Deuling Mayday marches in Venezuela

From Venezuelanalysis, May 2:

Venezuelans celebrated International Worker’s Day yesterday with two large marches that wound through the streets of Caracas. One in support of the Chavez-led “Bolivarian Revolution,” and the other with the opposition. This marks the sixth year in a row that Venezuelan workers have held separate marches on May 1st.

While the marches began on different sides of the city, they both ended blocks from each other and a stone’s throw away from the Presidential Palace of Miraflores.

No violence was reported, although the situation turned tense near Las Fuerzas Armadas Avenue, when the opposition march crossed a bridge directly above the pro-government route. Armed with shields and batons, carloads of police linked arms to keep the two sides from physically interacting. Verbal altercations were numerous although brief as the opposition demonstration continued on its way.

While an official count is unconfirmed, both marches numbered in the thousands, and ran for several blocks. The pro-government march was substantially larger, with participants at the tail still waiting to begin the several kilometer route by the time the front had arrived to its destination.

The opposition march was led by the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) which, according to the Venezuelan daily El Universal, called for the participants to march for increased salaries, back-pay, a dignified social security system, and freedom for CTV President Carlos Ortega, who was sentenced last year to 16 years in prison for his role in the two-month 2002-3 oil industry shut down.

“Things are turbulent. With this government everything is turbulent,” yelled 15 year- CTV veteran, Israel Masa, from the opposition march. “That’s why we are marching- to demand transparency in the next elections, because we in the opposition know that we are the majority and that we are the true democrats.”

The pro-government march was led by the National Workers Union (UNT) and officially entitled, the “Bolivarian March Against Imperialism and Free Trade Agreements,” highlighting the international importance of today’s celebrations, and calling attention to the recent motives for Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Community of Andean Nations.

“This demonstration is a struggle against imperialism and the conspiratorial plans of US imperialism against Venezuela,” announced Venezuelan National Assembly Representative Dario Vivas in the morning, at the start of the march. “The people of Venezuela are ready to do whatever necessary to guarantee our liberty.”

Beginning the march at the offices of the Ministry of Popular Economy (in charge of promoting and organizing the country’s cooperatives), highlighted the importance of Venezuela’s cooperatives and their members in the May 1st celebration.

Yenni Torres, 29, is a member of a maintenance cooperative working with the state-company CVG Bauxilum. She traveled 11 hours last night from her home in Bolivar state, to march yesterday and “show her support for President Chavez.” “We have seen great changes,” she explained in front of the stage at the conclusion of the march. “At least in our case, we were largely unemployed, and that has been diminishing. Another group of cooperatives is now being formed and integrated, by people who were unemployed.”

In Venezuela, there are currently over 105,000 cooperatives in the country, 95% of which have been formed since Chavez took office in 1999. This year, the government has stated that it is working to train 700,000 new cooperativistas in the job-training Mission, Vuelvan Caras. Many highlight that this cooperative boom has helped lead to a decrease in Venezuelan unemployment from 22% to 10%, since the Venezuelan economic troubles of 2002-2003.

CTV Secretary General, Manuel Cova, doesn’t buy it, “This country has nothing to celebrate, because there is currently an unemployment rate between 15-17%, and the statistic of 10% only exists in the mind of the Government.”

The worker divisions go deeper than one would imagine. Members of the Worker’s Union for the Construction Industry (SUTIC) participated in both marches, highlighting the difficult situation that some workers find themselves in. “We are working for unity,” proclaimed union leader Fredy Nolasco at yesterday’s UNT march, but the union appears to be anything but united.
Meanwhile, in a move that was celebrated by most Venezuelans, President Chavez raised the minimum wage last week by 10%. The CTV, however, has called the move “insufficient.” CTV Executive Secretary, Alfredo Ramos recently stated that since over half of the employed Venezuelans are working in the informal sector, the wage increase will only benefit “the 4 million Venezuelans” who are formally employed.

See our last post on Venezuela.