA compared the public value from a five billion dollar pipeline – Enbridge Gateway for instance – and the value from the same amount of money invested in green economic development.

Spend that money on a pipeline, you get mostly short-term construction jobs, big private sector profits, and heavy public costs for future environmental damage.

Spend that money on public transit, building retrofits and renewable energy, and you get, at the very least, three times as many jobs…not to mention a safer future. The actual number of jobs could be many times more than that, according to their modeling. At the highest end, green investment could create 34 times more jobs than just building another pipeline.

And how do you raise five billion dollars for public investments like that? A minimal national carbon tax of ten dollars a tonne would do the trick. And there would be five billion new dollars every year. Unlike the one-off Enbridge put on the table.

Environmentalists, and I include myself here, have to do a much better job of not just saying no to projects like Northern Gateway but also forcefully saying yes to our solutions about how to build and finance green infrastructure.

Now: these alternatives makes perfect sense on paper, but in the real world, they slam headlong into the dominant ideology that tells us that we can’t increase taxes on corporations, that we can’t say no to new investment, and moreover, that we can’t actively decide what kind of economy we want – that we are supposed to leaving it all to the magic of the market.

Well – we’ve seen how the private sector manages this crisis. It’s time to get back in there. This transition needs to be publicly managed. And that will mean everything from new crown corporations in energy, to a huge re-distribution of power, infrastructure and investment.

A democratically-controlled, de-centralized energy system operated in the public interest. This agenda is increasingly being described as “energy democracy” and it’s not a new idea in the union world – Sean Sweeney of the Global Labor Institute at Cornell University is here today, and many fine trade unions – including CEP - have been working on this agenda for years. It’s time to turn energy democracy into a reality here in Canada. “Power to the people” is a terrific slogan to start with.

As you all know, there have been some modest attempts by provincial governments to play a more activist role in bringing about a green transition, while resisting the pressure to double down on dirty energy.

But in those cases, we’re starting to see something very disturbing. In the provinces where governments have taken the most positive, bold action, they’re getting dragged into trade court.

And that brings me to the last piece of a real progressive climate agenda.


It’s time to rip up so-called Free Trade deals once and for all. And we sure as hell can’t be signing new ones.

You’ve fought them for decades now, since the CAW played such a pivotal role in the battle against the first Free Trade deal with the US. You’ve fought them because they undermine workers rights both here and abroad, because they drive a race to the bottom, because they hyper-empower corporations.

"It’s time to rip up so-called Free Trade deals once and for all. And we sure as hell can’t be signing new ones."

And you were right – even more right than you knew. Because not only is corporate globalization largely responsible for soaring emissions, but now the logic of free trade is directly blocking us from making the specific changes needed to reduce climate chaos in response.

A couple of quick examples.

Ontario’s Green Energy plan is far from perfect. But it has a very sensible “buy local” provision so that wind and solar projects in Ontario actually deliver jobs and economic benefits to local communities. It’s the core principle of a just transition.

Well, the World Trade Organization has decided that this measure is illegal.

The CAW is already in a coalition fighting back – but more green policies will face the same corporate challenges.

Here’s another example. Quebec banned fracking – a courageous move that has been taken up by two consecutive governments.

But a US drilling company is planning to sue Canada for $250- million dollars under NAFTA’s Chapter 11, claiming the ban interferes with its “valuable right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence river.”

We should have seen this coming. A WTO official was quoted almost a decade ago, saying that the WTO enables challenges against “almost any measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

In other words, these maniacs think trade should trump everything, including the planet itself. If there has ever been an argument to stop this madness, climate change is it.

The battle lines have never been clearer. Climate change is the argument that must trump all others in the battle against corporate free trade. I mean, sorry guys, but the health of our communities and our planet is just a little more important than your god-given right to obscene profits.

These are moral arguments we can win.

And we don’t have to wait for governments to give us permission. Next time they close a factory making fossil-fuel machinery – whether cars, tractors, or airplanes – don’t let them do it.

Do what workers are doing from Argentina to Greece to Chicago: occupy the factory. Turn it into a green worker co-op. Go beyond negotiating a last, sad severance. Demand the resources – from companies and governments – to start building the new economy right now.

Whether that’s electric trains or windmills. Watch that factory turn into a beacon for students, anti-poverty activists, environmentalists, First Nations. All fighting together for that vision.

Climate change is a tool. Pick it up and use it. Use it to demand the supposedly impossible.

It’s not a threat to your jobs, it's the key to liberation from a logic that is already waging a war on the entire concept of dignified work.

So all we need is the political power to make this vision a reality. And that power can be built on the urgency and science of the climate crisis.

"Climate change is a tool. Pick it up and use it. Use it to demand the supposedly impossible."

If we stay true to a clear vision that these changes are what is required to stave off an ecological collapse, then we will change the conversation.

