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Hundreds of workers occupy three Visteon car manufacturing factories in Britain after the management closed them down, laying off the entire workforce with no notice, violating their contracts. This is reminiscent of the factory occupations of the 1970s.
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The above is a lesson in the importance of organisation in the workplace and worker solidarity. See Organising at Work: How Activists can build a Union from scratch
CARACAS, June 21 (Reuters) – President Hugo Chavez has vowed to shake up the rules governing intellectual property rights on medicines and other products in Venezuela, the socialist’s latest move against the private sector.
“A song is intellectual property, but an invention or a scientific discovery should be knowledge for the world, especially medicine,” Chavez said late on Saturday.
“That a laboratory does not allow us to make a medicine because they have the patent, no, no, no,” Chavez said.
Chavez, who has nationalized many Venezuela industries and is critical of the private sector, ordered his trade minister to analyze the patent rules in the OPEC nation.
“Patents have become a barrier to production, and we cannot allow them to be barriers to medicine, to life, to agriculture,” said the minister, Eduardo Saman, who previously headed Venezuela’s patent agency.
“We are revising all the doctrines and laws related to patents, which should be compatible with the international treaties that we have signed and respect and honor.”
Chavez recently criticized Swedish packaging maker Tetra Pak, saying its patents on cartons were limiting production in Venezuela.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, editing by Vicki Allen)
“Initially we never had in mind workers control, we were just struggling for our jobs. We spent two years picketing at the gates before we decided to take it over. Through this process we developed political maturity very fast, not just through our own personal struggle, but the broader political struggles of the constituent assembly and the recall referendum” – Marino Mora, worker at self managed Venezuelan Factory
Worker self-management (or autogestion) is a form of workplace decision-making in which the workers themselves agree on choices (for issues like customer care, general production methods, scheduling, division of labour etc.) instead of an owner or traditional supervisor telling workers what to do, how to do it and where to do it. Examples of such self-management include the Spanish Revolution during the Spanish Civil War, Titoist Yugoslavia, the “recovered factories” movement in Argentina (in Spanish, fábrica recuperada), the LIP factory in France in the 1970s, the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation which is the Basque Country‘s largest corporation, AK Press in the United States, etc.
In Argentina’s recovered factories movement, workers took over control of the factories in which they had worked, commonly after bankruptcy, or after a factory occupation to circumvent a lock out. The Spanish verb recuperar means not only “to get back”, “to take back” or “to reclaim” but also “to put back into good condition”. Although initially referring to industrial facilities, the term may also apply to businesses other than factories (i.e. Hotel Bauen in Buenos Aires).
English-language discussions of this phenomenon may employ several different translations of the original Spanish expression other than recovered factory. For example, recuperated factory/business, reclaimed factory, and worker-run factory have been noted. The phenomenon is also known as “autogestion,” which comes from the French word for self-management (applied to factories, popular education systems, and other uses).
Workers’ self-management is often the decision-making model used in co-operative economic arrangements such as worker cooperatives, workers’ councils, in participatory economics, and similar arrangements where the workplace operates without a boss.
Critics argue that this would necessitate consulting all employees for every tiny issue and so be time-consuming, inefficient and thus ineffective. However, as seen in real world examples, only large-scale decisions are made by all employees during council meetings and small decisions are made by those implementing them while coordinating with the rest and following more general agreements.
Autogestion was first theorized by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon during the first part of the 19th century. It then became a primary component of some trade union organizations, in particular revolutionary syndicalism which was introduced in late 19th century France and guild socialism in early 20th century Britain, although both movements collapsed in the early 1920s. French trade-union CFDT (“Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail”) included worker self-management in its 1970 program, before later abandoning it. The philosophy of workers’ self-management has been promoted by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) since its founding in the United States in 1905.
One significant experiment with workers’ self-management took place during the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939).
