August 2012, Week 2


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Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>
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Tue, 14 Aug 2012 00:07:42 -0400
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Three Labor Stories from Latin America

(1) Brazil Faced With Mounting Public Sector Strikes
(2) Injured Workers Sew Lips Shut in Hunger Strike to
the Death (Colombia) 
(3) Revolutionary Democracy in the
Economy? Venezuela's Worker Control Movement and the
Plan Socialist Guayana

Brazil Faced with Mounting Public Sector Strikes
August 14.2012


BRASILIA -- Already confronted with the impact of a
global economic slowdown, Brazilian President Dilma
Rousseff's government is now having to cope with its
first major wave of public sector strikes.

"It is virtually a general strike of the Brazilian
public sector," the Confederation of Federal Public
Sector Workers (Condsef) said Monday, pointing out that
350,000 of the 500,000 federal employees have now
joined the work stoppage over higher pay and a career

But government officials say only 80,000 are involved.

The strike, which was first launched by university
professors in May, has now spread to other sectors and
is beginning to wreak havoc.

The work stoppage by federal police officers triggered
long lines at airports and roadways last week, and
exporters are railing against losses caused by striking
health inspectors.

Now justice employees are also on strike.

Running counter to the leftist tradition of her Workers
Party, Rousseff has refused to bow to the strikers'
demands. She has even ordered that the striking federal
employees be replaced by state workers if necessary.

"Dilma Rousseff has hardened the positions. Clearly
this is not a government willing to negotiate, contrary
to (former president Luiz Inacio) Lula (da Silva), her
predecessor and political mentor who was a born
negotiator," said Sadi Dal Rosso, a striking labor
sociology professor at Brasilia University.

Over the past decades, Brazil has pulled millions of
people out of poverty and into the middle class.

But now, with inflation reaching more than five percent
and GDP growth that could be less than two percent this
year, authorities are faced with the limits of this
expansion and prefer to use public spending for
productive investment, infrastructure work and
assistance to industry and consumers.

The government has its hands tied, caught in a "trap"
of salary disparity in the public sector, said Rosso.

He cites as an example starting salaries of more than
$6,700 or $7,400 for tax auditors or Central Bank

"A university professor starts earning less than $2,500
and his students $7,500," Rosso noted.

The highest salaries have come under fire from critics.

The economic daily Valor wrote Monday that "the
constant readjustments meant that the main public
sector categories got starting salaries incompatible
with the national reality."

Condsef maintains that more than 80 percent of public
sector employees earn low and inadequate salaries.

On Tuesday, the government will meet with the strikers.

The country's main labor federations issued a statement
Sunday in support of the strikers and slammed the
government for its "authoritarian" stance in the

Injured Workers Sew Lips Shut in Hunger Strike to
the Death 
by Isabelle Jameson  
Aug 12th, 2012


Four workers injured from the General Motors Colmotores
assembly plant sewed their lips shut on August 1, 2012,
initiating the hunger strike that their association has
now carried out for the past 12 days. This escalation
comes a year after they set up tents and a makeshift
shelter and began to occupy the sidewalk in front of
the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. They have
maintained this peaceful protest day and night for the
past 377 days- demanding that General Motors Colmotores
resolve their desperate situation.

The debilitating injuries that these men are suffering,
mostly involve their spinal columns and upper and lower
limbs. They claim to have acquired these injuries from
their work on the production line, citing the
repetition, excessive weights, harmful body postures,
and accelerated pace of the work. After developing the
injuries which were detected in the company medical
facility, they say they were essentially kicked to the
street, left without an income, compensation, medical
care, or severance. In addition to having permanent
injuries, these men claim to have been illegally fired
from their jobs, an assertion that has been verified by
the investigation of the Inspector General of Colombia.

General Motors Colmotores denies the allegations of
ASOTRECOL, stating that the company has never fired
workers due to their physical health and states that
the company respects the law. Questions around whether
the company has broken the law have emerged after
recent investigations have resulted in the temporary
removal of a government labor inspector for falsifying
documents. Additional labor inspectors are being
investigated, as are accusations that the falsification
of documents was done with the collusion of the company
lawyer and because of bribes received from General
Motors Colmotores.

It has already been several years since many of these
workers lost their jobs and in this time they have
found it very difficult to get work. The workers claim
that no company will hire individuals who need a cane
to get around or who have obvious injuries. Those whose
injuries are less apparent have found it impossible to
maintain a job once their injuries are aggravated and
their pain starts to flare up. Their families have
suffered: enduring hunger, having critical services
like water cut off due to their inability to pay, going
without needed medical care, losing their houses to
foreclosure, and seeing their dads and husbands unable
to participate in family life as they once did.

After spending a year in peaceful protest, and seeing
no progress with the company, ASOTRECOL, the
association of injured autoworkers from the assembly
plant, decided to launch a hunger strike and take a
stand for justice and for the rights of all workers in
Colombia who endure the abuses of multinational
corporations. These individuals see the struggle for
workers rights in their country as something larger
than themselves, and are prepared to give their lives
if General Motors does not resolve the situation. A
week after beginning the hunger strike, on August 8,
after not having made any progress with the company,
three more individuals sewed their lips shut. More
individuals are expected to follow each week that goes
by without

The injured workers point to the bailout that General
Motors received in 2008, saying that money from workers
in the U.S. should not be used to destroy the
well-being of workers in Colombia. With partial
ownership of General Motors remaining in the hands of
the U.S. government, this hunger strike raises the
question of just how much say we the people of the U.S.
should and do have over the outcome of this situation.

Despite being a continent away, the struggle of these
workers against the abuses of a multinational
corporation is the struggle of the people of this
country against corporate personhood; the struggle
against exploitation and the creation of poverty;
against commercial media that fails to report on
stories that could jeopardize their advertising

In Colombia, General Motors Colmotores has a lot of
power. When reporters have covered this story they have
often failed to refer to General Motors Colmotores by
name, instead identifying it as "a well-known
multinational automaker." It has received scant
attention in the U.S. as well. It is this silence that
is allowing General Motors to be non-responsive on this
issue. Please help bring visibility to this situation
by sharing this article, telling your friends and
organizations, and using social media outlets such as
facebook and twitter to publicize it.

Meet the injured workers and their families on the
ASOTRECOL video channel (feel free to share and embed
the videos): http://www.youtube.com/user/asotrecol

Sign their online petition

Get press releases and access to other resources
through ASOTRECOL's website: http://www.asotrecol.com

Revolutionary Democracy in the Economy? Venezuela's
Worker Control Movement and the Plan Socialist Guayana
By Ewan Robertson
August 3, 2012


Introduction: Christmas at Grafitos

Walking into the plush corporate style boardroom, I
greeted workers from the Grafitos del Orinoco factory
before sitting down to conduct the interview. On the
white board next to the door, the latest decision of
the workers' factory assembly was still in evidence:
whether to pay themselves an end of year bonus. Perhaps
unsurprisingly, the workers had reached an almost
unanimous consensus, with only one of the factory's'
fifty-five workers not in favour.

The sound of meat sizzling on the barbeque, salsa music
and laughter drifted in from the factory yard below. It
was the December 2011 Christmas party for workers and
their families, and they had plenty to celebrate. By
their own admission, after a long struggle against the
former boss and a trial and error learning process in
self-management, the workers at Grafitos had succeeded
in consolidating one of the most advanced and
successful worker-run factories in the Guyana region,
eastern Venezuela. I had previously visited the factory
with activists in April 2011, and as part of an
investigation into the worker control movement in the
region, had returned to see how the workers at Grafitos
were getting on.[i]

The struggle for worker control in Grafitos began in
early 2009, when the former boss refused to negotiate a
new collective contract with the workers' union and
tried to close the factory, taking the machinery with
him. In response, the workers began a factory
occupation which lasted eight months. For economic
reasons many workers had to abandon the struggle, with
only 18 remaining in occupation when the Venezuelan
government intervened in favour of the workers. The
Venezuelan labour ministry released a "decree of
temporary occupation for the reactivation of the
company", which in effect awarded the factory to the
workers to manage as they saw fit.

The workforce then debated how the factory should be
run, and decided that the aim should be a model of
collective self-management by the workers themselves:
worker control. "We said that worker control was that
workers controlled the factory", explained Henry
Escalon, the elected company president. Escalon's
position exists only to fulfil the legal obligation of
having a company president, as he himself likes to make

A workers council was installed, which from September
2010 debated how to organise the workers' control of
the factory.  Escalon and the other workers described
to me how at first they had been unprepared for
self-management. One of the mistakes that had been made
was the attempt to make every decision in a factory
assembly with all the workers, which is the "sovereign"
decision making body at Grafitos. This proved
inefficient and "wore out" workers, with Escalon
emphasising that "holding an assembly to agree to buy a
screw, no, that's falling into the abyss". Yet, in the
process of debating and trying different models "we
learnt as we went along".

