Trade Unions

Labor Solidarity in Venezuela

This may be one of the most significant (if underreported) challenges to the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela. At least some leaders of a trade union movement initially formed in support of Chavez have allied with another, anti-Chavez trade union movement.

The Latin American Herald Tribune reports:

It is precisely the sort of thing any elected leader least wants as they head into what could be the worst recession in decades, and almost certainly in the 10 years in which President Hugo Chávez has been in office.

Leaders of the two biggest labor organizations in the country, the Venezuelan Workers Confederation (CTV) and the National Workers Union (UNT), have lent their weight to Labor Solidarity, a new alliance forged by 14 of the biggest unions in the country.

Once, this would have been unthinkable.

The CTV was openly aligned with the opposition during the early days of the Chávez era, helping to orchestrate an unsuccessful two-month national strike against the government in an alliance with Venezuela’s biggest business organization, the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Fedecámaras), around the turn of 2002-03.

In a classic case of divide and rule, the government at the very least encouraged the creation of the UNT as an openly declared rival to the CTV’s traditional grip on union power.

After the failure of the national strike in early February 2003, the CTV backed out of overt political activity, vowing to focus on representing its’ members interests. At the time, the government aligned UNT was making only slight inroads into the CTV’s long-established turf.

Now, at least some of these erstwhile deadly enemies are on the same side. More to the point, they’ve effectively joined forces in making little secret of where they think the center of the problem lies – the president himself.

Igor Lira, one of the 14 union leaders who ascribed to the accord, called on Chávez to respect the rights and benefits of the workers set out under their collective bargaining agreements with employers.

“We don’t have privileges because what we have got, we’ve won by our own efforts,” Lira declared. “We’re prepared to defend our contractual rights and union freedoms, we’re going to advance in a movement that allows us to defend ourselves against obstacles. There’s already been enough of the president going on with his braggadocio.”

It would never have been a surprise to see the CTV lending itself to this sort of talk. But for anybody at the UNT to have done so was a very different thing, given the UNT’s origins as an organization loyal to the president’s cause.

(Hat tip: Caracas Chronicles)