In the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, Titoist Yugoslavia advocated a socialist version of autogestion, leading to a break with Moscow, which practiced central planning and state ownership of industry. The economy of Yugoslavia was organized according to the theories of Tito and – more directly – Edvard Kardelj. Croatian scientist Branko Horvat also made a significant contribution to the theory of socialism (radničko samoupravljanje) as practiced in Yugoslavia. With the exception of a recession in the mid-1960s, the country’s economy prospered under Titoist Socialism. Unemployment was low, the education level of the work force steadily increased. The life expectancy (which was about 72 years) and living standards of Yugoslav citizens was nearly equal to the life expectancy and living standards of citizens of “western” capitalist countries such as the United States. Due to Yugoslavia’s neutrality and its leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement, Yugoslav companies exported to both Western and Eastern markets. Yugoslav companies carried out construction of numerous major infrastructural and industrial projects in Africa, Europe and Asia.
After May 68 in France, Lip factory, a clockwork factory based in Besançon, became self-managed starting in 1973, after the management’s decision to liquidate it. The LIP experience was an emblematic social conflict of post-68 in France. CFDT (the CCT as it was referred to in Northern Spain), trade-unionist Charles Piaget led the strike in which workers claimed the means of production. The Unified Socialist Party (PSU), which included former Radical Pierre Mendès-France, was in favour of autogestion or self-management.
In the 1970s, the Spanish Legitimist Carlist movement split among the supporters of Don Carlos Hugo‘s new Carlist Party, confederalist and autogestionary, and his brother Sixto Enrique de Borbón‘s Traditionalist Communion, extreme-right.
In October 2005 the first Encuentro Latinoamericano de Empresas Recuperadas (“Latin American Encounter of Recovered Companies”) took place in Caracas, Venezuela, with representatives of 263 such companies from different countries living through similar economical and social situations. The meeting had, as its main outcome, the Compromiso de Caracas (Caracas’ Commitment); a vindicating text of the movement.
Throughout the 1990s in Argentina‘s southern province of Neuquén, drastic economic and political events occurred where the citizens ultimately rose up. Although the first shift occurred in a single factory, bosses were progressively fired throughout the province so that by 2005 the workers of the province controlled most of the factories.
In the wake of the 2001 economic crisis, about 200 Argentine companies were “recovered” by their workers and turned into co-operatives. Prominent examples include the Brukman factory, the Hotel Bauen and FaSinPat (formerly known as Zanon). As of 2005, about 15,000 Argentine workers run recovered factories.
The phenomenon of fabricas recuperadas (“recovered factories”) is not new in Argentina. Rather, such social movements were completely dismantled during the so-called “Dirty War” in the 1970s. Thus, during Héctor Cámpora‘s first months of government (May-July 1973), a rather moderate and left-wing Peronist, approximately 600 social conflicts, strikes and factory occupations had taken place.
Many recovered factories are run co-operatively and all workers receive the same wage. Important management decisions are taken democratically by an assembly of all workers, rather than by professional managers.
The proliferation of these “recoveries” has led to the formation of a recovered factory movement, which has ties to a diverse political network including Peronists, anarchists and communists. Organizationally, this includes two major federations of recovered factories, the larger Movimiento Nacional de Empresas Recuperadas (or National Movement of Recuperated Businesses, or MNER) on the left and the smaller Movimiento Nacional de Fabricas Recuperadas (National Movement of Recuperated Factories or MNFR) on the right. Some labor unions, unemployed protestors (known as piqueteros), traditional worker cooperatives and a range of political groups have also provided support for these take-overs. In March 2003, with the help of the MNER, former employees of the luxury Hotel Bauen occupied the building and took control of it.
One of the highest difficulties such a movement faces is its relation towards the classic economic system, as most classically managed firms refused, for various reasons (among which ideological hostility to the very principle of autogestion) to work and deal with recovered factories. Thus, isolated recovered factories find it easier to work together in building an alternative economic system and thus manage to reach a critical size and power which enables it to negotiate with the ordinary capitalistic firms.
See also Socialism in a nutshell
For examples of self managed factories watch the following documentary
An open letter to the left from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Labour’s vote collapsed to a historic low in last week’s elections as the right made gains. The Tories under David Cameron are now set to win the next general election.
The British National Party (BNP) secured two seats in the European parliament. Never before have fascists achieved such a success in Britain.
The result has sent a shockwave across the labour and anti-fascist movements, and the left.
The meltdown of the Labour vote and the civil war engulfing the party poses a question – where do we go from here?
The fascists pose a threat to working class organisations, black, Asian and other residents of this country – who BNP führer Nick Griffin dubs “alien” – our civil liberties and much else.