Through this process of trial and error, the Grafitos
workers arrived at their current model of collective
management. While the factory assembly of all workers
remains the sovereign decision making body, committees
are chosen from among the workers to focus on specific
areas of the factory, such as finance and production. A
commission can also be set up to look into a specific
issue or problem. Escalon himself has a committee of
eight workers watching over his actions to ensure
accountability. Every three months the factory assembly
meets, where the commissions and the company president
report back to the general assembly, and the factory
trade union can also introduce proposals, for example
on pay and conditions.

The key decisions are made in the assembly, and every
worker has a voice and a vote. Cited examples of
decisions taken include making an investment into
buying a bus to provide transport for the workers, and
agreeing on costs upon which the graphite parts the
factory produces will be sold to the nationalised Sidor
steel plant, Grafitos' main client. "It's to say that
here, nothing is done without the workers, all the
workers have a minimum or maximum level of
participation," explained one of the committee members,
Cesar Barreto. Also, every worker is paid the same
(before, the factory boss earned 15 times that of a
worker), from the "president" to the cleaner, and
workers can change positions if they wish, helping to
overcome the division between manual and intellectual

Indeed, the workers feel they have managed to develop a
management model that allows workers to democratically
organise themselves, and they are willing to support
other factories in a similar position, as part of
Venezuela's wider worker control movement. "There are
other experiences of fellow comrades on the national
level, [but] I think we are one of the most important
worker controlled companies in Venezuela, and we are
available to accompany fellow workers in the same
conflict to keep advancing this idea [of worker
control]," said Cesar Barreto.

Sitting comfortably in the boardroom where in the past
they could only enter with the permission of the
factory owner, workers described economic,
psychological and community benefits to the democratic
worker control model of factory management, compared
with the old hierarchical capitalist model under the
boss. Spurred on by a sense of common ownership, the
workers have been able to raise production (they
informed me in April 2011 that they had just broken
their production record). With this, and equal and
rising pay enjoyed by each worker, their material
quality of life has increased. Workers have, for the
first time, managed to get mortgages for a house or own
a car, and have enjoyed new benefits such as Christmas
bonuses and benefits to buy toys for their children.

Yet more than just material benefits, there have been
value-based gains and an increase in the quality of the
working environment, including a growing sense that the
workers are part of a common project linked to the
wider industries of the region. "We no longer come just
to sell our labour power for eight hours. We're part of
a hub that boosts the production of the basic
industries [of Guayana]...we have raised consciousness,
and gained a sense of belonging," said Escalon. Cesar
Barreto conveyed how the relationship between workers
had changed, saying "before there was persecution by
the boss. Now there is freedom. The sense of
fellowship, in comparison with other companies, has
been strengthened". To illustrate their point the
workers gave me the example of when one of their
colleagues suffered an accident in November 2011. All
workers gave two days salary to help him with his
recovery, a gesture "from the heart," as one worker
present put it. In the opinion of Barreto "this
solidarity and comradeship that's been constructing
itself is really valuable and important" for working
life in the factory.

Another change has been the role of the factory in the
community.  As Barreto explained, "Apart from improving
the workers' quality of life, we want to contribute to
society, seeing that the resources we produce are
geared toward society". Along with supplying
Venezuela's nationalised industries and politically
supporting other worker control projects, Grafitos
allocates a portion of its resources to various
community and social causes. These include grants to
community groups, funding for school equipment, and
donations to international causes such as helping
refugees in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake.

Beyond the sometimes tricky process of developing their
worker control model, the factory has faced economic,
political and legal challenges. Economically, the
factory needed a great deal of investment after the
former owner declined to invest for years while running
the existing machinery into the ground. As a
consequence, some of the factory's machinery is out of
date and workers have had to put a great amount of
capital into upgrading it. Politically, Escalon
explained that as a result of ordinary workers "from
below" assuming administrative tasks and the overall
responsibility of running the factory, often outside
figures dealing with the plant have treated workers
with a lack of recognition and respect. "They
practically said to us, "get lawyers [to deal with
legal or administrative matters], you aren't capable of
this". Well, we showed them otherwise. This is one of
the most successful factories and experiences in
Guyana" he stated, with murmurs of agreement from
around the table.

The legal issue for the workers was that ultimately
their position rested upon a temporary decree from the
government's labour ministry, albeit renewed several
times, which left the possibility of a takeover by a
private owner at some point in the future. What the
workers wanted was full nationalisation: where the
factory was owned by the state to prevent buyout, but
run by the workers without interference. As chance
would have it, this measure was announced by the
government a few days after my December 2011 visit to
Grafitos, with the workers communicating to me that
they were satisfied with the arrangement. Indeed, now
with legal protection from the state, the factory is
still running strong under its worker control model.

A last question I had for the workers regarded their
views on whether it was possible to have a democratic
society without democracy in the economy. Cesar Barreto
offered to answer, stating:

"I think that historically in our countries we've been
sold a false idea of democracy, a democracy where the
minority take the economic decisions that affect the
great majority. I believe that socialism comes to
democratise the economy, that is to say, where everyone
is involved in decision making over resources, of the
state and its institutions: not continuing to be
managed by a minority that takes advantage of the
resources produced by the majority. Right now we see in
Spain, in Europe, resentment in society against the
cases of "democracy" that exist there. Here in
Venezuela we're making an important effort to
substitute these relations, the old democracy, with a
much more democratic system: so that the decisions are
transmitted above from below, not imposed downward from
above. I think this is the key to truly begin to change

Part I: The Birth and Development of Plan Socialist

i) Venezuela's Worker Control Movement

As was alluded to in the Grafitos interview, the
experience of worker control in the Grafitos factory is
one of a number of worker control experiments across
Venezuela. This article investigates the development of
this movement in recent years, in particular through
the Plan Socialist Guayana, and what Venezuela's
experience of worker control means for the Bolivarian
revolution and radical social change more generally.

The worker control movement forms one of the most
radical social movements in the Venezuela, pushing for
a transformation of the existing mode of production and
class relations, the division and hierarchy of labour,
and decision-making within the economy.  Interestingly,
the movement has emerged as a political force later on
during Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution, the process
of social, political and economic change led by
President Hugo Chavez since his election in December
1998. The contemporary worker control movement has its
beginnings in the oil lockout December 2002 - January
2003, when bosses tried to shut down the country's oil
industry and economy in order to oust Chavez from
power, after a failed coup d'etat in April 2002.  This
attempt at economic sabotage, while causing huge damage
to the economy, failed when workers in various
industries, including oil, temporarily took over the
running of factories in a bid to keep the economy
moving and maintain Chavez in power.

In 2005 the first worker controlled factories came into
being when the Chavez government expropriated paper
factory Invepal and valve factory Inveval in January
and April of that year respectively, after workers
launched occupations against the former owners. The
factories were established in "co-management" with the
state, whereby workers owned 49% and the state 51% of
the factory and administration was shared between the
two. Of the two factories, Inveval developed the
deepest worker participation, with decisions made in
weekly worker assemblies and a factory council formed
in January 2007.[ii]

Key to this process was the relationship between the
government and workers struggling for worker control.
In 2005 President Hugo Chavez began to promote the idea
of worker control as a means of recovering and putting
into productivity factories closed by recalcitrant
members of the business class, launching his call
"company closed: company occupied". Meanwhile the
government's labour ministry supported the organisation
that year of the first "Latin American Meeting of
Recovered Companies".[iii] This was part of a left-turn
by the Bolivarian movement after successfully defeating
numerous destabilisation attempts by the country's
right-wing opposition, with Chavez announcing in 2005
that the goal of the Bolivarian revolution was the
construction of socialism. His government then set
about nationalising strategic sectors of the economy
such as telecommunications, energy, and food supply
chains, and promoting grassroots organisation through
communal councils among other mechanisms of

From 2005 a range of factories have been occupied and
put beneath various forms of worker control in
Venezuela, including state-owned Aluminium factory
Alcasa from 2005, Invetex, Central Pio Tamayo,
Sideroca, Tomatera, Caisa, Central Cumanacoa (2005/6),
Sanitarios de Maracay (2007), Grafitos del Orinoco
(2009/10), food chain Friosa (2010), coffee producer
Fama de Amerca (2010), and many more. Not every model
established since 2005 has remain intact and the
process has been fluid and at times uneven, yet the
general trend has been a growing number of concrete
examples and the popularity of the idea of worker
control among Venezuela's working class. Thus, despite
the number of factories under worker control
representing only a small part of Venezuela's economy,
by mid-2011 the Bicentenary Front of Companies Under
Worker Control (FRETCO) was able to declare:
"Currently, the Bolivarian revolution has entered a
critical point in which the bourgeoisie has lost
control over the exploited. The workers have been
acquiring an ever greater level of political
consciousness and are organising themselves to respond
to the capitalists' attacks".[iv]

In their analysis, the FRETCO tie the growth of the
worker control movement to the overall fate of the
Bolivarian process, arguing:

"We are living in times never before seen in our
history. There are factories that have been in the
hands of their workers for five years, occupied and
operated by them. There aren't any historical
references [in Venezuela] in which this situation has
been able to sustain itself for so long without one of
its parts being defeated. In other times the
bourgeoisie would have used all the power of the state
to suppress the worker and grassroots movement".

ii) The Nationalisation of Sidor and the Birth of Plan
Socialist Guayana

Indeed, the relationship between the Venezuelan state
and differing sectors of Venezuela's organised working
class has been a key factor in determining advances and
setbacks in Venezuela's worker control movement.
Nowhere has this been more marked than in Guayana. This
region, sitting alongside the great Orinoco River,
enjoys a wealth of natural resources which have given
rise to a set heavy industries extracting and
manufacturing iron ore, steel, aluminium, bauxite,
gold, and more. The most strategic of these industries
are owned by the state and the majority are overseen by
the government's Venezuela Guayana Corporation (CVG),
and the (former) Ministry of Basic Industries and
Mining (MIBAM).[v] After oil, this set of industries is
the second industrial motor of the Venezuelan economy
and groups together around 30,000 workers.

