'We should be inspired about Venezuela'

By Nick Everett

“Imagine the CEO of a national bank declaring the whole enterprise was geared to make no profit and their goal was to support the creation of a socialist society. Daily life in Venezuela is full of such rich contrasts to wealthy Australia”, Ian Jamieson explained to me when I caught up with him about his experiences on a recent fact-finding brigade there. “This is one of the many exciting developments the Chavez government has initiated.”

Jamieson, a Maritime Union of Australia delegate and activist in Fremantle, and a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, related this example to Direct Action as he headed to the east coast on a speaking tour which has been sponsored by the MUA, the RSP, Australia-Venezuelan Solidarity Network and a number of other organisations which have expressed their solidarity. He was one of a dozen Australian unionists who spent 10 days listening and discussing developments within the revolution with a range of officials and representatives in Venezuela on May Day this year.

“The Banmujer, a bank primarily for women in Venezuela, was created to involve millions of poor families in producing goods for society at a very low interest rate”, he told DA. “Its CEO, Nora Castenada, told us of the tens of thousands of women who have entered the workforce for the first time, giving them a sense of purpose and economic security.”

“All of us were inspired by our experiences there and are very keen to relay the story of the society the working people and poor are building there. They are building socialism in the 21st century, as their president, Hugo Chavez, describes it. It’s undeniable they face incredible odds, particularly from the US whose bellicose threats to defend its oil interests occur almost daily. Above all it is a collective effort assisted by a government that has declared itself for and acted in defence of the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.”

Responding to a question about the role of unions in the revolution, Jamieson detailed the many problems the union movement faces. “While most of the union leaders back Chavez and the ‘Chavista’ movement that is fuelling the revolution, there has still to be a united organisation that can adequately respond strategically in the interests of their members. Surprisingly, union coverage is roughly the same as exists in Australia, but there are roughly 3600 unions scattered throughout Venezuela.

“However, there are good signs that organisational and political weaknesses are being overcome. In the weeks leading up to the Australian brigade tour, 13,000 steelworkers in the Sidor plant in Puerto Ordaz, won a significant battle against their employer that continues to reverberate amongst workers. Apart from gaining decent wages and the right to organise amongst themselves through their union, SITUSS, the government nationalised the plant and is encouraging the 13,000 who work there to create a socialist model of organising.”

Jamieson explained that this involves the workers electing their own managers “in a transparent manner and relating steel production directly to the needs of the community — not for the private profit of a few owners. It is the success of this example that can inspire unionists and those in the informal economy to take similar steps.”

Jamieson recounted the visit the brigade made to the Sidor plant as the new labour contract was being signed. “We made it to the change of shifts — about three in the afternoon. There were hundreds milling around, and many excited voices enthusiastically explaining the history of their years long battle against the employer.

It was hard to keep track but it was very obvious that they regarded their victory as a first step in their contribution to building a new society. Just as the Sidor struggle has re-inspired the union movement in Venezuela, we too should take these inspirational struggles with us in our battle for our rights in this country.”

Jamieson will be speaking in Melbourne and Sydney, after speaking at meetings in Perth. His July 2 Sydney public meeting is being organised by the MUA Sydney branch and chaired by its secretary, Warren Smith, and will also be addressed by brigade participant Phil Bradley, a member of the NSW Teachers Federation. The MUA’s Sydney branch has provided a venue and paid for 1500 multi-colour leaflets to publicise the event.

[Nick Everett is a member of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network and the Revolutionary Socialist Party. He participated in the first Australia-Venezuela solidarity brigade in August 2005.]