he big aluminium factory, ALCASA, where the experience of so-called “cogestión” (co-management) has led the workers to move towards genuine workers’ control, is presently going through an election campaign. Several lists have been presented with candidates for positions in the central trade union, SINTRALCASA, that are to be elected by the workforce on January 17th and 18th. These elections will undoubtedly play an enormously important role, not just in ALCASA, but also in the Venezuelan labour movement as a whole.
As we reported in a previous article (See: Eye-witness report from ALCASA: Workers´ control unfolding), this is a factory where workers’ control is quite developed, and is regarded as a point of reference by Venezuelan worker activists. This obviously give the present trade union elections an even greater importance, as many people will be following what is happening here.
This is a short article written by two active participants in the campaign, that seeks to give an idea of the atmosphere in the heat of the events and also some preliminary reflections on the significance of the elections. We will publish a more detailed political analysis of the elections soon, as well as the final results.
Although the elections started out in a very chaotic manner, due to internal antagonisms within the trade unions in ALCASA, with two different election commissions proclaiming their legitimacy, etc., when the elections were finally called, the campaign quickly began to take off. Hundreds of colourful posters and banners appeared on the walls of the factory. Enormous loudspeakers were placed at the entrance. One is for the pro-Chavez “List 21” (that of José Gil, of the FBT – Bolivarian Workers’ Force, the MVR’s labour wing); another is for “List 52” (“we are Alcasa”, a mix of Chavez supporters who oppose Gil and anti-Chavez activists of “Causa R”) and “List 1” (“Fuerza Sindical” – Trade Union Force, clearly linked to the Opposition, mainly AD). These different formations try to drown each other out with a combination of slogans, chants and music, but no real political debate. Meanwhile hundreds of workers entering and leave the plant while the activists try to get their attention and hand out leaflets.
In the early hours of Monday, January 9th, as the 7am shift started, an assembly was held in front of the factory gates. Among the speakers were Trino Silva, a trade unionist at ALCASA who supposedly supports the Bolivarian movement but has had a very ambiguous performance as General Secretary of SINTRALCASA. He opened the assembly calling on the workers to vote to defeat the right-wing lists that represent the counter-revolutionary opposition. Other speakers intervened, the most remarkable being the intervention by Alcides Rivero, a candidate of MORAL 26 (Alcasian Revolutionary Movement, the list of the revolutionary left) and a frequent speaker in assemblies at ALCASA. When the comrade began to speak, there was complete silence, as the workers were listening attentively to what he had to say. Alcides stressed that these elections were basically a class issue. It was about the threat of closure of ALCASA, and thus the loss of thousands of jobs. He therefore pointed out that it is necessary to defend jobs by strengthening workers’ control and demanding that new investments be made in order to raise the technological level and thus also the productivity of the company.
A revolutionary alternative
This is a crucial point. It is necessary to point out that at ALCASA the process of workers’ control is taking place in a factory where a number of contradictions remain unsolved. The fact is that ALCASA is not a profitable factory, and has been in this condition for more than 12 years. Although productivity has been raised by 11% since cogestión was introduced in February 2005, it is still making a loss, financially speaking.
Thus some people in the reformist sector of the state apparatus are playing with the idea of closing the plant. This would mean that thousands of workers would lose their jobs. What the reformists are overlooking, is that the plant is only making a loss because the machinery has not been renewed in over 15 years. This limits any increase in productivity and at the same time is a direct threat to the safety of the workers.
The only list in these elections that has boldly put this on the agenda is MORAL 26, a coalition of various revolutionary groups that defend the idea of extending workers’ control to all areas of the company, including control over the budget and over new investments in technology. This is really the only alternative, the only step that can guarantee that the factory continues functioning properly. In this sense, workers’ control is not seen as something that “would be nice to have”, but rather as a vital necessity in order to save the jobs of the workers.
Reaching the workers
The big lists such as 21, 1 and 52 all have an enormous presence at the factory gates with flags, posters and music. Every time a new shift comes on, when hundreds of workers leave in the special buses that the company provides for the workforce, they intensify their chanting and shouting of slogans and fly the banners vigorously. Sometimes this looks more like a festival than a political event. And unfortunately, for some, the trade union election campaign has nothing to do with any serious political programme.
Although the revolutionary comrades of MORAL 26 do not have lots of colourful banners, or expensive merchandise, they conduct their campaign in a completely different manner from the other lists. During worktime, they go into the factory itself and talk to the workers. Not only do they advance their policy, they also listen carefully to the opinions, doubts and questions of their workmates. In effect, they carry out a revolutionary dialogue with the workers. They even go to the canteen to carry out this work.
The comrades of the CMR (Revolutionary Marxist Current) have produced a leaflet which supports MORAL 26, while also making some more detailed proposals on how to push forward workers’ control and move towards socialism. This leaflet is being received with enormous enthusiasm among the activists in the 26-campaign. After reading the leaflet, one worker decided to buy five copies of our paper, El Topo Obrero and give them out to the others present.
While these revolutionary workers are extremely pleased with our help and effort, we are also faced with harsh attacks from activists of the “List 21”. This is the sector grouping itself around the candidature of Jose Gil, and have openly opposed the “cogestión” policies, but from a somewhat reformist perspective. These comrades have quite a revolutionary background, and were in the front line of the struggle against the December 2002 lock-out and actively fought for the re-establishment of gas supplies, vital to keep the metal factories open. Even though at that time they were in the vanguard of the Guayanan proletariat, their trade union policies are in many cases not much different from those of other movements in the past: limiting the union struggle to the economic perspective and neglecting the importance of a political programme.
They denounce us as “fifth columnists”, and in a leaflet published by them, they attack MORAL 26 as “opportunists and the list of the company”, due to their support of the “cogestión” process that is currently taking place in the factory. But what is significant in all this is that they have not produced any leaflet attacking the other lists, not even the other pro-Chavez list (5) that is also running for the Executive Committee of SINTRALCASA and especially noteworthy is the fact that they have not attacked the other two lists that are clearly linked to the counter-revolution. This gives an idea of how our proposals and policies are seen as a threat, perhaps not in the short term, but they certainly see in us those who can best answer the workers’ thirst for political ideas and a programme.
It is difficult to foresee the results of the elections. Many factors will decide the outcome, including the chaos leading up to the process and the very short space of time given to the campaign. But it seems that MORAL 26 could win some seats in the trade union executive. This could be used as a platform from which to actively oppose the reformists and fight for the strengthening of workers’ control.
Whatever the results may be, the most important thing is not the elections in themselves, but rather the conclusions that the workers will draw from them. In a revolutionary situation people learn much faster than in normal periods. Elections give us a still-picture of the state of the general mood at a particular moment in time, but cannot give us a clear picture of the developments before and after, they cannot give us a picture of the movement as a whole.
The workers at ALCASA have time and time again shown that they are ready to struggle. During the bosses’ lockout they physically fought their way to the gas installations and restarted the supply to their factories. After the introduction of cogestión they have shown that they can run the plant with their own elected managers and spokesmen. It is necessary to advance a clear programme that takes as its starting point the concrete problems at the plant and at the same time explains that the only solution is to be found in the strengthening of workers’ control as a step forward in the common struggle to overthrow capitalism throughout the whole of Venezuela and beyond.
January 15, 2006