Guayana has become the key battleground for Venezuela's
worker control movement over the last three years due
to the launch of Plan Socialist Guayana (PGS), a joint
plan between the Venezuelan state and organised workers
in the CVG industries to develop a project of worker
control for the entire state-owned industrial complex
in the region.

The idea of putting the Guayana state industries under
the control of its workers sharply gained momentum with
the nationalisation of Sidor in April 2008. The steel
plant had been privatised in 1997 under the neoliberal
Caldera government, and sold to Argentinian company
Techin. According to Sidor union activist Jesus Pino,
who spoke with myself and other activists and
journalists in April 2011, among other adverse effects
on working conditions and safety under the decade of
privatisation was the reduction of the numbers of
workers under direct employment by Sidor. These
workers, who enjoy the benefits of the full collective
contract, dropped from 11,000 to 5,000 while the number
of subcontracted workers (those who perform the same
work but under worse pay and conditions) rose to
9,000.[vi] In early 2008 a fallout between Sidor
workers and management over the negotiation of a new
collective contract escalated into an all-out struggle
by collective and sub-contracted Sidor workers for the
re-nationalisation of the plant. However, Sidor's
transnational management was supported by the
pro-Chavez governor of Bolivar state Francisco Rangel
Gomez, and Chavez's labour minister Jose Ramon Rivero,
who ordered National Guard troops to attack workers.

In one of his key political moves with regards to
Venezuela's labour movement, Hugo Chavez then took the
side of the workers, firing his labour minister Rivero
and announcing that Sidor would be nationalised. By
this point many workers felt that just nationalising
the plant was not enough. A Sidor union activist, Juan
Valor, said at the time that along with nationalisation
and incorporating all sub-contracted workers onto the
full payroll "we are proposing that from the start of
the productive process worker control exists, because
if there isn't worker control here things will be the
same as before, where there wasn't control of
production, of sales, of nothing".[vii]

After this, workers from across the CVG factories began
meeting to discuss the future development of the state
industries. Meanwhile Chavez established the Guayana
Presidential Commission with representatives from the
national executive and links with the workers to debate
the same issue. Then on May 21 2009, over 400 workers
from across the CVG factories divided into ten working
groups, and met with Chavez to present their proposals
for the socialist transformation of Guayana's basic
industries under worker control.

The Venezuelan president supported the plan, launching
his now famous cry "I play on the side of the workers!"
and announced the launch of Plan Socialist Guayana
(PGS). He further argued, "It cannot be that you are
working in a company, and you aren't clear on its
overall functioning...from the beginning, to sales, the
whole productive process must under worker
control".[viii] The workers' working groups were then
set the task of developing the PGS alongside Chavez's
labour minister Maria Cristina Iglesia and planning and
development minister Jorge Giordani. From 22 May to 7
June 2009 these ten working groups, comprising over 600
workers, fleshed out the PSG into its final form, which
was presented to Chavez on June 9 as Plan Socialist
Guayana 2009 - 2019, becoming the blueprint for the
future development of Venezuela's state owned
industries in Guayana.

The final report of the plan claims that since public
planning of industry in Venezuela began "never before
has a plan for the development of public companies been
developed like this".[ix]  Meanwhile Elio Sayago,
former worker-president of CVG Alcasa, later termed
Chavez's public siding with the regions' workers and
the launch of the PGS as "a launching of the advance of
the revolution in the economic sphere".[x]

iii) So what is the PGS?

The Plan Socialist Guayana June 2009 report introduces
the PGS by stating "the aluminium, iron and steel
workers of Guayana, alongside the Bolivarian
government, have decided to take a step forward in the
construction of socialism, by assuming direct control
of the production of the region's heavy industries".

In pursuit of this aim, and to develop the industries
in the manner designed by the workers, the PGS contains
nine strategic goals. The first of these is "control of
production by the workers", which calls on workers to
convert themselves into guarantors of the state's
social property and stipulates that the construction of
"Bolivarian socialism" requires democratising the
management and decision-making of companies. The second
goal is the development of a revolutionary theory and
action that puts workers in active and participatory
control of production. This focuses on promoting
"socialist values" through collective leadership
mechanisms as well as a focus on health, safety and
care for the work environment.

The third, significantly, is the integration of all CVG
industries into two mega companies, one integrating the
iron and steel production process, the other, the
aluminium process. A truly massive project, the report
argues that integrating production will create a wider
consciousness beyond workers' commitment to their
particular company, to the wider Guayana region and
Venezuelan society. Other PGS reports further explain
that this integrated vision is also aimed at
Venezuela's productive and technological sovereignty,
reducing export of primary materials abroad where
transnational companies make great profits on
Venezuela's natural resources, and instead producing
more goods domestically to address the needs of
Venezuelan society, for example in housing
construction. This is in line with the government's own
national development plan. Reducing the environmental
impact of the region's industries is another motive
behind this strategic goal.

The fourth goal states the importance of the
"ideological-political and technical-productive
development of workers", stipulating that factories
should guarantee the human development of workers by
offering educational opportunities under the principle
"every factory is a school". This is also held as
giving workers the necessary political and practical
tools to assume control of production. The fifth goal
calls for the collective ownership of technology by
workers, and the sixth for the guarantee of healthy
working conditions (health and safety), in industries
which are often dangerous to work in. The seventh aim
is the financial viability of projects proposed by
workers, stating that every worker has the right to
participate in the formulation of projects for
implementation in his/her workplace. The eighth is to
ensure energy availability for new projects and conduct
reviews for how to save energy, key in the context of
Venezuela's 2009 electricity crisis. The final goal is
to establish codes for public accountability of the
management of the CVG factories.[xi]

The rest of the PGS report sets out detailed policy
proposals for the realisation of each of the above
goals, a list of projects for the 2009 - 2012
Investment Plan developed by the working groups, and
the legal and constitutional framework within which the
plan functions. The report concludes by stating that
workers must be the main actor in the process of
revolutionary change and that "only wide and democratic
participation is capable of avoiding bureaucratic
monopolisation and distortion of revolutionary

The emergence of the Plan Socialist Guayana draws
attention to the nature of the process of social change
underway in Venezuela and the prospects for a
transition to socialism here. While there have been
dramatic improvements in the guarantee of social
rights, an increase in grassroots organisation and
empowerment, and innovative economic forms such as
cooperatives, social property companies, and others,
the Venezuelan economy is still largely based on
capitalist social relations. These take the form of
either private ownership of production or state
ownership, the latter albeit often having different
strategic aims such as providing a service (health and
education) or fulfilling a social need (housing
construction) rather than maximising profit. However,
in terms of creating a society based on new relations
between human beings, how goods and services are
produced, who owns production and how economic
decisions are taken, ownership by the state in itself
does not necessitate a challenge to hierarchical
capitalist power relations, with state appointed
managers and bureaucratic officials often replacing the
role of private owners. As such, the worker control
movement and the PGS mark an important development in
Venezuela, particularly if one considers the argument
on the nature socialism and democracy: that one
requires the other.

The general argument is that socialism, as an
emancipatory theory that seeks the removal of all
barriers to full human development, requires
participatory decision-making mechanisms in both public
and economic life. As Marx put it, the aim of a future
society should be "where the free development of one is
the condition for the free development of all". This
requires active participation in all areas of public
and economic life, in order to give people the chance
to contribute to decisions affecting them and develop
themselves as human beings. Such mechanisms also avoid
the formation of elite groups which exploit and wield
power over others, and can lead to the
bureaucratisation of revolutionary processes. Meanwhile
democracy is seen as requiring socialism, as the key
principle of democracy is that of "political equality",
the right of all members of a group to have an equal
role in decisions taken by that group. Whereas liberals
quickly shy away from this principle and argue that
political equality can only be applied in a limited
fashion on the level of a whole society, through an
elected parliament or congress, many socialists take a
more holistic and radical stance, pointing out that it
is hard to maintain any notion of equality in
decision-making in societies where there exist large
scale private ownership of the economy and economic
decision-making by a privileged elite. As such, in
order to realise any meaningful notion of democracy in
society, democratic ownership and decision-making is
required in the economy, for example through worker
control, community councils and communes, and, at
minimum, a far-more democratic control over state power
than only periodic elections to a parliament: i.e.,
some form of socialism is required.

