How the Bolivarian revolution is being defended by the working class

Interview with Carlos López, Secretary General of the Bolivarian Socialist Workers’ Federation of Venezuela

by María Torrellas

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.

How is the Venezuelan working class defending itself from all the right-wing attacks, both on the economical and ideological levels?

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 U.S. empire influenced a drop in the prices of oil worldwide, which was a severe blow to several world economies such as 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 has led us to strengthen the struggles of the working class.

Our working class has awakened in the last three and a half years since our Workers’ Federation was created. The union has taken a huge step to give priority to the political struggle and the struggle for productive economy. That is the basis for the stability of all the social benefits we have secured with the Bolivarian Revolution.

The great challenge before the working class is to take that productive leaps and guarantee that workers aren’t used by the counter-revolutionary opposition. Throughout the three 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 must continue to be socialist.

The Bolivarian Revolution granted rights to all workers through the Organic Law of Labour and Workers. This law protects workers in ways that are enviable by workers in many countries in the world. Workers in Venezuela enjoy full job stability, protection of the 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 into the traps nor the provocations of the right wing.

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 left their factories as practically rubbish when they abandoned them. When workers seized control of them to keep their jobs, they had great difficulties in running them. The right-wing propaganda began immediately to say that factories run by the working class aren’t productive.

True, they aren’t productive yet — they abandoned them with old machinery, in a state of unproductivity, and nevertheless we have been rebuilding them and putting them in shape to produce. Now there’s a great opportunity to occupy, if necessary, private companies that lower or cease their production, or that lay off workers, or that hide their production. Expropriation is an extreme measure that will be applied only if needed. 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 productiion 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 granted 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 deposed, 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 largest union. It organizes 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 in Venezuela are not members of any union. We must still reach out to them, but we’re in the majority. In an extreme situation, we’d be able to stop production.

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 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 increase 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 originates 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 night and day since President 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.

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