[OPE-L] workers' management and factory occupations

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Mon Oct 24 2005 - 21:15:27 EDT

This story fits in well with the recent "occupy/resist/produce"
thread on the Argentinian workers' control movement.  Four paragraphs
in the following article summarize a talk given by Michael L.

In solidarity, Jerry

Venezuelan trade unionists discuss workers’ management and factory
By Jorge Martin in Caracas - www.handsoffvenezuela.org
Monday, 24 October 2005

Workers' representatives and trade union
activists from around the country met in Caracas
on October 21-22, in the National Gathering of
Workers towards the Recovery of Companies. The
main aim of this meeting, called by Venezuela’s
National Workers’ Union (UNT), was to bring
together workers involved in experiences of
factory occupations and different forms of workers’

The meeting was called in preparation for the 1st
Latin American Gathering of Companies Recovered
by the Workers, which will take place in Caracas
on October 27-29.
The Latin American Gathering is jointly organised
by workers in occupied factories in Brazil,
Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela, the Venezuelan
UNT and the Uruguayan PITCNT, and has the support
of the Ministry of Labour in Venezuela. Workers
from occupied and recovered factories from
Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay, Perú, Ecuador, Puerto
Rico and Panama will participate.

At the National Gathering there were workers
present from Invepal (formerly Venepal), where
the workers had struggled for expropriation under
workers’ control of the paper mill that had been
declared bankrupt by its formers owners. There
were also representatives from Inveval (formerly
CNV), the valve-making factory which the workers
had occupied for more than two years. The workers
finally won the expropriation of the factory
under some sort of workers’ management. There
were also workers from the state owned
electricity generator and distributor CADAFE,
where the attempts of the workers to introduce
cogestion (as workers’ management is known here)
have clashed with the attempt of the managers of
the company to maintain their decision making
power. A total of 200 workers from all over the
country, both from the public and private sector, were present.

One of the first speakers at the gathering was
Eduardo Murua, president of the Argentinean
“Movement of Recovered Companies - MNER”
He explained the experience of factory
occupations in Argentina as an alternative in the
struggle against unemployment and the destruction
of jobs. The main emphasis of his speech was on
the idea that the workers can only rely on their
own struggle and on their own strength and said
that workers in Venezuela should take the
initiative themselves and not wait for the
government to give them the green light. He
argued that if a factory is closed down by the
employers “the workers should occupy it, try to
start production, and discuss the legal aspects
later”. He also explained how the MNER has
managed to achieve higher wages and shorter
working hours than in similar companies in the
private sector, and then linked their experience
to the struggle of workers in private capitalist
enterprises for the same conditions.

Minister of Labour: factory occupations not a
problem but the solution to a problem

Also present at the meeting was Minister of
Labour Maria Cristina Iglesias. She explained how
the idea for the Latin American Gathering had
come from the workers themselves, particularly
workers from recovered companies in Argentina,
Brasil and Uruguay. It was they, together with a
number of trade unions in the continent, that had
asked President Chavez whether Venezuela would
host such a meeting. Iglesias said that when
workers occupy factories that have been abandoned
and try to restart production, this should not be
seen “as a problem but rather as a solution to a
problem” caused by the bosses closing down these
companies. She added that not taking action would
be like “dying of hunger in a supermarket and not
daring to open a tin of sardines”. She emphasised
that while there is unemployment maintaining a
“factory closed is a crime”. Minister of Labour
Maria Cristina Iglesia addresses the meeting
She underlined the importance of the Latin
American Gathering since it meant “that these
struggles are no longer isolated”. The meeting
will have three main axes, she explained, one for
workers in occupied factories to exchange
experiences and draw political conclusions,
another in which trade unions and trade union
organisations will also link up and discuss how
to support these struggles, and finally one in
which governments and parliamentarians from
different countries will discuss the legal
framework of this movement of factories run by
the workers. The Gathering will also include an
exhibition of videos and pictures of the occupied
factories in the continent. “They are not showing
these examples because they are very afraid,”
said Iglesias, who explained that such examples
of companies that in one way or another have been
recovered by their workers exist even in the
United States. “We should never lose sight of
where we come from and our class”.

Minister Maria Cristina Iglesias also explained
how this struggle of companies recovered by the
workers is linked to “what has always been our
goal: that the workers run production and that
the governments are also run by the workers”.