Therefore, worker control in Venezuela can be seen as
one of the key efforts underway in the country 'from
below' to introduce mechanisms of democratic
decision-making in the economy, laying the basis for
radical societal transformation. However, while in
Grafitos del Orinoco it has been demonstrably possible
to democratically run a factory with a workforce of
around 55, how could this be done in a factory with
thousands of workers and a more complex production

In developing the PGS, the workers proposed a "worker
council" model. It has four basic structures to ensure
workers' participation from the factory floor to top
level administration. These are Workers' Councils,
Coordination Committees by Productive Process (CCP),
the General Management Council, and the Workers'
Assembly. The workers' councils are the basic unit of
participation, with workers forming a council for their
section of the productive process, and taking decisions
or proposing initiatives related to their work area.
The next level of organisation is the Coordinating
Council by Process, which works in synergy with all
worker councils in a given productive process (i.e. the
production of steel bars), and  according to a report
by one of the PGS working groups "will make visible,
manage and articulate all policies approved by the
workers' councils".[xii] The next level is the general
management council, which has representation from the
workers, the company presidency (also elected by the
workers), the state, and the local community via
communal councils. Other mechanisms of participation
are health and safety committees, trade unions,
specific work commissions, and a PGS spokespersons
council, with all bodies accountable to the general
workers' assembly. A diagram of the model is available
on the January 2010 PGS report here.[xiii]

iv) The Progress of Plan Socialist Guayana 2009 - 2012

Alongside the launching of the PGS in May 2009, the
Venezuelan government nationalised five important iron
and steel briquette companies for integration into the
planned Iron-Steel and Aluminium socialist
corporations. This was seen as a sign of the
government's commitment to the PGS, with Chavez
declaring that "these companies must be under worker
control. That's how it must be".[xiv] After its launch,
the workers' working groups in liaison with Chavez's
ministerial team led by Maria Iglesias and Jorge
Giordani were charged with carrying the plan forward.
As part of this process the workers formed
technical-productive working groups which drew up
projects for the PSG investment plan.

On 8 August 2008 workers once again met with Chavez,
the result of which was the approval of the Intensive
Therapy PGS investment plan. Chavez approved US $313
million for the plan from the government's Venezuela -
China Fund (FCCV), on the condition that this money was
administered by the workers. Workshops on health and
safety and ensuring accountability were also held, with
the participation of 200 workers each.[xv]

A report was published in January 2010 for the
attention of President Chavez summarising the progress
of the implementation of the PGS. It confirmed a
"progressive advance" in worker control over financing
with the money from the FCCV, which acted as a morale
booster to workers involved in the PGS project.
However, it also drew attention to contradictory
behaviour by the existing upper and middle management
in the CVG companies, which the report charged as
paying lip service to the PGS while attempting to
ignore the working groups and block the implementation
of the plan. Examples cited included individual company
managements ignoring the Venezuelan government's and
the PGS's policy of fusing all industries into two
larger corporations, instead each planning their own
2010 budgets and without the participation of the
workers. Meanwhile, instead of looking to reduce sale
of primary materials to transnationals, several
companies were signing contracts committing them to
sell material to the Glen and Noble group years into
the future. The report also included 28 recommendations
for the continued implementation of the PGS, including
reducing the sale of primary materials to transnational
clients and to use improvements in production to
benefit the national health, education and housing
sectors, while increasing protection of the
environment. It also recommended the working groups,
and the workers in general, assume control over the
decision-making in the CVG companies, as stipulated in
the PGS.[xvi]

The Plan Socialist Guayana moved into a new phase on 15
May 2010 with the appointment of the
"worker-presidents" who were nominated by their fellow
workers to run the presidencies in each of the CVG
companies and sworn in by President Chavez. These
included Elio Sayago to Alcasa and Carlos de Oleivera
to Sidor (the latter also a member of PGS working group
1). Chavez also announced a series of measures that
seemed to be influenced by the PGS working groups,
including that CVG industries would reduce high export
levels of primary materials and divert their use to
local and national projects, and the nationalisation of
the system of transporting primary materials, both
recommendations of the PGS January 2010 report. Chavez
also warned against reluctance on the part of managers
and administrators to implement such decisions,
declaring that "it's necessary to defeat such
resistance to change," and that some management
positions were occupied by "enemies of the
revolutionary process".[xvii]

Nevertheless, according to a member of PGS working
group 1, Blanca Garcia, some decisions made in May 2010
opened the way for bureaucratisation within the PGS. A
"Special Sub-Commission" of the PGS was created with
nine spokespeople named by the working groups, three
government ministers, a National Assembly deputy, and
the worker-presidents. While such a body may have
helped bring coherence and political weight in the
PGS's implementation, Garcia argues that this opened
the path to the formation of a new elite within the
PGS, contrary to the need to transform the capitalist
social division of labour. Furthermore, Garcia
criticises the creation of a "technical secretariat" of
the PGS with power being taken away from workers at the

Nevertheless, through 2010 and 2011 the workers of the
CVG industries continued to organise and push forward
the PGS. In May 2011 a significant step forward for
workers both in Guayana and the national worker control
movement occurred, when the first National Meeting of
Workers' Councils met in the Sidor plant. Organised by
various groups including the National Union of Workers
(Unete), the meeting brought together over 900
worker-activists representing over 100 factories and 21
of Venezuela's 24 regional states. Participants
discussed the progress, strengths and weaknesses as
well as how to advance the worker control movement. A
common theme at the meeting was a concern that
bureaucratic sectors of the state were undermining the
implementation of worker control projects. It is
important to keep in mind, as US academic Peter Brohmer
noted after a recent research trip to Venezuela, "[the
term] bureaucracy in Venezuela includes corruption,
favouritism, clientalism, nepotism, incompetence,
indifference, and needless red tape, etc".[xix]

At the conference, Elio Sayago drew attention to
attempts at destabilising the Alcasa factory and
removing him from office, centred around opposition to
worker control by the pro-Chavez, yet reactionary,
governor of Bolivar state (where the CVG industries are
located), Francisco Rangel Gomez.[xx] From this meeting
a plan was also agreed to constitute a national
platform for the worker control movement, with several
follow-up meetings taking place. According to worker
control advocate and CVG Ferrominera worker Alexis
Adarfio, "From the meeting came the preparation of a
document to strengthen the bases of worker control,
with a philosophy, an organisation, basically a working
agenda emerged from the meeting to strengthen ourselves
throughout Venezuela".[xxi]

In August 2011 CVG Alcasa was able to report progress
both in the implementation of worker control and in
other strategic goals of the PGS, when the factories'
worker assembly approved a plan which allowed for the
investment of national clients into Alcasa in order to
increase production to meet domestic needs, part of a
policy of ending aluminium exports to transnational
clients. The plan was elaborated by the Coordination
Committees by Process with participation from the
workers councils.[xxii]

Another sign of progress during 2011 included the
formation of the PGS General Assembly in May 2011. This
assembly was formed as a space for workers across the
Guayana industries who support the PGS to meet weekly
to discuss the PGS's implementation and support the
efforts of the PGS working groups. Other developments
included consolidating, in several CVG industries, the
"Jesus Rivero" Bolivarian Workers University, a key
institution for workers' political and technical
education, defining the structure of CVG corporations
to comply with their status as "socialist companies",
and in October 2011 the creation of an organisation for
purchases and sales in the iron - steel and aluminium

In December 2011 I caught up with Alexis Adarfio for an
interview. A member of the United Socialist Party of
Venezuela (PSUV) and supporter of Chavez, he has an
intimate knowledge of the PGS, driving forward the
implementation of the PGS in CVG Ferrominera from his
position as coordinator of social-political education
in the iron-ore company.

He reported that in Ferrominera and other industries a
process of debate among workers (which I'd observed
underway in April 2011) was culminating, which had
formed the norms and rules for the functioning of
workers councils, the philosophy of worker control, the
theory of changing the social relations of production,
etc. Of 7,000 workers in Ferrominera, 5,000 had
participated in this debate.

