[Note: The following article appeared in the Fall 2004 issue of Social Policy.]
Our delegation of trade unionists was in Venezuela only five days. In that time, we walked the streets of Caracas, witnessing a massive and spontaneous electoral festival bursting all about us. We saw poor workers in the barrios eagerly taking control of their own lives and communities. We were welcomed by, and participated with, members and leaders of a new labor federation as it takes root in the struggle of the workers and the nation. We offered them a form of labor solidarity, which they valued, embraced and trumpeted to the nation. They welcomed us to share with them a moment in history when the Venezuelan people flexed the muscle of genuine democracy, directing it against, not the powers that be, but against the powers that had been, against the engine of empire driven by George W. Bush and for a future of hope, independence and peace.
We saw with our own eyes that Chavez's “Bolivarian Revolution” is seen by the people as their own empowerment, offering a government which strives to serve their needs and draws a line against the oligarchy, which ruled for so long in servility to to the White House.
The delegation was organized by Julio Turra, national executive director of the 9 million member CUT trade union federation of Brazil. He did so on behalf of the International Liaison committee (ILC). The participants were: Armando Pasos (Metropolitan University Workers Union of Mexico/SITUAM); Brazilians, Tomás Jensen (Nuestra America Association, Sao Paulo), Walter Matos (CUT Amazonas), Isaac Oliveira (Federal Judiciary Workers, SINTRAJUF, Pernambuco), and Ricardo Jacome (Public Sector Workers, SINDSEP-DF, Brasilia); and from the U.S., Robert Irminger, Inland Boatmen's Union/ILWU delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, and myself, Plumbers and Fitters Local 393 and the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council in San Jose, California.
The ILC is active in various countries, building toward global unity of labor against imperialism. It works closely with the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Our ILC delegation was invited to Caracas by the National Union of Workers (UNT), Venezuela's newest labor federation, which claims to represent 70% of the nation's organized workers.
When I was invited to join the delegation, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to learn about the union situation in Venezuela first hand, especially in the climactic time of voting on the Referendum to oust President Hugo Chavez. jost importantly, I hoped to find ways to bring Venezuelan workers the message that they do not walk alone against U.S. intervention, that they have allies in the U.S. labor movement.
I was eager to communicate, in any way possible, to the workers in the huddled hillside barrios surrounding Caracas that my union, the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council (San Jose, CA), the San Francisco Labor Council AFL-CIO, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council AFL-CIO and the California Labor Federation AFL-CIO, representing 2.4 million members each took unanimous action to pass a resolution entitled “Build Unity and Trust Among Workers Worldwide.” The resolution calls for ending a long pattern of AFL-CIO use of federal money for meddling in the sovereign internal labor affairs of other nations in support of White House policies. jost of that federal money comes through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), established under Ronald Reagan and funded by Congress. The resolution calls upon the national AFL-CIO “to fully account for what was done in Chile and Venezuela and other countries where similar roles may have been played in our name, to renounce such policies and practices..., describe, country by country, exactly what activities it may still be engaged in abroad with funds paid by government agencies and renounce any such ties that could compromise our authentic credibility and the trust of workers here and abroad and that would make us paid agents of government or of the forces of corporate economic globalization”
The original resolution indicated that the AFL-CIO had been a bagman for the policies of George W. Bush, funding and working with the Venezuelan groups which unleashed the failed coup on April 11, 2002. The same groups fomented a crippling oil industry shutdown and then the August 15, 2004 referendum to overthrow the Hugo Chavez government.
We carried a supply of envelopes labeled “For Your Immediate Attention.” Each contained the original “Unity and Trust” resolution, the version passed by the California Labor Federation, and an introductory letter by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Executive Officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council. In part, Ms. Ellis Lamkins wrote: “We believe that international solidarity must come from the heart of workers in one country to the heart of workers in another... Workers...should never allow themselves to become agents of government — some might say, agents of empire... We ask you, in your unions and confederations... to send messages to our national AFL-CIO urging them to seriously consider and enact the changes called for by the California Labor Federation which represents more than one sixth of the members of the AFL-CIO nationally.”
