For independent workers movement in Venezuela

Original link to the open letter:

We, the undersigned labor and socialist activists, hereby express our support for a genuinely free and independent workers’ movement in Venezuela. We are concerned about the persecution of independent labor activists by the Maduro government. In doing so, we have nothing in common with US imperialism nor of its representative, Guaidó. They too completely oppose the rights and interests of workers. The US government has applied oil sanctions this year that worsen the already terrible economic hardships which the working class has to endure.

In particular, we would like to call your attention to the persecution of workers such as Rodney Álvarez and Jose Bodas and others who are opposed to U.S. imperialism but are also being repressed by the Maduro regime.

Rodney Álvarez, a worker at Ferrominera (Iron miners) of Orinoco has been wrongly accused of killing a fellow worker. At an assembly of the Ferrominera union on June 11, 2011, one worker, Renny Rojas, was shot. Security cameras recorded Héctor Maicán, a leader of the government’s political party, the “United “Socialist” Party of Venezuela” (PSUV), shooting into the crowd. Maicán was detained when he tried to flee the scene. Pressure from Governor Francisco Rangel Gómez led to the release of Maicán and the subsequent arrest of Rodney Álvarez. To this date, Álvarez has remained in prison without his case having been heard, even though imprisonment without a hearing is a violation of the law in Venezuela. Álvarez is now refusing to cooperate with the prison authorities. There have also been two attempts to kill Alvarez in prison. One of these attempts left him with one hand permanently crippled. After eight years detained without a trial, he has declared himself in disobedience and has demanded solidarity from the working class in Venezuela and the world.

Jose Bodas has worked at the Puerto La Cruz refinery for 31 years. During the 2002 attempted sabotage of the industry by the bosses and by U.S. imperialism, Bodas played a key role in keeping that plant running. He was elected general secretary of the United Federation of Petroleum Workers (FUTPV). In that role, Bodas has campaigned for a union that is independent of the government and the ruling party and for a union that fights for its members. This is important in Venezuela, considering that Venezuelan oil workers are the lowest paid oil workers in the entire world. Recently, Bodas has been threatened with being fired. He has been detained by the government several times in the last years. Now, leaked papers reveal that the employer, PDVSA (the state owned oil company), is considering trying to remove Bodas by giving him early retirement. This would prevent him from running for reelection in the union, and it remains an example of the state repression against fighting unionists. Bodas adamantly opposes not only Maduro’s repression and attacks on the working class but also Guaidó and US imperialism.

There are many other repressed unionists. These include Elio Palacios, union leader of the state electric company, who was imprisoned the day after he released a statement critical of the government’s energy policies and practices. Also, there is the case of Rubén González, General Secretary of the Union of Ironminers of Orinoco (Sintraferrominera) who has been imprisoned since November of 2018 after leading a strike.

These cases are simply the most visible examples of the repression of full union rights and of the Venezuelan working class. All of these attacks as well as decree 2792 that limits collective bargaining rights serve the purpose of preventing any mobilization against the starvation minimum wage which is currently seven dollars a month.

Campesinos who are fighting for land are also repressed. We note the case of ten campesinos in Barinas state who were framed and imprisoned last year. The ten included Winston Olivera, a campesino leader who organized for land rights for campesinos and was falsely accused of being a guerrilla fighter. They were ultimately released on April 5 of 2018, but not without a public campaign to defend them them.

Make the working class pay
This repression coincides with the Maduro government’s policy of making the working class and the poor pay for the repayment of the foreign debt. This heavy burden especially affects women workers, who often have the double burden of struggling to earn a living and keeping the family together.

Women workers, who often face a double work day as wage earners and at home, and especially numerous single mothers, are the hardest hit by the misery wages and terrible labor conditions imposed by the regime in the context of hyperinflation. Abortion is also completely banned. The high price of contraception makes it unreachable for the majority of women. The severe cuts in the public health budget and overall deteriorating sanitary conditions have led to the highest infant and mother mortality rates since the 1950’s.

The general state repression of the working class in Venezuela is especially carried out through the Special Action Force (FAES). Both Amnesty International and the UN High Commission of Human Rights have condemned the role of the FAES. The UN commission was led by Michelle Bachelet who directly suffered from imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The FAES and other repressive forces of the government have been reliably reported to have carried out widespread extrajudicial killings.

These attacks on workers and campesinos have caused confusion in Venezuelan society, including obscuring the real anti-worker role of Guaidó, To repeat: Guaidó and his sponsor – US imperialism – stand for more repression and have made every effort for a compromise with the Maduro military commanders, who they plan to pardon for their crimes if they go over to the U.S. side.

We do not believe that the policies of the Maduro government have anything to do with real socialism, and we appeal to socialists and working class fighters around the world to support the struggle of Venezuelan workers for their rights and interests. Any tendency of socialists to confuse opposition to US imperialism and Guaido with support for the anti-working class Maduro government helps neither the Venezuelan working class nor the cause of socialism.

We call on labor and socialist activists who oppose both the Venezuelan regime and U.S. imperialism, to find ways to express their solidarity with the above mentioned labor, women’s and farmers struggles. You can write articles, letters of solidarity, petitions, organize fact-finding trips, engage with left opposition activists and help spread their statements and criticism of both Maduro and foreign intervention, appeal to the antiwar movement to oppose sanctions and military threats to Venezuela without supporting the military regime.

In solidarity,
John Reimann

Additional Signatories and endorsing organizations:

Luke Pickrell, independent socialist, Los Angeles CA; Timothy Close, independent socialist, Columbus OH; Art Francisco, member Carpenters Union Local 30, editor “Control Line”; Roger Silverman, editor, London UK; Richard Brenner, London UK; Marcus Halaby, London UK; Sarah Morken, healthcare worker, Frederickson WA; Jason Pike, socialist, Poland; Fazlur Rahmat, member Independent Populist Socialism, Indonesia; Rick Sklader, independent socialist, Minneapolis MN; Ben Smith, independent socialist, Los Angeles CA; Michael Pröbsting, international secretary, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT); Almedina Gunić, international women’s secretary, RCIT; Alejandro Quryat, Venezuelan socialist; Elizabeth Cook, Activist Community for Social Justice, New Orleans LA; Harold Smith, independent socialist, British Columbia, Canada; Jon Bekken, Philadelphia Labor Solidarity Committee, USA; Olivier Delbeke, union militant CGT 94, member editorial board APLS, France; Earl Silbar, retired chief steward AFSCME 3506, independent socialist

Endorsing organizations

Socialisme Kerakyatan/independent Populist Socialism, Indonesia
Philadelphia Labor Solidarity Committee
Socialist Core
Left Voice

Oaklandsocialist adds: We have had quite a few articles on Venezuela, both on the current situation as well as the history that led up to this situation. We have also had reports from a visit to Venezuela in 2005 by the editor of Oaklandsocialist. Those articles can be found here.

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