With the norms and rules agreed for the functioning of
workers councils and other bodies, the timetable for
the implementation of worker control in Ferrominera
was, first, for the diffusion of norms in the first
months of 2012, followed by an internal electoral
process for workers councils and implementation of the
worker council model by June 2012. Adarfio argued that
the workers councils "will allow internal democracy in
the company, the democratisation of decision-making, by
making decisions in councils and [worker] assemblies,
all of the decisions: over production, consumption and
distribution inside the industry". He said workers
councils will be formed by spokespeople elected in
worker assemblies, which will become the
decision-making bodies in the company. To avoid
professionalisation of spokespeople, positions will be
rotational and held for one year, and can be recalled
by the workers assembly during that time.[xxiv] As of
June 2012, the spokespeople's elections have taken
place in Sidor, CVG Venelum (aluminium) and Cavelum
(aluminium), with the norms and rules still being
established in advance of elections in the other CVG

Part II: The Promise, Politics and Problems of the PGS

While the Plan Socialist Guayana has developed as
described in part I of this article, the project for a
socialist transformation of the region's industries has
been subject to a wider debate and political battle.
The nature of the arguments, political factions and
dynamics of conflict that surround the PGS and the
worker control movement have important ramifications
for understanding the nature of the Bolivarian
revolution and for the wider debate on revolutionary
social change in general. To cover these issues, part
II of this article addresses (1) the debate in
Venezuela around worker control and the PGS, (2) the
various factions opposed to the PGS and the role they
have played in attempting to prevent its
implementation, and (3) the course of the conflict
around the PGS in 2012.

i) Venezuela's Worker Control Debate

Supporters of worker control and the PGS offer a number
of arguments in favour of the idea. On the level of
political values and ideology, worker's control is
generally held to be opposed to capitalist relations of
production. Adarfio declared in May 2010 that the PGS
represents a "declaration of principles in the war
against capitalism,"[xxv] while former worker-president
of CVG Alcasa, Elio Sayago, argues, the PGS involves "a
deepening of the search to intervene in the mode of
production...aiming to develop productive forces and
transform the social relations of production".  This is
explicitly promoted in the PGS reports, which advocates
workers replacing a hierarchical management model with
collective decision-making and ending the division of
labour between intellectual/managerial and manual
labour positions. Alcasa union activist and safety
officer Denny Sucre explained to me that this aims for
a situation where "the workers in the company don't
feel like an object, but rather an active subject in
decision-making...in control of the productive process,
but also the administrative process".

Part of this project is the attempt to change dominant
values from an individualistic to a more cooperative
outlook.  Sayago states his opinion that collective
decision-making helps create a "collective work
culture" where workers labour together to produce for
the benefit of society. Collective and equal
participation also make for better decision making,
where "the best actions are decisions taken when you
work in a group, with respect and cooperation. This
action brings together all the knowledge from all the
different variables involved...therefore a better
decision will be taken". [xxvi]

Politically, worker control and the PGS have
implications for power relations in the Guayana
industries, where a set of vested interests already
enjoys economic and political power over the CVG. This
includes state bureaucrats and managers in the Guayana
industries, the CVG management and Bolivar state
governorship, transnational companies who buy primary
materials, and a "labour aristocracy" in the union
movement. A common argument put forward by workers in
favour of worker control is that the PGS "sentences to
death" the power of such groups, including according to
Adarfio "a labour elite [that]  has held crumbs of
political power, which it always uses for its
individual interests in detriment to the rest of the
people". As such, the PGS is widely seen as initiating
a "battle inside the companies," for the future
political and productive development of the

Worker control is also argued as necessary for gearing
industry toward producing for social need over private
profit. Sayago, Adarfio, and the PGS reports make clear
that worker control is linked to reducing or ending the
export of primary resources to transnational companies,
to instead manufacture primary materials inside
Venezuela to produce for domestic needs, from health to
housing. It is also sometimes argued that increasing
production is not a priority as Venezuela's primary
resources should be conserved, along with controlling
energy use and protecting the environment.[xxviii] As
such, workers point to concrete successes achieved by
the PSG working groups despite opposition from other
political sectors to the plan's implementation. Geanes
Cordova, a member of PGS working group 4, explained how
the PSG working groups in Sidor dealing with
subcontracted labour and energy issues have both
introduced successful projects, with the first
achieving the incorporation of 6,800 cooperative
members onto Sidor's collective contract and the latter
succeeding in constructing two thermoelectric plants
that helped solve the nations' 2009-2010 energy
crisis.[xxix] Meanwhile, Denny Sucre described to me
how Alcasa was planning to begin producing profiles for
housing construction in support of the Venezuelan
government's mass housing building program launched May

It's worth keeping in mind that workers in favour of
the PGS also have differing notions of how radical
worker control should be. Lisa Maria, who works in the
social development department of Ferrominera, felt that
worker control is more of a consultative exercise,
"that they [translator: it is assumed that "they"
refers to company management or administrative staff]
take us into account with decisions they make over
investments".[xxxi] Meanwhile Ruben Dario Morales, of
Ferrominera's legal and community department, argued
that the PGS should construct "a new management model
where workers can truly participate in the
decision-making of the future of our company," however
he also argued that this process "doesn't have any
other objective than guaranteeing the productivity and
permanence of this company".[xxxii]

Other workers, especially those participating more
deeply in the design and implementation of the PGS, see
worker control of the CVG industries as a more radical
project, acting as a step in the construction of
socialism and the assuming of political power by the
Venezuelan working class. Denny Sucre of Alcasa
expressed his opinion that:

"This process has to do with participation in all if
its aspects, where involvement doesn't have limits: it
has to break barriers, and go further still, because
this process we're determined to construct... is going
to give vanguard signals from Alcasa, from Bolivar
state, that yes the workers are capable of going much
further than the transformation of productive
processes. It's not just about the transformation of
productive processes anymore, but about how the workers
also have the power of the state, we're going to take

The view that workers are collectively capable of
assuming more than just the running of factories was
also voiced in Grafitos del Orinoco, with Carlos
Becerra stating his hope that the PGS could "be a
launching pad in the construction of socialism ...to
begin to direct the factory and in the not too distant
future, direct the state too".[xxxiv]

There are also arguments posed against both worker
control in Venezuela in general, and the PGS in
particular. State bureaucrats and managers, and sectors
tied to the transnationals and the conservative
political opposition, argue that workers don't have the
capability or consciousness to run their own factories.
This was even expressed in a limited way by Ferrominera
worker Lisa Maria who indicated her opinion that some
workers don't understand what worker control is.[xxxv] 
A more sophisticated argument made by reformist sectors
within the Bolivarian process argues that Venezuela is
an oil based economy without a developed working class,
and so the Bolivarian project is in fact a "transition"
to creating a national bourgeoisie and developing the
forces of production. The Bicentenary Front of
Companies Under Worker Control (FRETCO) organisation
rejects the latter argument as "reactionary, and not
revolutionary," and based on hypocrisy, given that
those making such arguments are defending their
existing political and economic interests in the state
apparatus and actively conspiring to make experiments
in worker control fail.[xxxvi]

An argument made by some leftist currents is that
worker control as conceived within the PGS is flawed as
it is formed in conjunction with the state, given that
the influence of the government and state-appointed
managers in the industries can lead to a
bureaucratisation of moves toward full worker control.
When the PGS was launched, Orlando Chirino, a leader of
the National Union of Workers (UNETE) union federation,
urged workers to fight to make sure nationalised
companies don't continue on as capitalist companies in
the hands of the state, and that "worker control is not
limited to the workers participating in the election of

Advocates of the PGS with whom I spoke to took a
pragmatic approach to the issue. Denny Sucre argued
that "co-responsibility" with the state is necessary
because the CVG industries depend on the state for
subsidies and parts, however that "when we reach our
production capacity then we will be independent from
the state". In this context, it is worth mentioning
that although the PSG project has experienced a
complicated and often prejudicial relationship with the
Venezuelan state,  almost all workers advocating worker
control I spoke to (in Sidor, Alcasa, Ferrominera, and
Grafitos del Orinoco) were supportive of the Venezuelan
president, Hugo Chavez. They saw him as backing worker
control and the PGS, given his public support of worker
control and the PGS project, and concrete actions taken
such as in May 2010 to push the plan forward.

A view worth mentioning is that of Damian Prat, a
Guayana based-journalist who also writes for Tal Cual,
a newspaper associated with the right-wing opposition.
In an interview I had with him, he gave voice to
criticisms that production and safety records in some
CVG industries had not improved or had even worsened
under state management, which he argued pointed to the
incompetence of the Chavez government. He also
dismissed the PGS as a government mechanism "to control
the workers, making them believe that now it's they who
govern, to eliminate their labour rights...what a
marvel, how are you going to complain [to the state] if
you're the owner of the company?".[xxxviii]

While Prat's criticisms of problems in production and
management faced by the CVG industries may hold weight,
his political analysis of their root cause does not. As
member of PGS working group 1 Blanca Garcia points out,
those fighting for worker control are themselves
critical of the fact that the CVG industries are in a
"critical state" of operation. However, Garcia explains
that the reasons for this are "political not
technical".[xxxix] To put it another way, the problems
within the state industries are not simply due to a
bureaucratic form of state management that would be
solved by privatisation, as Pratt seems to suggest.
Rather, they are rooted in the reality that the CVG
industries have become the site of an intense political
conflict in which the nature of the Bolivarian
revolution and the future of the worker control
movement in Guayana are being contested. Furthermore,
the way in which vested interests within the Bolivarian
camp (in state institutions, the CVG, and the Bolivar
state governorship) have tried to prevent the
implementation of the PGS makes the notion that the PSG
is a government plan to control workers unlikely to say
the least.

ii) The Political Forces Opposed to Worker Control in

As mentioned, both the Plan Socialist Guayana and the
wider worker control movement challenge existing power
relations. In particular, the advance of the PGS in the
CVG industries has provoked opposition from a range of
groups, from the country's right-wing opposition and
multinational companies, to corrupt or reactionary
politicians, mafias, trade union bureaucrats, and state
managers within the Bolivarian camp. The internal
conflict over worker control between different groups
identifying themselves with the Bolivarian revolution
has revealed one of the sharpest existing
contradictions in the revolution at present.

