Revolution in Venezuela: Workers celebrate big gains

By Ian Jamieson in Caracas

A sea of red stretching for miles through the streets of the Venezuelan capital. Vibrant, exciting, determined and powerful. A sea of red, the colour of President Hugo Chavez and socialism. On May 1, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans poured into the streets of Caracas, and of provincial centres, to commemorate the day of international working-class solidarity, May Day.

Hour after hour, the march erupted in chants, songs and the intoxicating, incessant rhythms of Latin beats as we made our way to the speakers’ platform. Here union and community leaders exhorted all to fight for socialism and deepen the Bolivarian socialist revolution. Loud and exhilarating.

There was a special significance for the 14 Australians who marched with the working people and poor on primero de Mayo. This massive spectacle was unlike anything we have witnessed in Australia, not only in size but in its political colour. This May Day march was not only an expression of demands and rights to be fought for and won, but significant in its support for the revolutionary changes being led by the working people’s government headed by Hugo Chavez.

Our brigade, made up of trade unionists from Australia keen to witness the fundamental social changes under way in Venezuela, spent nearly two weeks with local union leaders, job delegates, the poor in the barrios and government officials. You couldn’t help but be impressed and inspired, as all were keen to tell of the great changes happening in their lives and their commitment to Chavez’s call to build “socialism in the 21st century”.

This year May Day marches in Venezuela had special reason for celebration. Only a week before, the Chavez government had announced that it would nationalise SIDOR, Latin America’s largest steel mill, further strengthening the public sector, and boosting the confidence of the labour movement to fight for further expropriations of big business. And only the day before, Chavez had announced a 30% increase in the minimum wage to take effect from May 1. This would lift the incomes of 5 million workers. Chavez also decreed a 30% pay increase for all public sector workers.

From the speakers’ platform in Caracas, unionists spoke of the enormous challenges confronting them, from Yankee imperialism, to the servile mass media of the opposition to the petty bureaucrats interfering with the social programs they have drawn up with support from their elected government. They spoke with dignity, explaining they would not be and could not be halted in their determination to run society for the benefit of all. Many explained to our brigade that of course there were problems confronting them, but that is why there is a revolution occurring in Venezuela.

That is one of the many reasons participating in the massive march through the streets of Caracas was inspiring to our little brigade. It was a humbling experience. We were fortunate to get a glimpse of humanity on the move, a social revolution that is making an important impact throughout Latin America and making its presence felt internationally.

There is much working people in Australia can learn from the Venezuelan revolution. Imagine if the Australian government used the wealth from the current resources boom to fund social programs, as the Chavez government is doing — refurbishing decaying hospitals and the health system, providing free education from primary to tertiary for all, eliminating the dire poverty the indigenous population suffers. The Venezuelans are well into these social programs; we lag well behind, despite the enormous wealth in the “lucky country”.
Most inspiring of all was empowering ordinary people to manage and decide their lives collectively. That is the lesson from Venezuela the brigadistas hope to bring back to Australia.

[Ian Jamieson is an activist in the Western Australian branch of the Maritime Union of Australia and the Revolutionary Socialist Party. He is a former president of the Tasmanian Mining Industry Union Council representing all Tasmanian miners in the early 1990s. He was an MUA representative on the 2008 Venezuela May Day Brigade.]