Over the past weekend the Annual National Conference of the
67,000 strong college and university lecturers union, NATFHE, which took place in Eastbourne, Britain, unanimously
agreed to support the Bolivarian revolution and the measures that it has taken
to help the workers and poor in Venezuela.
Hands Off Venezuela supporters organised a stall at the
conference and we were able to distribute literature and collect 130 signatures (about half of conference delegates)
for our open letter to the US trade union movement, including many of the
leaders of the union. There was a lot of interest in our stall, delegates were
keen to hear about events in Latin America and we had some very interesting
discussions. We also made some important new links for the campaign with
several delegates agreeing to organise film screenings in their colleges.
We held a joint fringe meeting, with Justice For Columbia
and the Cuban Ambassador in the conference hall on Saturday evening. The
attendance, of around 35, was not bad considering it was cut across to some
extent by the late finish of conference and other meetings taking place at the
Zelmys Dominguez, Political Counsellor of the Cuban Embassy
spoke first and highlighted the role that Cuba has played in helping other
countries around the world develop their health and education systems by
providing teachers and doctors. This has been very important in Venezuela. She
also explained that US imperialism has been trying to isolate Cuba, and that
international labour movement support has been important.
The next to speak was Hubert de Jesus Ballesteros, Deputy
Leader of the Fensuagro, the Colombian agricultural workers union, who talked
about the climate of repression that exists for trade unionists in Colombia. He
explained that assassination of leaders and activists is a standard way for the
bosses to deal with the unions, and even ‘respectable’ multinationals are
implicated in this.
Noting that there are stark contrasts in Latin America, from
the severe repression of Colombia to the situation in Venezuela that is
strongly in favour of the working class, the chair, NEC member Maire Daley,
introduced Jorge Martin from the Hands Off Venezuela campaign.
Jorge talked about recent pressure by US imperialism to
isolate Venezuela diplomatically. A recent article by Otto Reich, describes
Castro and Chavez as an axis of evil, while high profile trips to Latin America
by Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfelt have attempted to stir up opposition.
These attempts have so far been unsuccessful.
He explained that the masses have been the driving force of
the revolution at every stage, first in overturning the successful opposition
coup, then in saving the economy by taking over the running of industry at the
time of the bosses lockout and finally in defeating the opposition during the
recall referendum. He went on to list the social gains of the revolution which
include the nationalisation of certain factories under workers control, the
distribution of unused land to the peasants and the extensive social programme
which is introducing universal healthcare and eradicating illiteracy.
There was a lively discussion that focused on how best to
build links with the workers in each of these countries, especially Colombia
and Venezuela, and on what we can do to help. The meeting helped to prepare the
ground for the motion before conference to support Venezuela.
The motion on Venezuela was heard in the international
discussion on Monday morning. The mover of the motion, Darrel Cozens from West
Midlands region, drew attention to the gains that the revolution has meant for
ordinary people, pointing to the social programmes that are bringing health and
education to young and old. He also explained that Venezuela has become a
beacon of hope to the oppressed across Latin America, noting especially the
recent demonstrations and uprisings in Bolivia over multinationals exploiting
the country’s gas reserves.
The speakers on the motion were very well received and the
motion unanimously supported. This opens the way for greater links between this
union and those in Venezuela and this will be further advanced by the
commitment to participate in a joint union delegation to Venezuela to see the
revolution in action.
The conference was a step forward for the campaign and has
given us many new links and points off support to build upon. The task now is
to follow up on these and use them to spread the word about the Bolivarian
Revolution and Hands Off Venezuela, to which NATFHE already agree to affiliate
at last year’s conference.
Text of the motion:
This conference congratulates and supports the Bolivarian
Revolution and the Venezuelan government for utilising the country’s wealth and
resources for reforms to benefit the working class, the poor and the landless.
Conference views with alarm however the bellicose statements
being made by the USA and its allies Columbia and the financial oligarchy in
Venezuela which pose a real threat to these reforms.
Conference agrees to join with the NUJ to organise a trade
union delegation to Venezuela in solidarity with the Revolution and to support
a delegation to the World Youth Festival in Caracas in August 2005.
Key signatories to the Open Letter to US Trade Unionists.
Fawzi Ibrahim, NATFHE, Treasurer
Paul Mackney, NATFHE, General Secretary
NATFHE, Ex – President
Paul Bennett, NATFHE, Fulltime Officer
M. Daley, NATFHE, NEC
D. Armstrong, NATFHE, NEC
J. Clay, NATFHE, NEC
M. Jardine, NATFHE, NEC
Stephanie Sanders, NATFHE, NEC