US returns to the “big stick” in Venezuela
Venezuela has spent decades in the U.S. gunsites. But now Donald Trump is making an escalated assault that openly claims Uncle Sam’s right to control the entire region.
“All options are on the table.” Trump was the first world leader to recognize the spurious claim of right-wing opposition leader Juan Guaidó to the Venezuelan presidency in January. Guaidó failed in his initial attempt to initiate a mutiny in the army, but the Trump administration seems determined to force President Nicolás Maduro from office.
Its methods include the barbaric tactic of trying to incite popular revolt by ratcheting up sanctions that make it impossible for many people to buy necessities like food and medicine. As long as Maduro remains, countries and companies that buy Venezuelan oil can be blacklisted from doing business with the U.S.
The sanctions are marketed in the U.S. as a non-military, nonviolent way to retain access to Venezuela’s oil and countless other resources. In fact, they are war against the civilian population. Combined with Maduro’s economic policies, this commercial aggression is responsible for the death of tens of thousands of people in two years. Ten percent of the population has left the country, the medical system is collapsing, and hunger is widespread.
Determined to rid Central and South America of any challenge to imperialist hegemony, the U.S. hopes to wipe out what remains of progressive movements in the region. To that end, Trump has appointed two war criminals and anti-communist crusaders to powerful positions: John Bolton as National Security Advisor and Elliott Abrams as Special Envoy for Venezuela.
Abrams and Bolton have spent their careers supporting dictators and genocide in Latin America and the Middle East. Bolton was clear about the government’s targets when he railed against the “Troika of Tyranny” — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State and former CIA director Mike Pompeo threatens that “military action is possible” if Maduro continues to refuse to step down.
U.S. hands off! Maduro inherited from Hugo Chávez what is known as the Bolivarian revolution, a contradictory movement that sought to improve workers’ lives while keeping capitalism in the driver’s seat. Chávez opposed workers’ control of production, courted the military as a base of support, and defeated independent labor unions while funding social reforms with oil profits.
Many impoverished Venezuelans supported Chávez, and later Maduro, because they know what calamities will befall them if the right-wing oligarchy returns to iron-fisted power through a U.S.-orchestrated coup. Whatever the flaws of Chavismo, and there are many, Venezuelan workers consider the revolution that put Chávez in power their revolution — and they intend to defend it against imperialism and its toadies.
Because the country’s biggest problem is to the north, the responsibility to check the U.S. government lies here. There are reasons for optimism. Polls show that the majority of U.S. residents don’t support military action against Venezuela, for one thing.
And in Washington, D.C., scores of activists occupied the Venezuelan embassy after Trump ordered its regular government staff to get out. Their goal is to protect the embassy from invasion by anti-Maduro reactionary thugs. As of this writing, occupiers remain, even as Secret Service officers cut off the building’s electricity and water.
Almost daily, meetings and rallies are taking place to discuss, organize, and protest. Hopefully, these can become steps toward building the radical, diverse, and democratic movement that’s needed to defeat the warmongers.
Mexican maquila strikers spread demands for union democracy
In January and February strikers in 70 factories along the border won wage increases and bonuses. Some of these actions were illegal “wildcat” strikes.
This militancy sparked labor unrest across Mexico. Several hundred leaders were fired or arrested because these walkouts threatened lucrative contracts with U.S. automakers and other corporations. But this has not deterred the workers.
Currently, a growing movement by rank-and-file members is demanding better working conditions and more control of their unions.
Labor actions abound. Encampments of factory employees blocked the gates of Coca Cola plants and shut down their operations. Milk and water bottlers demanded safer worksites and department store clerks set up picket lines. They hit the bricks for better health care and a stop to forced overtime as well as higher wages.
Just the threat of a strike caused Walmart to quickly settle with their 8,500 staff. They won a five-and-a-half percent salary increase at 132 stores located in 10 Mexican states. Workers are getting a taste of their power.
Another walkout action, which began on Feb. 1, at the Metropolitan Autonomous University was the longest strike in the college’s history. Sindatico Independiente de Trabajadores (SITUAM), which represents 6,000 teachers, office staff and blue-collar workers, hit the streets for a 20 percent raise and job security. The action ended in May. Workers settled for full pay for the days they walked the line, and a small raise.
The university tried to break the union by hiring most new employees as empleados de confianza, outside the labor contract. This public sector walkout joined other teacher actions calling for an end to privatizing education, unfair evaluations and dismissals of teachers, along with bread-and-butter issues.
A glimmer of hope. This current wave of workers’ activism is different. People are not just fighting for higher wages but are demanding removal of their sell-out charro leaders who are not democratically elected and an end to illegitimate or “protection” contracts. Most labor associations are government-controlled “company unions” and members toil under contracts negotiated in secret. Many have never seen their contracts.
Ignoring declarations that their work stoppages are illegal and fed up with sellout leaders, some activists are forming independent unions. They vow to continue fighting despite administration calls for “labor peace” to save the maquiladora economy from losing factories to other lower-wage nations.
New labor laws enacted on April 29 by the Mexican Senate grant the right to secret ballots for electing officers and voting on contracts. This is a baby step and no doubt it will be an ongoing battle to enforce it.
In spite of President López Obrador’s campaign pledge to improve working conditions and support independent unions, his administration has done very little. He has not even authorized these strikes as legal, which is required under Mexican law. The silence from his administration is deafening.
Mexican activists have a tough fight ahead for control of their unions. Important strides are being made toward democracy as workers flex their collective power. They are just plain fed up and not going to take it anymore!