Void Your Ballot [Vota Nulo]

– By Orlando Chirino, Miguel Ángel Hernández, Emilio Bastidas, Armando Guerra, Rafel Ruiz on behalf of the Organizing Committee of the Movement for the Construction of a Workers Party.

The authors are well known union leaders and activists in Venezuela. Signed in Venezuela, Nov. 26, 2007, circulated by Correspondencia de Prensa, Nov. 28, 2007; published in Aporrea, Nov. 30, 2007. Translation by Dan La Botz for Against the Current.

THOSE WHO KNOW our history as union and political leaders of the workers movement can be absolutely positive that we have never been on the side of the exploiters, the bosses or the landlords. Nor have we been the instrument of foreign government that attempt to violate our national sovereignty. The workers and the revolutionary political vanguard of the country recognize us as anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist fighters, defenders of democratic unionism, enemies of the political and union bureaucracy, and fighters against corruption and promoters of the idea of revolutionary socialism.

For decades we have been and we continue to be active in the service of the people’s struggles and in the defense of the workers’ interests. Likewise we defended the government of president Chávez against the attacks from the bourgeoisie and from imperialism in the days of the coup and the oil strikes and sabotage, all of which confers upon us the moral and political authority to express ourselves categorically against the constitutional reform presented by the executive and legislative powers of the country, and which will be submitted to a referendum next Sunday, December 2.

Recently president Chávez suggested that not supporting the reform is to be part of an “international conspiracy.” We reject this Manichean vision that attempt to make people believe that to question the constitutional reform is to be a “scab” and to stand outside the revolutionary process. That’s why we say there is a “third option,” that of the revolutionary socialists who have defended this process and are for its deepening to create a true socialism without bosses, bureaucrats, or crooks, and for a government of the workers and the people.

The Constitutional Reform Democratic and Political Liberties

We reject the constitutional reform because, contrary to what its authors and defenders say, with it they turn back the clock by limiting or terminating important conquests and democratic liberties achieved with great sacrifice. And, what is worse from a socialist perspective, these measures have nothing to do with deepening the revolutionary process.

In its form and in its content, the reform is a severe blow to political and democratic liberties. The first 33 articles were drawn up by a commission handpicked by the President, which during more than four months worked in absolute secrecy without consulting the sectors of society which would be affected by thee issues. In the same way, or even wore, the National Assembly, acted by trampling on the basic procedures of parliamentary process to approve 36 additional articles and 15 temporary measures.

It is a public and notorious fact that the executive and legislative powers, which talk so much about participative democracy where the people really lead, have pushed them to one side to present a reform which could have been discussed in a constituent assembly or in a national assembly of peoples’ delegates, where the different popular sectors in struggle could have fully and democratically discussed the principal economic, social and political problems of the country and could have set the direction and adopted the measures for a transition to socialism.

But on the contrary, the President and the National Assembly, instead of promoting democratic participation, have taken us back to the old scheme of representative democracy that we had during 40 years of the Social Democratic/Social Christian two-party rule.

From now on, if the Reform should be approved, it would take larger percentages of registered voters in order to place a referendum on the ballot; the privileges of national representatives would be extended; and with regard to the President, he would remain invested with special powers that undermine the people’s electoral rights, such as the power to create new authorities such as regional vice-presidencies and district functionaries.

Mr. or Mrs. President would be the only person with the right to be reelected to his or her office, damaging the principle of equal duties and equal rights for all Venezuelans.

Special mention should me made of the denial of freedom of information to the people which will be eliminated in Article 337, which parallels the action taken by the leaders of the fascist coup whose first act was to take away the right to public information.

With the Constitutional Reform We Don’t Advance Toward Socialism

The constitutional reform goes against the great socialist dream for which our people are fighting. Proof of what we are saying is reflected in the government propaganda appearing in the media which assures that the reform protects private property and increases mixed [private-public] firms as a new form of property, signifying an advance toward socialism.

We who are real revolutionaries say with complete clarity that private property in the means of production and the presence of the multinational as partners in the petroleum industry, and the exploitation of our natural resources or of our state enterprises, are incompatible with socialism. Private property is a cornerstone of the system of capitalist exploitation.

The Maracay sanitary workers, the workers of the solid waste processing plant and of TV-ULA in Merida, or the car conductor in the State of Bolivar, only to mention some of the most relevant cases, have understood that the defense of private property by the government is not only a slogan that favors constitutional reform. In fact, the government through the Secretary of Labor, the National Guard, mayors and governors, has demonstrated that it is committed to the defense of private property by praising or being complicit in the bosses’ violent eviction of workers who only demand the right to work, the payment of their benefits, and their desire to run the plants under workers’ control.