History teaches us that fascism can be fought and stopped, but only if we unite to resist it.
The SWP firmly believes that the first priority is to build even greater unity and resistance to the fascists over the coming months and years.
The BNP believes it has created the momentum for it to achieve a breakthrough. We have to break its momentum.
The success of the anti-Nazi festival in Stoke and the numbers of people who joined in anti-fascist campaigning shows the basis is there for a powerful movement against the Nazis.
The Nazis’ success will encourage those within the BNP urging a “return to the streets”.
This would mean marches targeting multiracial areas and increased racist attacks. We need to be ready to mobilise to stop that occurring.
Griffin predicted a “perfect storm” would secure the BNP’s success. The first part of that storm he identified was the impact of the recession.
The BNP’s policies of scapegoating migrants, black and Asian people will divide working people and make it easier to drive through sackings, and attacks on services and pensions.
Unity is not a luxury. It is a necessity. If we do not stand together we will pay the price for a crisis we did not cause.
The second lesson from the European elections is that we need a united fightback to save jobs and services.
If Cameron is elected he will attempt to drive through policies of austerity at the expense of the vast majority of the British people.
But the Tories’ vote fell last week and they are nervous about pushing through attacks.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne told business leaders, “After three months in power we will be the most unpopular government since the war.”
We need to prepare for battle.
But there is a third and vital issue facing the left and the wider working class. The crisis that has engulfed Westminster benefited the BNP.
The revelations of corruption, which cabinet members were involved in, were too much for many Labour voters, who could not bring themselves to vote for the party.
One answer to the problem is to say that we should swallow everything New Labour has done and back it to keep David Cameron, and the BNP, out.
Yet it would take a miracle for Gordon Brown to be elected back into Downing Street.
The danger is that by simply clinging on we would be pulled down with the wreckage of New Labour.
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, has asked how, come the general election, can we ask working people to cast a ballot for ministers like Pat McFadden.
McFadden is pushing through the privatisation of the post office.
Serwotka proposes that trade unions should stand candidates.
Those who campaigned against the BNP in the elections know that when they said to people, “Don’t vote Nazi” they were often then asked who people should vote for.
The fact that there is no single, united left alternative to Labour means there was no clear answer available.
The European election results demonstrate that the left of Labour vote was small, fragmented and dispersed.
The Greens did not make significant gains either. The mass of Labour voters simply did not vote. We cannot afford a repeat of that.
The SWP is all too aware of the differences and difficulties involved in constructing such an alternative.
We do not believe we have all the answers or a perfect prescription for a left wing alternative.
But we do believe we have to urgently start a debate and begin planning to come together to offer such an alternative at the next election, with the awareness that Gordon Brown might not survive his full term.
One simple step would be to convene a conference of all those committed to presenting candidates representing working class interests at the next election.
The SWP is prepared to help initiate such a gathering and to commit its forces to such a project.
We look forward to your response.
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What would a socialist alternative to capitalism be like?
The following documentary on the social change taking place in Venezuela gives us an insight into the type of changes that would follow if a socialist government were ever to be elected.
Chavez: Venezuela progressing towards food independence
CARACAS, June 14 (Xinhua) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday that the government has set targets for exporting food to neighbor countries and is progressing towards food independence.
During his weekly radio and television broadcast “Alo Presidente,” Chavez said Venezuela’s cattle herd now topped 12 million heads and is estimated to rise to 14 million by 2012.
Chavez hosted Sunday’s show from the La Bandera farm in southwestern state Tachira, a model socialist dairy farm set up on land seized from drug traffickers.
The Venezuelan government has seized 50 farms from traffickers, equivalent to 12,000 hectares suitable for livestock.
La Bandera now has 1,985 heads of cattle, up from 1,300 18 months ago; and produces 38 percent more milk, the Venezuelan president said.
Venezuela takes on Tetra Pak
Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez has threatened to ignore international patents and manufacture Tetra Paks to help reduce the need for imports.
Chávez told the audience of his weekly Aló Presidente show that patents were “universal knowledge” and Venezuela had the materials to produce the cartons itself. “We don’t have to be subject to capitalist laws,” he said.
