On Tuesday 15th May Hands off
Venezuela travelled to Brighton to attend the annual PCS conference, the
300,000-strong union of civil servants. HoV is an affiliate of PCS and so was
granted a stall within the conference centre.
At lunchtime on the Wednesday HoV held its
fringe meeting, which was attended by 40 trade unionists. The meeting was
chaired by Rachel Heemskerk, DWP Regional Chair for the East of England. To
begin with a short film was shown of the HoV delegations visit to the
Sanitarios Maracay factory, being run under workers control. The final few minutes of the
film produced a remarkable response from those watching, some of who mentioned
later that they were near tearful at seeing the solidarity between the workers
and the pride on their faces.
Afterwards Rob Sewell spoke on the
background of events that had led to Chavez being elected in 1998, starting
with the Caracazo massacre in 1989. He spoke of the Chavez governments initial
endorsement of the ‘third way' – an attempt to beat a path between capitalism
and socialism – and the frustration this caused both for those honest elements
of the Bolivarian movement who were trying to implement reform, and the local
stooges of US imperialism who recoiled at these modest measures.
Rob continued by explaining the coup of
April 2002 as the irreconcilability of the different class interests of
ordinary working people and the local oligarchy. He went on to talk about the
development of the revolutionary process since the coup, and especially the acceleration of that process in the last 6 months since Chavez was re-elected for the 10th
time in 9 years, including the recent nationalisation of the oil industry.
The revolution is not complete however, Rob
warned, as the recent attacks on the workers of Sanitarios Maracay illustrate.
The revolution cannot stand still, it needs to carry on until its completion or
face reaction and counter-attack. This can only be achieved by land reform and
the complete nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under
democratic workers control. "There struggle is our struggle, and our struggle
is their struggle" Rob concluded, urging people to sign the petition in
solidarity with the workers of Sanitarios Maracay.
Throughout the week 5 pages of signatures
were collected from PCS trade unionists wanting to show their support for the
Sanitarios Maracay workers and their campaign for nationalisation, of which a
PCS and HoV member has taken responsibility for following up. The collection at
the fringe meeting raised £60. There was also £65 worth of material sold to go
towards HoV funds, and PCS reaffiliated as a union, donating £500 to the
On Thursday evening John McDonnell, honorary president of Hands off Venezuela and PCS representative in parliament, addressed conference. It was well known by now that he had been denied the opportunity to run for leadership by the Parliamentary Labour Party. Yet he received a standing ovation as he entered, and as he concluded his address.
Also on Thursday evening, HoV participated in an
all-Latin America fringe meeting, sharing the platform with the Venezuelan
Information Center (UK), Justice for Colombia and Cuban Solidarity. After
excellent contributions from our sister campaigns, Pablo Roldan led off on the
significance of the most recent developments since Chavez was re-elected in
December. Pablo recalled Chavez's address to the people on election night, when
he said that the vote had not been for Chavez, nor the Venezuelan government.
It had been a vote for Socialism. Since then Chavez has campaigned for the
formation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the formation
of local community councils, run on a democratic basis, as one of his 5 motors
for revolutionary change. He has also recommended the reading of Leon Trotsky's
‘The Permanent Revolution' and ‘The Transitional Programme' as staple reading
for people determined to see the revolution defended. As the meeting finished
people left with a clear understanding that what is taking place in Venezuela
is nothing short of revolutionary change.