When we arrived on August 12 we stopped at the Hotel Avila to drop off our bags and rush to the UNT for a meeting. Before the gathering got underway, we met with three leading members of UNT's “National Coordinator,” the federation's 21 member governing council, Orlando Chirino, Marsela Maspero and Stalin Perez, (His brothers are named Roosevelt and Winston — WWII's “Big Three.”) We offered our envelopes and the UNT leaders were immediately enthusiastic. They needed no explanations and passed the material around the conference room to others who responded similarly. When under way, the meeting centered on getting out the vote on 8/15 in Sunday workplaces where employers were reluctant to give workers time off to vote. They also discussed possible worker actions at communication centers to protect the integrity of the voting in the event it is compromised by fraud or schemes to electronically hijack the will of the people. UNT people, confident of a tremendous victory, were among, they said, some 900,000 volunteers working to bring out the “NO!” vote. They expected a huge turnout for Chavez.
The next day, 8/13, we linked up with other international visitors who came to observe the referendum process and support sovereignty and democracy in Venezuela. We spent jost of the day at the “Parroquia la Pastora,” one of the many barrios planted on the hillsides surrounding Caracas. People who took over vacant, steep terrain and scavenged materials to patch together their homes, now proudly display framed personal government documents which proclaim: “The land belongs to those who live on it. Now, with the Revolution, I am the proprietor.” The barrios are strengthened by “Bolivarian Missions” which sponsor community organizing and self-help participation to develop and deliver services in the areas of housing, health care and education. The formerly fragile homes are now made of brick and concrete and supplied with fresh water, electricity and drainage enhanced by a government program for “pan y ladrillos” — bread and bricks. The money comes from profits of the state owned oil company (PDVSA) whose management is appointed by the government and includes representatives elected by the workers.
The school for the barrio, long abandoned and in total disrepair, was renovated and revived under Chavez. The residents were enabled to repair the structures and staff the school to meet the educational and cultural desires and needs of 400 youth and 40 adult students. One room, professionally staffed and equipped, serves the long neglected dental needs of the community at no personal cost.
We watched a group high school age students doing a rompish outdoor exercise, combining chants, song and dance. When it was over, they and we, broke into small groups to interview one another. Each of the kids in our group were clear about their career ambitions in science, tourism, veterinary medicine and construction. They have absolute confidence that jobs will be waiting for them when they are ready to fill them. The kids talked about how, in the six years of the Bolivarian Revolution, their families had moved from poor nourishment and despair to health and confidence in the future and had become part of a nurturing community. When asked, “Is your community special or is this happening elsewhere?” They answered eagerly, aljost in unison, “everywhere.”
Toward evening we joined with other trade unionists and visiting members of the European Parliament to take part in a meeting with leaders of the International Relations Bureau of the Movement of the Fifth Republic (MVR), the Chavez political party. We heard a presentation by Samuel Moncada, Co-Coordinator of the “Comando Maisanta,” the organizers of the nationwide “NO!” campaign. Moncada, formerly a history professor is also a government leader in international relations. He outlined the background of Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution with his “theory of the telephone book.” Moncada explained that the oligarchy was a closed circle of well-heeled, light skinned families which had controlled government for generations. They interrelated and protected their enjoyment of the good life supported by the working people of Venezuela. When Chavez became president, proud of his indigenous and African roots, “he simply didn't have a copy of their phone book,” said Moncada. The oligarchy was alienated and angered when Chavez, in organizing the government, did not call on them. Instead he used his own phone book and called upon other sectors of society to help run the government. He redirected the nation's wealth and labor toward the people's needs instead of the whims of the wealthy and their transnational corporate patrons. The formerly powerful oligarchs and their benefactors in the U.S. political and corporate elite remain inconsolably vengeful.
When Moncada opened the discussion for questions and comments, members of our group presented copies of a United Appeal in Defense of Venezuelan Sovereignty and Against U.S. Intervention. The Appeal was initiated by ILC supporters in Peru and was endorsed by many leading labor and human rights activists from Europe and the U.S. We took the opportunity to inform the audience of the “Unity and Trust” resolution and, to a warm reception, offered the documents to Samuel Moncada. He invited our delegation to the platform for photos. We then gave envelopes to the audience of trade unionists and labor members of the European Parliament.
Moncada did not keep the documents to himself. The next day, on national television, President Chavez spoke about U.S. trade unionists who opposed U.S. intervention in Venezuela.