Importing Tetra Pak materials is said to have cost the South American country $63m (£38.5m) in May alone. Tetra Pak was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
Chávez targeted overseas packaging in March when he seized 1,500 hectares of eucalyptus forest belonging to Irish packaging giant Smurfit Kappa that he said should be destined for food rather than cardboard.
In yesterday’s broadcast, Chávez said the government would have to seize packaging firms that did not deal with national food companies, although did not provide further information.
Aló Presidente is now in its tenth year and runs on Sundays on state TV. It starts at 11am and has been known to run for five hours.
The segment of the show on Tetra Pak and patents can be viewed in Spanish via the YouTube website by clicking here.
Wrong type of passenger prompts Venezuela to redirect metro line
Plan for two stations in Caracas put on hold because it would have benefited ‘oligarchs’
Venezuela has redirected a new metro line away from a chic part of Caracas, one of Latin America’s most congested capitals, because it would have benefited “oligarchs”.
Authorities cancelled plans for two metro stations at Las Mercedes, a district of malls and restaurants, because it would serve the wrong type of passenger in a country undergoing a socialist revolution.
“That is a line which benefits the oligarchy,” said Claudio Farias, president of the state-owned company Metro Caracas. “We are redesigning it because we think this line makes no sense. Everybody goes to restaurants in Las Mercedes in their cars.”
Under redesigned plans five stations will be dropped from line five, which is intended to carry about 300,000 passengers daily from the central Zona Rental to low-income areas in the south-east.
Venezuela Orders End to Coca-Cola Zero Production
On Wednesday the Venezuelan Ministry for Health ordered the Coca-Cola Company to remove its product Coca-Cola Zero from sale for containing a cancerous ingredient, sodium cyclamate, an ingredient not included in the US version of the drink.
Jesus Mantilla, the health minister, said, “The product should stop circulating in order to protect the health of Venezuelans.” He said the product contains sodium cyclamate, which in large amounts can be harmful, and then announced that the product should be recalled, destroyed, and not produced anymore.
Divis Antunez, director of sanitary control for the Health Ministry, said the ingredient wasn’t in the company’s application that it made in 2007 and that was approved by the Ministry. Later, in a random test conducted by the National Institute for Hygiene Rafael Rangel, sodium cyclamate was found and the Health Ministry started a legal process for non-compliance with the Health Registry.
Antunez said that the recommended amount of sodium cyclamate for human consumption is 11 mg per kilo, whereas the new Coca-Cola Zero has 18-22mg per 10 mils, exceeding the amount approved by the Venezuelan Commission of Industrial Norms (COVENIN).
Yesterday Coca-Cola said in a press release, “The Coca-Cola Company and its bottler Coca-Cola Femsa Venezuela responsibly declare that Coca-Cola Zero doesn’t contain any ingredient that could be harmful to the health.” However, Coca-Cola said that until the government concludes its administrative proceedings it will suspend production in Venezuela and recall the drink.
Coca-Cola Zero is a drink without any calories (or an amount small enough to be rounded down to zero) and is marketed to young males who are self conscious of their weight but see Diet Coke as being for women. The diet and zero versions in the US, England, and Canada both contain non-calorie sweeteners aspartame (E951) and acesulfame K (E950), but in slightly different proportions and they therefore have slightly different tastes.
However the versions produced in Venezuela (as well as in Chile and some other Central American countries) have sodium cyclamate (E952) in larger proportions than aspartame. Whilst aspartame is cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sodium cyclamate has been prohibited since 1969 when it was proved to cause cancerous tumours and congenital malformations.
Sodium cyclamate, when combined with other chemicals, has the capacity to sweeten up to 600 times more than sugar. According to Aporrea.org, it is also much cheaper than aspartame at $10/kilo compared to $152/kilo for aspartame.
In Mexico in August 2007, El Universal-Mexico reported that Coca-Cola was also putting sodium cyclamate in the coca-cola zero drink there. The article said that the drink contained 25mg of the ingredient for every 100g in a can of 355ml. Pro-U.S president Vicente Fox authorized the ingredient for the government’s list of permitted food additives in July 2006.
In February 2008 Mexican feminist news Cimanoticias reported that consumers had “triumphed” and that the ingredient had been removed from the drink.