International reports from Socialist Voice, January 2003

Venezuela: Bosses 'Strike' to Oust Chavez

by Michael O'Brien

FOR THE second time in the space of a year the ruling class in Venezuela have made a concerted drive to unseat the democratically elected populist President Hugo Chavez.

An attempted coup disguised as a strike hitting the oil industry, docks and retail sector has been conducted in order to foster sufficient discontent in the population to force Chavez’s overthrow. Protests for and against him have again broken down along class lines. The rich, their media, their church and right wing trade union leaders are calling for a referendum on 2 February over Chavez’s tenure as president while the urban and rural poor, organised in Bolivarian Circles, are turning out in their thousands to defend him. The state apparatus, including the army, is similarly split.

The “strike” was initiated from above by the employers with the support of some right-wing union leaders. Effectively it was a lockout with the wages of many being paid throughout. With the support of thousands of workers in demonstrations as well as aid from the Lula-led Brazilian administration, Chavez has managed to hold on so far. By the end of December the lure of profits from the Christmas season saw the retail sector resuming activity. Interventions by troops in the oil industry saw most work restart. The majority of workers have been unwilling to defend the lockout.

However it would be wrong to assume that there hasn’t been growing dissatisfaction with Chavez amongst workers and middle class people. He secured 70% of the vote in 1998. Important reforms have taken place in terms of the distribution of unoccupied land amongst the poor, rooting out corruption and the extension of free education, but working people have endured galloping inflation eroding their living standards. Much of the economic chaos is due to the flight of capital that has taken place over the last year, running into billions of dollars.

While the decline in support for Chavez among workers doesn’t necessarily imply support for those seeking his overthrow what it will mean is that less people will be motivated to defend him when the right wing seeks his removal in the future. The reforms haven’t fundamentally challenged big business interests, but they have been a sufficient irritant to cause the right wing and the US to seek his overthrow.

Both his initial election, with the accompanying reforms, and the defeat of the coup in April last year gave Chavez the momentum to carry out more far reaching change in line with his early anti-WTO and IMF rhetoric.

However the initiative was lost on both occasions. Populists by nature seek to balance the interests of the contending classes but with the backdrop of an emerging global economic crisis they end up satisfying nobody.

His concessions to the right wing forces in slowing up reforms and discouraging decisive action by workers and the poor against the bosses has served to embolden the opposition. Some coup plotters in the army and oil industry have even regained their posts.

Chavez is determined to remain in place and face elections in the Autumn as per the constitution. However unless the economic levers of the country are taken out of the hands of the ruling class by Chavez and the aspirations of the poor, workers and middle classes are satisfied, there is no guarantee that he can count on the electorate.

The Bolivarian circles’ role should extend beyond propaganda and organising demonstrations to take on the running of society in the interests of the majority. This can only be delivered with a socialist programme. Without this course disillusionment and disorientation can set in and the bosses will have their day.

North Korea: Another Nuclear Stand-Off

by Brian Cahill

A DANGEROUS conflict is developing between North Korea and the United States over nuclear armaments. North Korea has expelled United Nations inspectors and has reactivated a nuclear facility at Yongbyon. The United States is threatening the Koreans with economic sanctions in response. Already energy aid, promised under a 1994 agreement, has been cut off.

The changes in American foreign policy since George Bush came to power are central to the clash. Soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Bush spoke of an "axis of evil", including Iran, Iraq and North Korea. The Bush administration has taken a less cautious attitude towards establishing US domination of the world than his immediate predecessor, Bill Clinton.

Clinton's policy on North Korea was based on cooperation with South Korea and Japan in seeking to kill the Stalinist state slowly and to reabsorb it into the world capitalist system. Economic aid was offered to ease the decline of the North Korean economy and to stave off any sudden collapse of Kim Jong-Il's regime. Bush's sabre-rattling represents a move away from this approach.

As the North Korean economy has declined, the Stalinist bureaucracy that rules the country has become less stable. Attempts to develop nuclear weaponry represent a sign of this desperation. With a more aggressive regime also running US imperialism, the consequences could be dire.

The South Korean state is concerned at these developments and the disruption of its "Sunshine" policy towards the North. It fears that it could have to deal with millions of refugees or even a military attack if the economic crisis in the North reaches meltdown.

Anti-American sentiment is on the rise amongst ordinary South Koreans. Hundreds of thousands marched in protest after an American military court released soldiers who had run over and killed two children. Many of the protestors called for the withdrawal of the 37,000 American troops in South Korea.

Given the preoccupation of the United States with finding a pretext for war on Iraq, the most likely outcome to the present stand-off would appear to be some kind of diplomatic fudge.

Italy: Protests and Strike Continue

OVER THE Christmas period, mass demonstrations and blockades were organised in various Italian towns by FIAT workers under threat of losing their jobs.

Thousands of workers have gone on strike all over Italy and mass demonstrations have been organised in most major cities. On 16 December, other FIAT workers across Europe joined their Italian colleagues in a two-hour European-wide strike. FIAT is one of the biggest employers in Italy. The government's proposals to "save" the company do not safeguard any of the 8,100 jobs under threat.

The main reasoning behind the proposals is increasing Berlusconi's influence in a key sector of the Italian economy, with one of his close associates proposed as the new top-manager. These proposals have been rejected so far. Berlusconi has openly voiced his hostility to the workers, even stating that they could look for work in the black economy!

Other sectors of workers, including transport and metal workers are preparing new strikes for this month. Protests against cuts in education are ongoing and a new general strike is also being planned for this month.

The cost of living has risen drastically over the past year (the two Italian statistical offices have brought out vastly differing inflation figures from 3.8% to 29% for 2002!). The economy is in dire straits and further cuts are on the cards. Berlusconi is facing another year of intense struggle against his government of big business.

For further news of the events in Italy, visit the sitemap.