Early the next morning, we visited the national office of the Electrical Workers Union for a video interview about “Unity and Trust.” Later in the day members of our delegation were interviewed for an hour and a half on National Public Radio. We gave our impressions of Caracas leading up to the historic referendum and along with others from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, expressed our solidarity with Venezuelan workers. For the United States, I described the California Labor Federation's decision to demand an end to government sponsored AFL-CIO intervention in Venezuela and elsewhere. I said that the members of my union and our labor council demand regime change — not in Venezuela — but in Washington, DC. When I assured listeners that the AFL-CIO will focus all its political power in the coming months on liberating not only the U.S., but Venezuela, Iraq, and the rest of the planet from the plague of George W. Bush and his neofascist cabal, the people in the studio interrupted with applause.
Armando Pasos, from Mexico, made an on-air proposal to convene an international conference of trade unionists in defense of national sovereignty and independent, class-struggle unionism.
Once back at the UNT, where still more newly arrived internationals were gathered, the UNT leaders took up Armando Pasos' proposal. They projected plans for a December conference to focus on the labor movement situation and development of ideas for solidarity campaigns and coordinated international actions. When Orlando Chirino opened the floor for general discussion, it gave us one more opportunity to present “Unity and Trust” to yet another demonstrably appreciative international audience. It has taken years in the U.S. to gain traction with the issues of “Unity and Trust.” Trade unionists in Venezuela and from other countries have an understanding of what U.S. intervention has been in the past. They have lived the history that the AFL-CIO has not confronted.
Six years ago Chavez inserted the unprecedented recall provision in the new Bolivarian Constitution. The Constitution, giving plebiscite power to the people, was approved by a direct, transparent and favorable popular vote. This spring, the Bush backed oligarchy obtained a questionably sufficient number of signatures to bring Chavez's ouster to a vote. Signature gathering was enhanced by Sumate, an organization that received $53,400 from NED. (What if Venezuela financed a recall of Bush?) Questionable numbers or not, Chavez put his presidency on the line and faced the referendum head-on, his third political crisis in two years.
The first attempt to reverse Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution was on April 11, 2002. Supported by key military people and private media monopolists close to George Bush, conspirators pulled off a short lived coup. Supported by leaders of the CTV, they kidnapped Chavez, suspended the Constitution, dissolved the Supreme Court and National Assembly and installed one man rule under the head of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce (FEDECAMARAS). Eighteen people were reportedly killed in events leading to the coup. Shortly before the takeover, coup conspirators visited Washington. While the forty eight hour “regime change” was universally denounced by other governments, the Bush administration was conspicuously silent. The silence was broken by George A. Folsom, spokesperson for the NED funded International Republican Institute. Folsom said that, in the coup, “The Venezuelan people rose up to defend democracy in their country.” Neither NED, its network, nor the U.S. government could plausibly deny supporting dictatorship instead of democracy.
The lightning strike of the coup was followed by the thunder of over a million people in the streets demanding Chavez's reinstatement. The powerful mass of people enabled military officers, loyal to the Constitution, to end the two-day dictatorship and return Hugo Chavez to the Presidential Palace, in his own words, “to the legitimate power given to me by the people.”
Despite backing by the White House and all privately owned media, the coup plotters fell on their faces. In continuing efforts to bring down the President by breaking the economy, they mounted a top management closure of the oil industry marked by extensive physical sabotage of production. Though the coup plotters, the media, and the bosses called it a “strike,” the workers rejected the lockout. It took two months for the workers to return the industry to normal production. The oil-borne economic sabotage cost the people of Venezuela some $24 billion, causing cutbacks in Bolivarian Revolution programs in housing, education and medical care.
With a projected potential of 300 million barrels of oil a day for 300 years and a tenacious defense of its sovereignty and independence, Venezuela is a high stakes target for intervention by the Bush administration. At present Bush administration hostility seems limited to bolstering the oligarchy and meddling with trade union and political organizations. Many people with whom we spoke in the streets voiced serious concern that Venezuela could become another Iraq.
The taxpayer money NED gets from the government is fed into agencies established by the Republican Party, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Democratic Party and the AFL- CIO. It is essentially a money laundering operation funding so-called “private organizations,” which do the work once identified with the CIA. The objective is to gain entree where our government's presence is unwelcome and to give Washington “plausible deniability” if plans go awry or come into public view. A 2002 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) report revealed that the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS,) the agency run by the AFL-CIO had been directly involved with groups that led the charge to oust Chavez. ACILS worked with and supported the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) and the nation's Chambers of Commerce (FEDECAMARAS) to organize a series of meetings culminating in a major conference one month before the April 11, 2002 coup. The two groups then became, in ACILS words, “the flagship organizations leading the growing opposition to the Chavez government.” The International Affairs Department (IAD) of the AFL-CIO told a different story.