Examples were given of how these worker-recovered
companies can cooperate beyond national borders.
For instance paper mill Invepal could collaborate
with workers in printing companies in Argentina
that are run by the workers. The workers at
occupied factory Cipla in Brasil could buy raw
materials from Venezuelan state-owned Pequiven
and then sell some of its products to Venezuelan
state-owned oil industry PDVSA. Many such
examples were discussed, but it was also stressed
that these should not be seen merely as
commercial exchanges, but rather should benefit
all groups of workers involved, through training,
transfer of technology, etc.

Workers management in strategic industries

Another one of the speakers at the meeting in
Caracas was professor Mike Lebowitz. He went into
some of the debates that are now taking place in
Venezuela in relation to workers’ management. He
explained how this is a key part of the
Bolivarian Revolution: “nothing will make the
enemies of this process happier than the failure
of Venezuela’s path to co-management, because
workers, especially in Latin America but
elsewhere too, are starting to look at the
development of co-management here as a real
alternative to the despotism of the workplace”.
He also made clear the differences between what
is known as co-management in Venezuela and
co-management in Germany, where “it was a means
of incorporating workers into the project of
capitalists … in Venezuela though, co-management
is an alternative to capitalism”.

Lebowitz also discussed the flaws of
self-management in Yugoslavia where “the focus of
workers within each firm was their own self
interest” and “what was missing was a sense of
solidarity with society as a whole”. As a result
this system in Yugoslavia operated “to increase
inequality, to breakdown solidarity of society –
leading ultimately to the dismembering of
Yugoslavia.” He explained that co-management in
Venezuela is trying “to avoid this particular
mistake … it stresses that enterprises do not
belong to the workers alone – they are meant to
be operated in the interest of the whole of society”.

Amongst other things, Mike Lebowitz also made his
opinion clear on the debate about whether there
can be worker management in strategic industries.
“If industries like oil production and
electricity generation and distribution are to be
excluded from co-management, what is that saying
to the workers in those industries?” he asked.
“That we don’t trust workers to be able to make
decisions in the interests of society? What kind
of vision for socialism of the 21st century is
this?” He then added: “indeed, what are you
saying but that when decisions are important,
capitalism, state capitalism is the answer – but
not co-management or socialism of the 21st century”.

Lebowitz explained that these contradictions, and
others, are normal and implicit in the process
and can be overcome “through democratic
discussion, persuasion and education”. He ended
up by saying that “nothing will make the enemies
of the Bolivarian revolution more unhappy than the
success of co-management”.

Workers must rely on their own strength

Luis Primo, from the Caracas-Miranda Coordination
of the UNT and member of the Revolutionary
Marxist Current, also spoke, giving the meeting a
brief outline of the history of the struggle for
workers’ management. He also explained the
destruction of Venezuela’s manufacturing
industry. According to figures he gave, in 1999
there were nearly 12,000 manufacturing companies
in the country, but now the figure was less than
7,000, which meant a loss of more than 100,000
manufacturing jobs. At the same time 90% of
Venezuela’s companies were in the service sector.
This extreme situation was due to the fact that
“capitalists are no longer interested in
production” when they can get much quicker
returns through speculation. The main emphasis in
his speech was that the workers could only rely
on their own strength and their own struggle. He
proposed that the UNT should set up teams in
every region of the country to organise the
occupation and recovery of factories that have
been paralysed. He concluded by quoting from Marx
when he said, “the emancipation of the workers
must be the act of the working class itself”.
Luis Primo, UNT coordinator and CMR member,
gives brief history of struggle for workers' management
Apart from the interesting contributions of the
different speakers, the main aspect of this
meeting was the eagerness of workers’
representatives to participate in the debates.
Dozens queued to explain the struggle in their
factories, the problems they faced from directors
in the public sector when trying to implement
different forms of workers’ management, the plans
they had to take over factories left idle by the
bosses, etc. There were workers from a recently
reopened factory in Zulia which makes pipes for
the oil industry; workers from privately owned
oil refinery Oxydor in Valencia, fighting for
expropriation under workers’ control; workers
from different plants of the multinational Parmalat
with the same demand, etc.

Even though some important groups of workers were
absent from the meeting, the mood of those
present was enough to show that the expropriation
of Venepal and CNV earlier this year has opened
the floodgates and that many groups of workers
around the country are now looking to them as an
example to follow. Significantly, all notebooks
given to participants in the meeting when they
registered had been made in the new Invepal
under workers’ management.

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