More radical groups in favour of worker control, such
as the pro-government UNETE and the FRETCO, highlight
reactionary and bureaucratic elements within the
Bolivarian revolution as a as one of the greatest
threats to the advance of worker control and the
revolution as a whole. Sections of the UNETE have
described these sectors as "counterrevolutionary" and a
"fifth column" which are "as dangerous as imperial
aggression and economic sabotage by big business" for
the continuance of the Bolivarian revolution.[xl]

Former worker-president of Alcasa, Elio Sayago,
succinctly explained the issue at stake in an interview
October 2011. He argued that in the first ten years of
the Bolivarian revolution, some people took advantage
of the popularity of the process by proclaiming their
support for Chavez and the revolution in order to get
into positions of influence and power, however, are not
genuinely committed revolutionaries. "Now they have
these privileges and don't want to lose them," he said.

For Sayago, what worker control and the Plan Socialist
Guayana has done is to present vested interests within
the revolution the question: "Are you ready to share
power with the workers and the people?" This issue is
creating confrontation within the process. Sayago thus
stated his opinion that by resisting the advance of
worker control:

"[Political opportunists and state bureaucrats] are
potentially converting themselves into enemies of the
revolution, because the revolution means a real process
of transformation...this is what is being put to the
test within our own government; who is prepared to
share power with the workers and organised communities,
and who is trying to continue with the same structure
of "I command and you obey".[xli]

Resistance to the implementation of the Plan Socialist
Guayana by elements within Venezuelan state
institutions, including the former Ministry of Basic
Industries and Mining (MIBAM), and the Venezuela
Guayana Corporation (CVG), the government's steering
organisation in Guayana responsible for the
administration of the state-owned heavy industries, has
been reported by pro-PGS activists.

A key figure to oppose the PGS has been United
Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) governor of Bolivar
state, Francisco Rangel Gomez (himself a former CVG
president), who is considered to represent a
reactionary wing within the Bolivarian process. From
the beginning of the plan's implementation in 2009,
Rangel has worked to undermine the PGS with an informal
alliance of bureaucrats and reformists within the
MIBAM, CVG and the Bolivarian Workers Force (FBT) trade

In giving an overview of the advance of the PSG, Alcasa
union activist Denny Sucre said that from some public
state institutions, such as the CVG and MIBAM, there
had been "obstructive factors...which have not allowed
the advance and progress of what we are
driving".[xliii] PGS activist in Sidor Blanca Garcia
reported that Jose Khan, appointed minister of MIBAM in
April 2010, stopped meeting with the PSG working groups
in December 2010, essentially side-lining their
proposals.[xliv] Elio Sayago himself complained in
October 2011 that the US $403 million approved for
Alcasa by President Chavez in 2010 still hadn't
materialised, seemingly frozen by the bureaucracy of
the CVG and MIBAM.[xlv]

When the Sidor steel plant held trade union elections
in October 2011, the Revolutionary Marxist Current
(CMR), a radical grouping within Venezuela's United
Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), accused government
figures Jose Khan, Venezuelan vice president Elias
Jaua, and labour minister Maria Cristina Iglesias of
attempting to influence the election to try and get a
candidate considered as less committed to the PGS
elected as head of the Sidor trade union.[xlvi]
Meanwhile on 6 October 2011, perhaps reflecting a
hardening stance among those opposed to the PGS, Elio
Sayago found himself barred from entering a PGS
Sub-Commission meeting with government ministers and
CVG company presidents, apparently at the behest of
Khan, Cristina Iglesias, foreign minister Nicolas
Maduro and planning and finance minister Jorge

After a period in which the worker control movement had
made many advances, including receiving "constant
support" from President Hugo Chavez, the FRETCO
organisation warned in July 2011 that "reformist
sectors are grouping themselves together once again to
intervene against the working class...they'll do it to
demonstrate that workers can't administer companies,
let along societies...it's at this point in the
struggle that the interests of the bourgeoisie and
state reformists and bureaucrats are the most

A similar warning was expressed by the Alcasa Socialist
Workers Front in January 2012, who issued a
communication that the "internal right-wing" faction
based around Francisco Rangel Gomez and the FBT union
was engaged in a campaign to gain control the CVG
companies. According to the statement, the aims of this
faction were to make the PGS "unworkable", and to
achieve "the elimination of worker control," and "the
removal of Sayago," replacing him with Angel Marcano,
an ally and personal friend of Rangel Gomez, as Alcasa
president. In the view of the Alcasa union, if the
Rangel faction were to achieve these goals "all the
achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution in the basic
industries would be brought down".[xlix]

Some trade union bureaucrats and reformist unions have
also opposed the PGS.  According to pro-PGS activists,
this sector of the union movement have employed tactics
such as  collaborating with state bureaucracy, overtly
attacking worker control experiments, and setting up
alternative "working groups" to usurp the process from
within.[l] As Jorge Martin argues, the reason for many
union bureaucrats' opposition to worker control is that
under current labour relations "having control of the
union in any of these companies gives these bureaucrats
power, privileges and access to key information,"[li] a
position threatened by a more participatory form of

The role of the FBT union, in league with state
governor Rangel Gomez, has been particularly notorious
in undermining worker control. One of the most extreme
examples of this was in Alcasa in January-February
2011, when the FBT led a thirty-four day closure of the
Alcasa factory, with the involvement of Angel Marcano.
Sayago himself was beaten up when he tried to enter the

Unions tied to Venezuela's conservative opposition have
also acted to undermine the PGS worker control
experiment. Benjamin Moreno, the coordinator of PGS
working group 1, related in a recent interview how, as
the PGS began to advance, a "Machiavellian" plan was
employed whereby certain union members formed
alternative 'working groups' to undermine those
originally constituted, with members of the Homeland
for All (PPP) opposition-aligned party involved in this
move.[liii] Ferrominera worker Ruben Dario Morales also
expressed to me in December 2011 his hope that the
worker control model would be sufficiently strong
enough by the October 2012 presidential elections, as
sectors aligned with the political opposition "aspire
to generate a convulsion or chaos inside of our

Mafia networks within the basic industries are also
resistant to the PGS, with the greater accountability
and openness entailed in the plan acting as a threat to
the operation of networks profiting from the sale of
contracts and stealing of products for sale on the
black market. This issue became prominent  in June 2011
when the head of sales at Sidor, "King of Bars" Luis
Velazquez, was arrested for heading a mafia that stole
steel bars from Sidor and sold them on the black market
for a higher price. Worker-president at Sidor Carlos
Oliviera and revolutionary trade unionists were
involved in finding proof and alerting the

Opposed to any and all efforts at worker control are
the influential multinational corporations that buy
primary materials from the CVG companies. This is
unsurprising, as the PSG aims to obtain better terms of
contract from multinational companies and aspires to
reduce exports to multinationals overall. These
corporate interests were directly attacked by Alcasa
under the presidency of Elio Sayago, which stopped
complying with disadvantageous future sales contracts
with Swiss-based commodities trader Glencore and then
took steps to cut off Aluminium exports to the
multinational altogether.[lvi]

iii) 2012: Increasingly Public Conflict over Plan
Socialist Guayana

The conflict over the PGS has intensified in 2012. This
reflects in particular the exacerbation of the conflict
within the Bolivarian revolution between the
bureaucracy and reactionary political sectors, and
those forces genuinely committed to further radical

In a surprise announcement, on 25 February Venezuelan
Vice-President Elias Jaua announced that, by order of
President Chavez, Elio Sayago was to be replaced by
Angel Marcano as president of Alcasa. The release of
the $403 million due to Alcasa was also announced.
Chavez was in Cuba undergoing treatment for cancer at
the time.

Alcasa workers reacted with fury to the news,
designating the move a "state coup" against the PGS,
and accused the Rangel faction of taking advantage of
Chavez's moment of weakness to get him to sign Sayago's
dismissal in an "underhand" manner. They further called
upon organised communities and social movements in
Guayana to resist what they termed as a "disastrous"
strategy by the government.

Sayago himself said he had not been previously informed
of the move, and that given Marcano's role in the
Alcasa factory lockout the previous year, termed his
appointment a "contradiction in terms". He continued,
"It is my responsibility to inform you all that this is
not a person taking control of Alcasa, but rather a
political and economic group...that for practically two
years has tried to obstruct efforts to consolidate
worker control [in Alcasa]".[lvii]

In response to Sayago's dismissal, a large network of
organisations and individuals representing the more
radical wing of the Bolivarian revolution grouped
themselves together into an organisation called
Patriotic Collectives of Popular Revolutionary
Resistance in Guayana. The Patriotic Collectives, also
linked through their participation in the Great
Patriotic Pole, a coalition of social movements in
favour of Bolivarian revolution, declared their support
for the "deepening" of the revolutionary process led by
Chavez while opposing "bureaucratic and
counter-revolutionary" decisions being taken from the
Bolivar state governorship, the CVG and certain union

In a packed press conference on 29 February, a
spokesperson for the group accused this bureaucratic
faction of having "taken advantage" of Chavez's absence
in order to take control of the Guayana industries. The
spokesperson further argued that the decision by Alcasa
not to sell more aluminium to transnational companies
was the "sin" that cost Sayago his post.

