As we enter the new year, huge events are unfolding in Latin America. In Venezuela, despite the opposition boycott and other slanderous efforts to invalidate the December 4th elections, a clear Bolivarian victory is indisputable. The parties that support Chávez have been re-elected with a much higher mandate than any contemporary American, French or Columbian government, all of whom enjoy the blessing of big business America and the international ruling class. Parliamentary victories should not be ignored, as they are an important gauge of the mood of the working class and of the relative popularity of the ruling class opposition. But within the confines of capitalism, they are not decisive and do not guarantee anything for the revolution. The imperialists, represented by Washington, have made it abundantly clear that their respect for “democracy” is limited to elections whose results are in their favour (“fair” or otherwise).
In Bolivia, the workers and peasants are celebrating the victory of Evo Morales in their December 20th presidential elections. Morales is no Marxist; he has made it very clear that he does not want to antagonize the local oligarchy or the multinationals. Offered no alternative, the aroused masses voted for the man they saw as the best candidate, who they believe to be a leader of the movement and “one of us”. He will face tremendous pressure from the ruling class on one side, and on the other, the militant workers, peasants and indigenous people who have made it clear that nationalization of gas is a life and death issue for them and they are happy to throw out any president who does not deliver.
The Venezuelan and Bolivian masses will learn by experience that electoral victory is not enough. It is the responsibility of serious revolutionaries to ensure that this does not result in demoralization, which would surely open the road to counterrevolution. Instead, we must consistently explain that the solution to the problems facing working people and the poor lies outside capitalism, and in the present Latin American political climate, it is within easy reach.
Thanks to the hard work of the Bolivarian Circles and the International Hands Off Venezuela campaign, the re-nationalization of the Venezuelan oil industry has not gone unnoticed. In Canada, with several major employers set to close shop in 2006, the demand for occupation and nationalization under workers’ control will become even more prominent.
General Motors announced on November 21st that it will be closing twelve auto-making plants across North America, costing no less than 30,000 jobs. First on the agenda for Canadian cuts are the plants in Oshawa Ontario, where 3,750 workers will lose their jobs. Another 130 GM workers will be left high and dry by the closure of the powertrain plant in St. Catharines (www.cbc.ca). Meanwhile Domtar Inc., Canada’s largest producer of specialty papers, will close at least three Mills in Ontario and Québec, resulting in 1,800 jobs lost (www.cbc.ca). More closure announcements are also on the horizon. With mortgage and consumer debt at an all-time high, these lost jobs can have a snowball effect. But they can also have a snowball effect in people’s consciousness.
These workers will not necessarily lie down and let their livelihoods be destroyed. There is a very concrete example for them in the 2005 nationalizations of Venepal paper mill (much like Domtar) and the CNV valve factory in Venezuela. Both shops were closed on the basis of “non-profitability”, but were occupied by the workers who began running things themselves, electing their “supervisors” and deciding democratically what ought to be produced when and how much. They demanded nationalization and got it from the Venezuelan government. We do not have a Chávez in Canada, but we do have a powerful working class with incredible potential to put pressure on the ruling class, and revolutionary leaders have been known to come out of the woodworks at times like these.
Canada has its own examples of workplace occupation, including a recent victory for the workers in the Vancouver Island mill town of Port Alice. The company has been running at reduced capacity and threatening closure for years, refusing to invest in modernizing the pulp mill’s equipment. The workers (members of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers CEP local 514) have waged a militant battle against the pulp mill bosses, including an occupation in spring 2003. In April 2004, the mill was declared bankrupt and shut down, this time for good. But the union, workers, and community continued their struggle, and on December 5th, the membership voted to approve a contract offer from a new owner that should have the mill fully re-opened, with major investment, in March 2006 (www.cep.ca). The contract is not phenomenal and down the road, the new owners will run into the same problems as the old, but still this is a very important victory, as it sets a positive example that will inspire militancy in struggles to come.
Every victorious battle serves to raise the consciousness not only of those involved, but of the whole movement and the general public. It is important that we recognize these victories and patiently explain at every stage that the only final solution to poverty, joblessness, and life-long struggle is to do away with class society all together, severing ties with this bankrupt system of profit for a few at the expense of society as a whole. We must call on the workers at Domtar (who are also members of CEP) and at GM to follow the example of their sisters and brothers at Port Alice – to occupy their mills and this time take the next step, following the example of Venepal and CNV and demanding nationalization under democratic workers’ control