In October 2003 Stan Gacek , speaking for the IAD, assured a group of California trade unionists that in the year prior to the coup, ACILS did no more than some training in support of internal democracy in the CTV. He said, “...our total solidarity program with the CTV amounted to less than $20,000...” The FOIA report disclosed that ACILS' work carried a price tag of $154,377. Could it be that the development of the “flagship organizations,” which led opposition to Chavez, was an incidental byproduct of the $20,000 expenditure? Over the previous five years, ACILS spending in Venezuela was $703, 927. Do these discrepancies indicate lies or covert activities? If Stan Gacek told the truth as he knew it, was he, and therefore, John Sweeney, in the dark and out of the information loop? Perhaps ACILS Director Harry Kamberis could best clarify these questions. Here's how he appears in the 1977 State Department Biographical Register: “Kamberis, Harry G. — B. 3/15/44. STATE Dept R-7 1/72 — Dacca cons off 6/72. R-6 4/74. Islamabad pol off 7/75.” According to Daniel Brandt of Namebase Online (http://www.pir.org), “This is a very typical entry for a CIA officer under State Department cover.”
ACILS is expected to work for trade union goals with the major labor federation in any country. It is questionable if the CTV fits that bill. CTV history of collaboration with the big business oligarchy has sorely diminished its influence with workers, its numbers and its representative authenticity. Today, according to UNT leaders, CTV is silent about the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) while every major labor federation in the western hemisphere speaks out against it. While unions worldwide condemn the murder of trade unionists in neighboring Colombia, the CTV says nothing. Allied with FEDECAMARAS and the jost fascist like groups in opposition to Chavez, CTV leaders would have to surmount glaring contradictions to speak out out for national sovereignty and against U.S. intervention.
The UNT came into existence after the April, 2002 coup. Venezuelan workers and union leaders were appalled that the top leaders of the CTV plotted with FEDECAMARAS to annul the nation's Constitution and deliver dictatorial power into the hands of the bosses. In response, they streamed out of the CTV, gathering with them some independent unions to form the new federation.
Juan Alexis Rivero, Secretary Treasurer of the Federation of Electrical Workers told us, “When it was clear that the CTV was irreconcilably divided, there was a need to form the UNT in response to the use of the CTV by its leaders in support of the the fascist coup.” Orlando Chirino, head of the Labor Federation of the state of Carabobo, says, “after Chavez returned to Miraflores, 40% of CTV's affiliates broke away to the the UNT,” which continues to grow. Among CTV unions which moved to the UNT are the Aluminum Workers Union, the Flour Workers Federation, the Pharmaceutical Industry Workers Federation, the Ford Motor Company Workers Union, the Public Workers Federation, the Energy Workers Federation, the Oil Workers Federation, and others. UNT leaders calculate that CTV now has fewer than 25% of the unions.
Over many years, the declining CTV earned the workers' scorn by failing to stand up against employer abuses and by falling in line with the repressive policies of Democratic Action (AD), one of the two parties of the wealthy oligarchy whose members have held sway in CTV for decades. According to the UNT, some CTV leaders have held office for 20 to 30 years without benefit of elections. The UNT claims that the list of irregularities in the 2001 CTV elections included; assaults on polling places, witnesses excluded from some polling places, failure to make timely and unmodified reports of returns and disappearance of 48% of the records. The remaining records were never submitted to the election authorities. CTV's internal collaboration with employers characterizes CTV internationally as well.
During four decades CTV leaders sat on the Board of Trustees of the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), the AFL-CIO's original agency in Latin America. AIFLD became operational in 1962, first headed by AFL-CIO President George Meany, later by Lane Kirkland. Its first Director was Serafino Romualdi, succeeded by William C. Doherty, Jr. CTV presidents Jose Vargas, Jose Gonzalez Navarro and others, through decades, held AIFLD leadership positions alongside some of the top corporate leaders of their time. Among those moguls were; J. Peter Grace, then Chairman of both AIFLD and the W.R. Grace Corporation (He “left” AIFLD when his ties to Nazis were exposed on national TV.); Charles Brinkerhoff, Chair of Anaconda Copper; William Hickey, United Corp.; Juan Trippe, Chair Pan American World Airways; Rodman Rockefeller, Pres. Intnl. Basic Economy Corp.; Stanley Cleveland, Pres. Bendix International; Thomas Lumpkin, Pres. Gulf Oil Latin America; Charles Serraino — Vice Pres. \Johnson & Johnson, many others — and — topping the cake, the scion of the number one U.S. oil family, Nelson Rockefeller.
