Interview with Pedro Eusse, Key Leader in the Venezuelan Workers Movement
Pedro Eusse is the Secretary General of the Food and Beverage Union, and the Secretary General of the United Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CUTV).
The United Confederation of Venezuelan Workers is currently the country's main trade union federation and plays an important role in defending the patriotic, national democratic government headed by Hugo Chavez.
Pedro Eusse has been a long time labor organizer and an active participant in the process of democratizing the labor movement in Venezuela. In spite of being the Secretary General of the CUTV, Eusse is still directly involved in the struggle for workers' rights and the improvement of Venezuelan worker's benefits.
Fight Back!: Tell us about the Venezuelan workers' movement, the unions and the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CUTV), or United Workers' Confederation of Venezuela. How has the situation changed since the national democratic movement has elected President Chavez on two occasions?
Pedro Eusse: Actually, the Venezuelan workers reject the coup leaders and counterrevolutionaries of the Venezuelan Confederation of Workers (CTV). The CTV has turned their back on the workers for the past forty years and they work in the service of the interests of capital and corrupt governments of the oligarchy. During the last four years, fifty unions at the base have abandoned the CTV and new unions that form are not entering into the CTV. In making change, we in the progressive union sectors are helping the Bolivarian Revolution; we make it stronger, as is the case of our Confederation, the CUTV, and also appearing this year, a new union confederation named National Union of Workers (UNT) with whom we hold fraternal relations. In Venezuela, a declared struggle of the classes has developed in the framework of the democratic process of national liberation that is led by President Chavez. The most reactionary sectors of the rich, just about all the U.S. corporations, attack the government and the working class, closing businesses, throwing their workers into the streets, and every time this provokes evermore a fight back response and organizing by the workers.
Fight Back!: George Bush and the U.S. government supported the coup de etat against President Chavez on April 11, 2002. The coup failed miserably, because of people power in the streets and the loyalty of the Venezuelan armed forces who support the democratic process. What did the unions do during the failed coup attempt by the reactionaries?
Pedro Eusse: I must admit that the unions did not have time to react after the coup in April 2002. The coup went from Thursday, April 11, at midnight until Saturday, the 13th; in the early hours of the morning it was thoroughly defeated by the demolishing action of the people and the armed forces. Nevertheless, between the 12th and 13th of April, the leaders of the Bolivarian and progressive unions, we were coordinating in a clandestine manner the organization of a general strike against the coup and for the restitution of democracy.
Fight Back!: In the U.S. press, it appears that the leaders of the unions, especially the oil workers, are opposed to President Chavez. The news media call him a dictator and accuse him of interfering in the democratic process of the unions. What is the story?
Pedro Eusse: The truth is that the unions in general have not acted against President Chavez. On the contrary, the majority have actively opposed the coup attempts and the criminal actions of the rightist counterrevolutionaries. In the case of the oil workers union, it is clear that some reactionary officials of this union work in the opposition, but for years and years they are corrupt, they cannot count on the support of the workers. The union officials are serving under patronage, such as Carlos Ortega, of the CTV, accusing Chavez of simply being a dictator because he refuses to kneel in front of big capital, nor is Chavez complacent with the corrupt politics of the right. They are the true dictators that prohibit the democracy of union organizations. What has already happened, is that in these few years of the revolutionary process in Venezuela, is that all of society is democratizing, including the unions, and the significance is that the workers, they are the protagonists of the destiny of their union organizations. The workers are converting them into instruments of struggle, that the unions survive not for the mean interests of the union officials of the right who only defend their privileges and the power of the bosses with huge capital.
Fight Back!: Eight months after the failed coup, the rich attempted to overthrow Chavez again. The officials of the oil workers union joined with the bosses of the corporations to paralyze industry, to sabotage oil production, throwing the workers out of their jobs. Why did some union officials unite with the bosses? What did the CUTV do during this period?
Pedro Eusse: Some phony union leaders of the CTV, such as the fugitive from justice, Carlos Ortega, joined the bosses of the Chamber of Commerce and the highest management of the oil industry, of course with the help of the big media outlets, they called for a national work stoppage and they carried out acts of sabotage to overthrow Chavez. As explained before, these phony union officials of the CTV are militants for the right, compromised with the interests of big capital, submissive to yankee imperialism, who built up power and privileges during the forty years of oligarchic governments. Now they want to sack Chavez from power and revoke the Bolivarian Constitution, against the popular majority will, to make Venezuela the paradise of neo-liberalism where the rich are always richer and the poor are always poorer. During the lockout and the sabotage of the oil industry, the CUTV developed a campaign to denounce the intentions of the counterrevolution and we organized to join together many of our union affiliates for actions, to put pressure on and cause the failure of bosses' and coupmakers' lockout.