The spokesperson, Yasmin Chauran, an Alcasa worker
herself, also reported that since taking the Alcasa
presidency Angel Marcano had already begun undermining
the structures of worker control in the factory, not
attending factory working group meetings, and instead
setting up a "parallel apparatus" with six
vice-presidents who were naming other posts "at their

After the press conference, on 2 and 7 March, the
Patriotic Collectives released a "National
Communication from Guayana on the Situation of the
Basic Industries". The document received wide coverage,
with publication on the Aporrea alternative news
website and a centre-spread in Tribuna Popular, the
Venezuelan Communist Party's paper.

Its long list of signatories also revealed the
Patriotic Collectives' depth of support, including: the
National Union of Workers, the Venezuelan Communist
Party, the National Movement of Bolivarian Socialist
Lawyers and Judges, Adel El Zabayar (a PSUV deputy to
Venezuelan's National Assembly from Bolivar state), 
the PGS General Assembly, revolutionary workers'
organisations in the CVG industries and beyond, and
community council, community media, student and GPP
organisations in the Guayana region.

The document is a public criticism of what the
Patriotic Collectives term the "internal right-wing"
within the revolution in Bolivar state, warning that
"harmful bureaucratic actions" emanating from the
Bolivar state governance is "grinding down the
revolutionary process" in the region.

Accusing this faction of working with transnational
corporations, trying to retain control of state
industries in the region and to "kidnap" the PGS, the
statement exhorts Chavez to ignore "reformist voices"
that want to see the PGS project fail. They further
declare that "irreverence" and "self-criticism" are
indispensable for the revolution, and call on Chavez to
support the PGS, which is "without a doubt, with all
its strengths and weaknesses...the minimum program of
the revolutionary working class in Guayana".

The Patriotic Collectives end their National
Communication by setting a hard tone against the
political faction they identify as working against the
PGS, declaring "in Guayana we are closing ranks against
the right-wing agenda of destabilisation and from our
humble but determined trench of struggle we put
ourselves to the front of the battle for the
reinvigoration of Plan Socialist Guayana".[lix]

A response came on 8 March when a spokesperson for the
political team of the PSUV for Bolivar state, allied
with Rangel Gomez, insisted that the decision to
replace Sayago with Marcano was endorsed by Chavez and
should be respected.

The spokesperson was Jose Ramon Rivero, the labour
minister fired by Chavez in 2008, who had then gone on
to work for Rangel Gomez. He proceeded to read out two
pages in which very little was said that addressed the
content of the Patriotic Collectives' criticism, but
rather attacked both PSUV National Assembly deputy Adel
El Zabayar and others for allegedly breaking party
codes of conduct. "This type of behaviour that attacks
the governor Francisco Rangel Gomez and his work team,
we can't tolerate it because there exist principles
that the PSUV and revolutionaries committed with the
process must follow," he declared.

The Legislative Council of Bolivar state, whose
majority support Rangel Gomez, also backed the
appointment of Marcano to the Alcasa presidency.
Without dealing with the substance of concerns raised
by Sayago's dismissal, Legislative Council member Zulay
Benacourt said that individual positions should not be
taken in the revolution, and that Sayago should
re-think his criticism of Marcano's appointment.[lx]

The conflict spilled onto the national level in late
March when PSUV deputy Adel El Zabayar asked
Venezuela's Attorney General, Luise Ortega Diaz, for a
psychiatric examination of Rangel Gomez, on the grounds
that the behaviour of Rangel in attacking El Zabayar
and the Patriotic Collectives represented "an abuse of
power, xenophobia, and exclusion" toward those with a
different viewpoint than him.

El Zabayar quoted as evidence the abuses uttered
against him by Rangel Gomez on the state governor's
weekly radio show, when Rangel said that in response to
criticisms of his actions "that have absolutely no
proof" from El Zabayar, "now I'm opening fire, and
we're going to face off in the street: you're a deputy
and I'm a state governor, so let's face off in the
street coward deputy!"

El Zabayar described Rangel Gomez's conduct as using
him to "intimidate the [Patriotic] collective...who
have been submitted to all of his excesses without
having restrained himself in this exercise of power,
due to which I believe a psychiatric examination is

Therefore in 2012 the worker control movement in
Venezuela, and in Bolivar state in particular, finds
itself in a key moment. The many achievements by
workers in taking over and collectively running
individual factories, and in driving forward a project
of worker control for the state owned heavy industries
in Guayana, have generated a backlash, not only among
the US-backed conservative political opposition,
transnational companies and private bosses, but also
among a reactionary and bureaucratic faction within the
Bolivarian revolution itself.

This is because progress made by workers threatens
those who only support Chavez for personal gain and
political opportunism, and see their special privileges
or vested interests threatened by worker control: there
is little need for state managers or union bureaucrats
if workers eliminate hierarchies and operate factories
themselves in a participatory democratic manner. It
also undermines those who hold a more restrictive view
of what socialism is and argue that workers are 'not
ready' to operate factories themselves. Indeed, there
are those in the government that hold socialism to be
little more than state ownership of industry and
central planning from above, with little participation
from workers.[lxii] Thus, while in many individual
examples like Grafitos del Orinoco workers continue to
deepen their worker control model, and in several CVG
factories elections for workers councils are underway,
in others, this reactionary faction is successfully
undermining the PGS. This is particularly evident in
Alcasa, which was considered by many as the most
advanced of the CVG factories in implementing the PGS.

The role of President Hugo Chavez himself has displayed
contradictions. Through both his discourse and action,
Chavez has given important on-going institutional and
moral support for the PGS and worker control in
general, and it is not for nothing that he enjoys
strong support among worker control activists. However,
the Venezuelan president has also made decisions in
response to differing political pressures and depending
on the balance of forces in a particular situation, as
highlighted in his dismissal of his right-wing labour
minister Rivero in 2008, and his acceptance of the
dismissal of Sayago in January 2012.

Chavez has not directly intervened in the conflict in
Bolivar state over the PGS in recent months. The
Venezuelan president only fully re-emerged onto the
public scene in late May after successfully undergoing
several stages of radiotherapy treatment for cancer in
Cuba. In light of presidential elections on October 7,
and an opposition united behind candidate Henrique
Capriles Radonski, it is quite possible that Chavez has
his eye focused on the national strategic objective of
keeping the right wing opposition out of power and
continuing as the head of the Bolivarian revolution.

Indeed, during a speech to mark the 10th anniversary of
the brief coup against him 11 - 13 April 2002, Chavez
exhorted supporters to "maintain unity...and above all,
more unity," and to strengthen that unity with "debates
and criticisms". This message likely makes sense in
many areas of the country, where differing factions
within the Bolivarian camp can come together during the
presidential election campaign to see off the (albeit
distant) electoral threat posed by the conservative
Table for Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition. However,
this is more difficult to maintain in Bolivar state,
where a reactionary faction within the revolution poses
one of the active threats to worker control in the
heavy industries and the continued progress of the
Bolivarian revolution in the Guayana region as a whole.


The course of the struggle for worker control in
Venezuela has highlighted important characteristics of
the Bolivarian revolution, as well as containing
important lessons for movements for radical social
change globally.

One of these characteristics is the on-going, and
perhaps growing, internal contradiction in the
Bolivarian revolution between the bureaucracy and
politically reformist elements which, both consciously
and unconsciously, act to slow continued social,
economic and political transformation, and a more
radical wing  committed to a deeper process of
revolutionary change.

On a positive note, the coming together of the
Patriotic Committees in Guayana demonstrated the extent
to which grassroots organisations in the region are
working together and are able to unite to resist
attempts to undermine the Plan Socialist Guayana. That
said, these groups were unable to prevent the dismissal
of Elio Sayago from Alcasa, showing that the
bureaucracy have the power to put the PGS in real
danger from being realised.

It is important to point out that the worker control
movement is one part of a varied and exciting process
underway in Venezuela, encompassing community councils,
communes, community media, women's, LGBT,
afro-descendent and indigenous groups, and radical
government policies domestically and internationally,
from social programs to solidarity-based international
alliances such as the ALBA (Alliance for the Bolivarian
Peoples of our America). The political spaces available
to push the worker control movement forward will be
partly determined, not only by workers' ability to
organise and struggle, but also by the general
direction the revolution takes in the coming months and

Author Steve Ellner has observed how the Bolivarian
revolution can be characterised by cycles of
radicalisation, often driven in response to
successfully fighting off attacks from the
opposition.[lxiii] Will a strong election victory for
Chavez in October mark a move against internal barriers
to further radical transformation in Venezuela? In the
election campaign on 26 July, Chavez highlighted his
awareness of the problems of bureaucracy in state
institutions, when he spoke of the importance of
self-criticism and the need to correct existing errors
in the revolutionary process. He personally addressed
the bureaucracy, saying that "the office, the meetings,
the analysis, the air conditioning, the chauffeur and
the good salary; that's not worth anything, what
matters is the commitment with the people, that's why
we're here".