The first funding for AIFLD came from the CIA, then the State Department and several other government agencies. Under the mantra of anti-communism and in the name of the AFL-CIO, AIFLD, backed corrupt, sellout unions, attacked militant unions and helped deliver the governments of many nations, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador into the hands of torturers and mass murderers. The CTV presidents on AIFLD's Board never could have lasted in their prestigious positions had they opposed the interventionist big business agenda. Lethal fallout from AIFLD's work made Latin America extremely dangerous for class-conscious trade unionists and rolled out a golden carpet for multinational corporate globalization.
AIFLD and its counterpart operations on three continents were disbanded and replaced after John Sweeney took the reins of the AFL-CIO in 1995. They were replaced by the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS). There have undoubtedly been important changes under Sweeney, but something is radically wrong when three central labor councils, in the “Unity and Trust” resolution, raise the question that: “ACILS, directed by Harry Kamberis, whose background is in government foreign service, is operating in the name of, but beyond the knowledge and control of the AFL-CIO as part of the Bush administration's drive for regime change in Venezuela, a replay of the Nixon administration's bloody collusion in crimes in Chile over 30 years ago.”
The AFL-CIO has never accounted for its role in Chile or in any country disastrously touched by its past actions, linked to the CIA and State Department. Refusal to honestly confront that history will not make it go away. Federation officials have resisted “washing our dirty laundry in public.” For the public, that leaves the dirty laundry, dirty. Had they confronted AFL-CIO history with the CTV, they would have known its propensity to side with the bosses, the oligarchs and the U.S. based empire of oil. Federation leaders cannot adhere to the basic principles of the AFL-CIO and knowingly aid and abet exploiters and the forces which support dictatorship over democracy.
Before submitting “Unity and Trust” to the California Labor Federation, the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council asked The International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO (IAD) to respond. The IAD was invited to either reply to the resolution in writing or send a speaker to a labor council meeting on June 21, 2003. When there was no response, “Unity and Trust” was forwarded to the State Federation. There, the Resolutions Committee made some changes, leaving it substantially intact. When it hit the convention floor on July 13, 2004, “Unity and Trust” was unanimously approved by the more than 400 delegates representing 2.4 million workers in California. Trade unionists in the UNT greeted the resolution as a genuine act of worker-to-worker solidarity.
The UNT went full out to support and enrich the Bolivarian Revolution. On July 31 they filled the Caracas sport stadium with thousands of workers, engaging the consciousness and commitment of their members for the “NO!” campaign.
On the day before the vote on the Referendum, Stalin Perez, spokesperson for the UNT Coordinating Council, talked about the stadium rally and their political effort. I can only paraphrase what he said: “The UNT defends trade union independence and democracy. We are not dominated by the bosses, any political party, or the government. We launched the “Battle of the Workers,” our own independent campaign for the “NO” vote. We want to see President Chavez remain in power because he is part of the anti-imperialist struggle. We believe that workers struggling for their own issues have to also play a central role in defense of the sovereignty of nations and supporting the issues of the indigenous people who struggle for their ancestral lands, and of the farm workers who are in a worldwide struggle for true agricultural reform and food independence.”
The jost common graffiti we saw scrawled on walls throughout Caracas shows that Venezuelan workers take their politics much more seriously than any media ads and sound bites might indicate. The walls of the city all but shouted “NO!! No pasaran! No volveran!” “NO!!” to the referendum to oust Chavez. “No pasaran!”, they shall not pass — to the coup plotters, a reference to the Spanish Civil War slogan of anti-fascist resistance. “No Volveran!”, they shall not return — the parties of oligarchy government which used fascist tactics only 15 years ago in what is remembered as the “Caracaso” when an estimated 3000 people were killed and many trade unionists disappeared in sweeps against the people's movement. Venezuelan workers have real political stakes at the polls. They do not see their choices as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.