Fight Back!: What was the result of the bosses lockout?
Pedro Eusse: The criminal action of the bosses and the oil industry management provoked great economic difficulties for the country, affecting the standard of living of the people. Of course they did not achieve their anti-patriotic purpose of throwing out Chavez, but they did harm the major part of the population. The oil industry lost on the order of $7.6 billion during the two-month lock out, the gross domestic product was falling to levels never before seen, and unemployment was 11% and rose to 20%. The revolutionary government sought to diminish this alarming pattern by resorting to social investments – in education, health, housing, promotion of employment, etc. Furthermore, in response to the lock out and the sabotage of the right, the workers' movement and popular movement strengthened, thus helping the revolution.
Fight Back!: In the U.S. we have a president chosen by the Supreme Court following a dirty election process in Florida, the state where Bush's brother is governor. In California, the Republican Party initiated a recall referendum, trying to throw out the governor. President Chavez may face a referendum called by the reactionary opposition and supported by the rich and U.S. corporations. How will the unions in Venezuela respond to this?
Pedro Eusse: The progressive and revolutionary union movement defends the validity of the Bolivarian Constitution and the process of change, in all fields. The reactionary opposition is putting across a recall referendum, but does not have popular support for getting rid of Chavez, they know this, and for this reason we believe that in reality, they are not interested in achieving the referendum. This opposition does not care about democracy as has already been demonstrated. For this reason, the union organizations that support the Bolivarian revolution are joining with the popular movement. We are on guard because we know that behind a recall referendum the opposition is hiding a new plan for destabilization and subversion by the very, very rich and the yankee imperialism, that already begins to show itself in violent acts such as the bomb thrown against the Palace of Miraflores [the government palace in Caracas] just a few days ago.
Fight Back!: There is some evidence that the AFL-CIO helped those union officials that joined the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce in plotting the failed coup. How can you establish a new relationship between the AFL-CIO and the Venezuelan union movement that benefits the workers of both Venezuela and the U.S.?
Pedro Eusse: It was public knowledge that, shortly before the coup, the CTV received from a section of the Center for International Solidarity of the AFL-CIO a large sum of money. Thousands of dollars that were used for anti-democratic actions resulting in the CTV joining with industry management. But not only this, the representation of the AFL-CIO in the OIT, or International Workers' Organization already pled in favor of the CTV and against the government of Chavez in the way stated earlier. We are worried that this situation continues to persist. Despite this, the union officials of CTV openly participated in the planning and execution of the coup against the only government (apart from Cuba) that is opposed to the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA). Besides, the hierarchy of the CTV, in front of the TV cameras, supported the dictator Carmona Estanga, who, in less than 48 hours, abandoned without effect the constitution that the Venezuelan people approved in a democratic consultation in 1999. It is necessary that the workers and the democratic forces of U.S. trade unionism demand an explanation from the leadership of the AFL-CIO concerning their relationship with the coup-makers of the CTV.
Fight Back!: What is your personal role in the national democratic process that is making such tremendous changes in Venezuelan society?
Pedro Eusse: Personally, I am interested in contributing to the development of a workers' movement that is more conscious, organized, united and strong, that allows us to defend the Revolution, the Revolution that the reactionary opposition is threatening and lying in wait for, above all of this is yankee imperialism, and to win others over so the process orients itself to build a distinct society from the inhuman capitalist society, under the fundamental direction of the working class. Also I understand that international solidarity of the peoples of countries is indispensable and I think that I should work to promote and develop this.
Fight Back!: What can U.S. unions and solidarity activists do to help the unions and the national democratic revolution of Venezuela?
Pedro Eusse: In the first place, you have to know and defend the truth of the facts in Venezuela, to defeat the lies that the big imperialist media communication outlets put forward. The second thing is that it is necessary to raise up a loud and massive opposition to the interference of the U.S. government in the political affairs of Venezuela. This is the way I think the solidarity with our revolution ought to be organized – to function in a permanent way and coordinated at the level of the whole U.S. – and, above all, that you make it felt with force