Finally, by what has been achieved so far, Venezuela's
worker control movement demonstrates to the world that
workers can indeed collectively self-manage their
factories and workplaces, and that capitalist
hierarchies and divisions of labour are not the only,
nor best, way of organising economic life. By running
production in a collectively democratic manner,
workers' alienation from their labour and the unfair
distribution of produced resources can be overcome,
while leading to the greater education and
consciousness of workers. Such a model can also benefit
society as a whole, as production is geared toward the
needs of society and not profit for capitalists, and
lays the basis for deeper economic and social
transformation. In the context of austerity being
imposed by an elite upon peoples across Europe and
North America as a result of the latest crisis of
capitalism, worker control in Venezuela is another
example of not only how another, better, world is
possible, but also what that world could look like.


[i] Information on Grafitos gathered during interviews
in April and December 2011, Ciudad Guayana. All direct
quotes from December 2011 interview.

[ii] Azzellini, D. (2009) Economia Solidaria, Formas De
Propiedad Colectiva, Nacionalizaciones, Empresas
Socialistas, Co- y Autogestion en Venezuela, Org &
Demo, Marilia., vol. 10 n. 1/2 (En - Feb), p17-18

[iii] Brulez, S. & Esteban, F. (2010) El Laboratorio
del "Socialismo del Siglo XXI" Sigue Buscando l Formula
Adecuada (Parte I), Viento Sur, n. 112 (Oct), p28

[iv] FRETCO (July 2011): El Frente Bicentenario de
Empresas Bajo Control Obrero, Lucha de Clases

[v] In November 2011 MIBAM was restructured, with most
heavy industries managed by the new Ministry of
Industries, and mining operations administrated by the
new Ministry of Petroleum and Mining.

[vi] Interview with Jesus Pino in Sidor, Ciudad
Guayana, April 2011

[vii] Riera, M. (2008), Nacionalizacion y Control
Obrero: Entrevista con Juan Valor, El Viejo Tope, n.
249, pp64 - 68

[viii] FRETCO (July 2011)

[ix] Informe Final (6/06/09), Plan Socialista Guayana
2019 , Periodo 2009 - 2012, p 4

[x] Lucha de Clases & Sayago, E. (October 2011),
Workers' Control, Challenges and the Revolutionary
Government: An Interview with Elio Sayago, President of
CVG Alcasa, translated by Venezuelanalysis.com

[xi] Informe Final (6/06/09), Plan Socialista Guayana
2019, pp7 - 11

[xii] Presentation of Plan Guayana Socialista by
Working Group 1: "Organisational Model of the
Iron-Steel and Aluminium Socialist Companies", p24

[xiii] Informe de Mesas Tecnicas del Plan Socialista
Guayana 2009 - 2019 (January 2010), p11

[xiv] (22/5/2009) Venezuela Nationalises Gas Plant and
Steel Companies, Pledges Worker Control,

[xv] Garcia, B. (September 2011)  Plan Socialista
Guayana Postrado por la Technocracia del CVG y MIBAM,

[xvi] Informe de Mesas Tecnicas del Plan Socialista
Guayana 2009 - 2019 (January 2010)

[xvii] (16/5/2010), Worker Self-Management Introduced
in Primary Industry Companies in Guayana, Venezuela,

[xviii] Garcia, B. (September 2011)

[xix] Brohmer, P (June 2010), Venezuela: The Revolution
Continues, Bolivarian Perspectives

[xx] With information from Larsen, P. (9/6/2011),
Venezuela: 900 Representatives of Factory Committees
Meet to Strengthen the Fight for Workers' Control,
PeopleResist.net, and (24/5/11), First National Meeting
of Socialist Workers' Councils Takes Place in Bolivar,
Venezuela, Venezuelanalysis.com

[xxi] Interview with Alexis Ardarfio, Ciudad Guayana,
December 2011

[xxii] (19/8/2011), Trabajadores de CVG Alcasa Aprueban
Recibir Inversiones de Clientes Nacionales, Prensa CVG
Alcasa / Aporrea.org

[xxiii] Adarfio, A. (25/10/2011), ?Como Avanza el Plan
Socialista Guayana?, Aporrea.org

[xxiv] Interview with Alexis Ardarfio, December 2011,
Ciudad Guayana

[xxv] Adarfio, A. (9/5/2010), Plan Guayana Socialista
2019,  Aporrea.org

[xxvi] Lucha de Clases & Sayago, E. (October 2011)

[xxvii] Adarfio, A. (9/5/2010)

[xxviii] Information from Sayago and Adarfio
interviews, & PGS Jan 2010 report.

[xxix] (26/3/2012), Plan Socialista Guayana no Prende
Motores, Primicias24

[xxx] Interview with Denny Sucre, Ciudad Guayana,
December 2011

[xxxi] Interview with Lisa Maria, Ciudad Guayana,
December 2011

[xxxii] Interview with Ruben Dario Morales, Ciudad
Guayana, December 2011

[xxxiii] Interview with Denny Sucre, Ciudad Guayana,
December 2011

[xxxiv] Interview in Grafitos del Orinoco, Ciudad
Guayana, December 2011

[xxxv] Interview with Lisa Maria, Ciudad Guayana,
December 2011

[xxxvi] FRETCO (July 2011);  Interview with Jesus Pino
in Sidor, Ciudad Guayana, April 2011

[xxxvii] (22/5/2009), Venezuela Nationalizes Gas Plant
and Steel Companies, Pledges Worker Control,

[xxxviii] Interview with Damien Pratt, Ciudad Guayana,
December 2011

[xxxix] Garcia, B. (September 2011)

[xl] FRETCO (July 2011); Unete Anzoategui /CMR,
(15/10/2011), !Por un Congreso unitario de
trabajadores, pobladores y campesinos que elabore un
programa de lucha para defender y completar la
revolucion!, Aporrea.org

[xli] Lucha de Clases & Sayago, E. (October 2009)

[xlii] Federico, F. (22/7/2009), Venezuela: Class
Struggle Heats up Over Battle for Workers Control,
Green Left Weekly, Issue 804

[xliii] Interview with Denny Sucre, Ciudad Guayana,
December 2011

[xliv] Garcia, B. (25/9/2011)

[xlv]  Lucha de Clases & Sayago, E. (October 2011)

[xlvi] Corriente Marxista Revolucionario (4/11/2011, An
Initial Assessment of Trade Union Elections at Sidor,
translated by Venezuelanalysis.com

[xlvii] Lucha de Clases & Sayago, E. (October 2011)

[xlviii] FRETCO (Julio 2011)

[xlix] Frente Socialista de Trabajadores de Alcasa
(18/01/2012) Rangelismo culpable que la derecha se
crezca en el sector aluminio de Guayana, Aporrea.org

[l] Interview with Alexis Ardarfio, December 2011;
Interview with Ventura Nunez, Ciudad Guayana, December
2011; Lucha de Clases & Sayago, E. (October 2011);
Garcia, B. (25/9/2011) .

[li] Martin, J. (July 2011), Venezuela and
Revolutionary Vigettes, Part I: Workers Control vs.
Bureacrats, Mafia and Multinations in Bolivar, In
Defence of Marxism

[lii] Ibid; Sayago (October 2011)

[liii] (26/5/2012), Plan Guayana Socialista no Prende
Motores, Primicias 24

[liv] Interview with Ruben Dario Morales, December 2011

[lv] Martin, J. (July 2011)

[lvi] Lucha de Clases & Sayago, E. (October 2011);
(29/02/2012), Designaciones de la CVG: "irrespeto" al
control obrero y Plan Guayana Socialista, Diario de

[lvii] (27/2/12), Dismissal of Worker-President in
Alcasa, Venezuela, Provokes Outrage,

[lviii] (29/02/2012), Designaciones de la CVG:
"irrespeto" al control obrero y Plan Guayana
Socialista, Diario de Guayana

[lix] Remitido Publico Nacional desde Guayana: Sobre la
Situacion de las Empresas Basicas, Parte I y II, (2 y 7
Marzo 2012), Aporrea.org,/Tribuna Popular

[lx] (27/02/2012), Angel Marcano viene a reforzar el
Plan Socialista Guayana en Alcasa, Primicias 24

[lxi] (23/03/2012), Piden examen psiquiatrico para el
gobernador Rangel Gomez, El Diario Venezolano

[lxii] Federico, F. (22/7/2009), Venezuela: Class
Struggle Heats up Over Battle for Workers Control,
Green Left Weekly, Issue 804

[lxiii] See E., Steve. 2008, Rethinking Venezuelan
Politics: Class, Conflict, and the Chavez Phenomenon
(Lynne Reinner)


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