At about 3:30 AM, on Sunday, August 15, D Day for the Referendum, we were awakened by explosions. Was it a bombardment? Was the opposition to Chavez so desperate and foolish as to launch a military or terrorist action to thwart the expected electoral victory of the people? The explosions increased in tempo and we could see distant flashes from our hotel room balcony. We went down to the lobby expecting to find others similarly concerned. All we found was a Peruvian TV crew breakfasting and preparing to leave before dawn to cover the election. “What of the explosions?”, we asked. “Fireworks” they told us “The Chavistas also have sound trucks playing Reveille to awaken the voters.”
People started lining up to vote at four in the morning. Originally, the polls were to close at 4:00 PM. When the closing time seemed unrealistic, it was extended to 8 PM and later, to midnight. Anyone on line at closing, could vote. One polling place in the town of Los Palmitos in the state of Carabobo still had voters in line at 3:00 PM on Monday afternoon. We were told it was the first time the people of Los Palmitos had ever voted. In Caribobo and elsewhere, hundreds of thousands of adults were newly registered to vote due to wildly successful efforts of the government sponsored “missions” which worked to overcome illiteracy. The literacy program is a Cuban import. Cuban educators were enlisted to train their Venezuelan counterparts in new methods to combat illiteracy with amazing speed. The newly literate voters joined with some nine million others to break all previous voting records.
The people poured into the streets celebrating Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution with their votes. People in line to vote were eager to speak about their pride in being part of a new democratic movement and process that, as one woman said, “is putting Venezuela in the hands of the people.” People waited in line for ten, twelve hours or more to vote 58% to 42% to reject the Referendum to oust Chavez.
The common thread of conversation we heard on the voting lines reaffirmed rejection of the traditional elites and their decades of repression and despair. The No Pasaran, No Volveran graffiti seemed to be, not only on the walls, but in the hearts and minds of the people. In every conversation I had, People immediately identified me as a North American. They would invariably say, “We're not against North American people. We're against imperialism and George Bush.”
The lines of voters in working class areas gave Caracas the look of a massive block party. Dancing and singing was not uncommon as friends gathered on the voter lines. Many people shared food, while kids ran and played, safe among their neighbors. Cars and trucks piled high with young people in red tee shirts, waving flags and shouting “Uh Ah Chavez no se va” (Hey Ho Chavez will not go) coursed through the chaotic traffic. By evening, raucous throngs gathered, as far as the eye could see at Miraflores, the presidential palace. They talked, danced, laughed, shouted and sang together from nightfall, August 15 to nightfall the next day. We walked for blocks among the tens of thousands of people and not a single cop was to be seen.
Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), talks about “participatory democracy” in which the people are the “protagonists.” Indeed, everything we saw, in the streets, in the barrios, on the seemingly endless lines at the polling places and in front of Miraflores — all of it — indicate that the “Bolivarian Revolution” throbs in the life blood of the people. It cannot be measured by slogans and rhetoric. The people seem truly to be protagonists in a fast paced drama of unprecedented direct democracy that sets a new standard for all America, south to north. The Venezuelan workers didn't just go to the polls, they dedicated themselves to casting their ballots as if they were voting for their lives. It was a massive act of defiance — poking fingers in the eyes of the oligarchy and the Washington based oil thirsty empire.
There was irony to our stay at the Hotel Avila. The place was built in 1942 by Nelson Rockefeller, at about the same time that Serafino Romualdi started on the staff of Rockefeller's Office of Inter American Affairs. Romualdi's work then, when he went on staff with the AFL, and when he became Director of the AFL-CIO's AIFLD, was to undermine the left and stabilize docile labor movements in Venezuela and other countries. Oil kept Venezuela a continuing concern in that regard. Romualdi and his protege, William C. Doherty Jr., and perhaps even AIFLD Trustee Rockefeller, must have used their rooms, the restaurant, the halls and lobbies of the hotel to plot their AIFLD strategies against the sovereignty of Venezuelan labor. We proudly used the same comfortable venues to help undo the work they started over half a century ago.
I went to Venezuela as much to teach as to learn. I did both in equal measure. Word about our new level of U.S. trade union opposition to the interventionist practices of the AFL-CIO and the Bush administration found its mark in Venezuela.
It took a sharp turn away from the millions of government dollars invested by the AFL-CIO in the CTV during more than forty years of Cold War anti-communism. There are limits to the amount of compliance and stability that money can effectively buy in a repressed but restive working class, especially when it sits upon the richest oil resource in the western world. It seems that, given an opening to democracy, sovereignty and independence, workers make a stand and take their place in the development of their nation.
[Note: The following article appeared in the Fall 2004 issue of Social Policy.]