Nowhere is there to be found in the project of constitutional reform anything stating that the President and the National Assembly break in a definitive form with national [Venezuelan] and international private entrepreneurs and landlords. Nor does the reform propose the expropriation of the means of production under the control of the workers and the people. Moreover the reform is far from proposing the creation of a government made up of workers, peasants and the popular sectors. This is the only socialism that can save the Venezuelan people from their misery and the scourge of capitalism.

Reform Doesn’t Represent Concrete and Immediate Benefits for the Workers

The reduction of the workday, retroactivity in social benefits, and the creation of a Social Stability Fund, are the rights that were already achieved by the works with the Constitution of 1999, except that the government and the National Assembly have shown themselves incapable and unwilling to fulfill these promises by passing a Social Security Law and a Labor Law which would guarantee for every Venezuelan man and woman the rights to retirement, pension, vacations, sick days, retroactive benefits, and the reduction of the workday among others.

The labor councils not only aren’t organizations really created by the workers and born from their daily struggles; rather, they are institutions born under absolute executive [presidential] tutelage and control, and therefore injuring the autonomy and the workers and their organizations. A palpable example of what we are asserting is what goes on in the Secretary of Labor where a Labor Council has been created by the Department, but that labor council does everything but demand the right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement in an institution that has gone 14 years without signing a new contract.

One sees then the interest of the national government promoting division in the ranks of the workers, supporting institutions that are not autonomous and practicing an anti-union policy unleashed this year. This was expressed in the denial of recognition to the National Union of Workers (UNT), to the legitimate leaders of the petroleum workers and to the workers of the public sector who now have waited 36 months for the government to sign their new model contract.

Nor should we overlook the reformed Article 14, which would no longer recognize the existence of public employees at the service of the citizens of Venezuela but would instead now make them instruments of the central public power, a measure which puts at risk their right to strike, job stability, the right to union organization and collective bargaining.

On the other hand, the reform does not mention a general raise in wages and salaries, in the face of the unrestrained inflation and the scarcity of commodities that the country now suffers, much less a sliding scale of wage, nor any other economic or social measure that would restore the standard of living of the population.

A Warning to Imperialism and Rightwing Putschists

The rightwing putschists who are controlled by long distance telephone from Washington, who have recuperated economically and politically thanks to the government’s policy of class collaboration, are now feeling braver, supposing that if a NO vote wins, it will mean that the people are giving up their revolutionary victories.

We revolutionary socialists say to them that if they think so they are very wrong. If they should attempt any destabilizing or putschist action they will have to face millions of workers who are prepared to occupy the factories and run them under our own control.

We say with complete clarity that the putchist opposition, now revitalized by young blood from the student movement, does not represent a positive perspective for the people. They only want to take us back to the two-party past of corruption, anti-working class, anti-popular and pro-imperialist attitudes in order to continue exploiting the working class and accumulating million and millions while the people die of hunger.

They were, are, and will be the great enemies of the people and the revolution. They are the ones who have to be definitively defeated, without giving them more concession as the government has. This will be done by expropriating their corporations, their lands, banks and trading companies so that they can be directly administered and controlled by the people. This is the socialism for which we fight.

Workers and Revolutionaries Cannot Vote in Favor of the Constitutional Reform

Many men and women workers are expressing openly that they are against the constitutional reform because they know that with it they will being going backwards. Others oppose it, but hide their opposition, because they feel the enormous pressure that the government functionaries bring to bear on them, especially those in the public sector or in the state-owned petroleum company (PDVSA).

The positive thing is that the workers who think this way or act this way have nothing in common with the bosses, the landlords or the multinationals, nor with the alienated violent scabs or with the professional counterrevolutionaries.

We revolutionaries cannot be blind or deaf in the face of this great demand that comes from below and wants to express itself against the constitutional reform this coming December 2. For this reason we are calling upon all workers, peasants, youth and the people in general not to approve this constitutional reform which will not lead us to the socialism that millions of us desire, a socialism without bosses or landlords, without bureaucrats or little red crooks.

We call upon the workers to VOID YOUR BALLOTS this coming December 2, don’t mark either of the two options (YES or NO), just hit the VOTE key. This is an approach that has been raised by many workers who are afraid to be identified as abstentionists — now that the CNE [electoral authority] has antidemocratically forbidden citizens to campaign for abstention — or who fear being fired from their jobs in government enterprises or being counterrevolutionary or reactionary for voting NO.

For revolutionary socialists it is important to express that we do not support the reform proposal, and for that reason we solidarize ourselves and we support all of those compañeros who are thinking about abstaining in a conscious form so as not to give their support to a retrograde constitutional reform, and more so with those who are disposed to take the risk of voting NO, without worrying about the manipulation and the pressures of all type that have come down on them.

To all of them we express our political solidarity, because neither do we support the reform, as we have been making known for three months. So we say to you with complete conviction: Fellow worker, fellow peasant, comrades in the communities, on December 2 we will void our votes, and we will organize ourselves politically in a Workers Party that will struggle for socialism without bosses, bureaucrats or crooks.