We’ll escape from the clutches of narrow free-market economics, where we are constantly told to ask for less and expect less and we will find ourselves in a conversation about morality – about what kind of people we want to be, about what kind of world we want for ourselves and our kids.

If we set the terms of that conversation, we back Stephen Harper up against the wall.

We finally hold him accountable for the lethal ideology he serves – the one that he has been hiding behind that bland and boring mask of his.

That’s how you shift the balance of forces in this country.

If UNIFOR becomes the voice for a boldly different economic model, one that provides solutions to the attacks on working people, on poor people, and the attacks on the Earth itself, then you can stop worrying about your continued relevance.

You will be on the front lines of the fight for the future, and everyone else – including the opposition parties – will have to follow or be left behind.


I believe that a key to this shift is deepening your alliance with First Nations, whose constitutionally guaranteed title to land and resources is the biggest legal barrier Harper faces to his vision of Canada as an extraction and export machine – a country-sized sacrifice zone.

As my friend Clayton Thomas Mueller says, imagine if the workers and First Nations actually joined forces in a meaningful coalition – the rightful owners of the land, side by side with the people working the mines and pipelines, coming together to demand another economic model?

People and the earth itself on one side, predatory capitalism on the other.

The Harper Tories wouldn’t know what hit them.

But this is about more than strategic alliances. As we tell our own story of a different Canada to stand up to Harper’s story about endless extraction, we will need to learn from the Indigenous worldview. The one that understands that you can’t just take and take, but also care-take, and give back whenever you harvest. That five-year-plans are for kids, and grownups think about seven generations. A worldview that reminds us that there are always unforeseen consequences because everything is connected.

Because building the kinds of deep coalitions that we need begins with identifying the threads that connect all of our struggles. And indeed that recognize they are the SAME struggle.

I want to leave you with a word that might help. Overburden.


When I was in the tar sands earlier this summer, I kept thinking about it. Overburden is the word used by mining companies to describe the “waste earth covering a mineral deposit.”

But mining companies have a strange definition of waste. It includes forests, fertile soil, rocks, clay – basically anything that stands between them and the gold, copper, or bitumen they are after.

Overburden is the life that gets in the way of money. Life treated as garbage.

As we passed pile after pile of masticated earth by the side of the road, it occurred to me that it wasn’t just the dense and beautiful Boreal forest that was “overburden” to these companies.

We are all overburden. That’s certainly the way the Harper government sees us.

Unions are overburden since the rights you have won are a barrier to unfettered greed.
Environmentalists are overburden, because they are always going on about climate change and oil spills.
Indigenous people are overburden, since their rights and court challenges get in the way.
Scientists are overburden, since their research proves what I’ve been telling you.
Democracy itself is overburden to our government – whether it’s the right of citizens to participate in an environmental assessment hearing, or the right of Parliament to meet and debate the future of the country.
This is the world deregulated capitalism has created, one in which anyone and anything can find themselves discarded, chewed up, tossed on the slag heap.

But “overburden” has another meaning. It also means, simply, “to load with too great a burden”; to push something or someone beyond their limits.

And that’s a very good description of what we’re experiencing too.

Our crumbling infrastructure is overburdened by new demands and old neglect.

Our workers are overburdened by employers who treat their bodies like machines.

Our streets and shelters are overburdened by those whose labour has been deemed disposable.

The atmosphere is overburdened with the gasses we are spewing into it.

And it is in this context that we are hearing shouts of “enough!” from all quarters. This much and NO further.

We heard it from the fast food worker in Milwaukee, who went on strike this week holding a sign saying, “I am worth more” and helped set off a national debate about inequality.

We heard it from the Quebec Students last summer, who said “No” to a tuition increase and ended up unseating a government and sparking a national debate about the right to free education.

We heard it from the four women who said “No” to Harper’s attacks on environmental protections and indigenous rights, pledging to be Idle No More, and ended up setting off an indigenous rights uprising across North America.

And we are hearing “Enough” from the planet itself as it fights back in the only ways it can.

Everywhere, life is reasserting itself. Insisting that it is not overburden.

We are starting to realize that not only have we had enough – but that there is enough.

To quote Evo Morales, there is enough for all of us to live well. There just isn’t enough for some of us to live better and better.

"We are starting to realize that not only have we had enough – but that there is enough."

To close off, I want to read an excerpt from Article 2 of your brand new constitution.

Words that many of us have been waiting a very long time to hear. Words that you may have already heard today, but they bear repeating. Here goes…

“Our goal is transformative. To reassert common interest over private interest.

Our goal is to change our workplaces and our world. Our vision is compelling.

It is to fundamentally change the economy, with equality and social justice, restore and strengthen our democracy and achieve an environmentally sustainable future.

This is the basis of social unionism -- a strong and progressive union culture and a commitment to work in common cause with other progressives in Canada and around the world.”

Brothers and Sisters, all I would add is: don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

Because we really, really need you to mean it.

Thank you.