Venezuela: Teacher conflict. Strengths, weaknesses and needs

By Marea Socialista

The teachers’ struggle for salaries, for the discussion of the collective contract and for decent general working conditions, has clearly shown that there is enormous discontent and willingness to fight.

In the first fortnight of January, with all vestiges of salary and profits gone, despite the granting of a meager bonus of 580 Bs, the salaried workers reconfirmed the pittance that the government allocates to teachers in its budget. And, worst of all, in the midst of the ordeal of living without a salary, the rumors about the II Convención Única de Trabajadores de la Educación (II Unified Convention of Education Workers) once again expose the bureaucrats of the different federations and unions, who are accomplices of the government in the destruction of the quality of life and of public education.

A lot of impetus and willingness to fight from below

The numerous marches and mobilizations that we have had and have been seen in several states of the country are a true reflection of the disposition nested at the grassroots level in the teaching sector. It is the weariness of having to deal with survival conditions constantly, both at work and in daily life and, as if that were not enough, to witness the cynicism of the government authorities showing off their luxuries and uttering constant disqualifications and threats to those who raise their voices in protest.

Teachers refuse to continue carrying public education without their salary and with despotism, while the government destroys it. For years they have had to endure despot treatment by the educational authorities and terrible conditions of infrastructure and resources in which it is unsustainable to “resist” as proposed by the Ministry of Education and the Presidency of the Republic itself, while they plan how to stop the mobilizations and overexert the teachers from air-conditioned offices.

The union leaderships are playing their own game

The spirit and desire to fight that can be seen everywhere underneath has nothing to do with any union leadership. It is a situation that is highlighted precisely in the midst of each conflict, because, if there is something that has been lost in this country, it is undoubtedly the exercise of a true union praxis.

The federations and unions that act as “leadership”, handle the conflict aligned to their interests. They act functionally towards the bosses, trying to contain the desire of the workers to advance towards measures that really allow them to bend the government’s arm.

The priority of these bureaucratic union leaderships is their own comfort and to maintain their figure at the level of public opinion, making use of the relationship and the advantages they have with the private media essentially, from where they present themselves with a very combative approach in appearance, but what they really seek is to allow them to gain influence in the negotiations at the top, whose pawns are moved from above by their bosses’ partisan political organizations (the heads of the parties to which they belong and which are at the service of the rich and business class).

While all this is going on, the conflict is advancing without qualification from the organizational or political point of view and with very weak programmatic proposals. It is obviously known that the main axis driving the current struggles are wages, but there is no collective clarity on what other demands and methods would enhance such claim and contribute to strengthen and call more sectors to struggle and mobilize.

Such conclusions are not something that unpromptedly occur. Tools are needed. That is why it is so necessary to hold assemblies and provide spaces for genuine deliberative exercise, to take stock, to correct weaknesses and to have a full notion of the strengths, the paths to follow and the strategies.

In addition, the issue of wages and working conditions is not an issue that can be solved completely in each working sector separately, since it implies achieving the change of policies of national scope or defeating the plans that the government has been imposing for purposes absolutely different from the interest and needs of the working class. Therefore, whatever is done in the teaching profession to improve educational and working conditions has to be in convergence with other sectors of production and service workers in the country. It is a question that involves the whole salaried class.

Creating conflict committees

If the main strength of the teachers’ conflict is from below, from there everything that will give it scope from the positive point of view has to emerge. And the conflict committees are precisely for that, to solve the organizational and political problem of the struggle.

To understand who is being confronted, is to specify that the government, in matters of wage policy and labor rights, counts on the alliance of the private sector and the employers, who are more than satisfied with the officialization of a minimum wage of misery (we call it “zero wage”) and the bonus of the same (without incidence in other benefits or in the benefits).

On the one hand, this should serve us to summon the workers of the private sector to this struggle, and on the other hand, also to characterize together the discourse of some union leaders, who focus their attack against the government (public employer) but leave the private sector unscathed, disarming us to fight against this employer sector. This is not a coincidence or a simple mistake. It is the line of those who are acting in the workers’ struggles as transmission belts of pro-private employer policies.

These issues are part of the theoretical, practical, trade union and political enrichment that every conflict must have, to qualify it in such a way that it aims at its development and fructification and not that it happens as in so many other occasions that, after the rise, comes the wear and tear and later frustration.

The conflict committees are to legitimize the voices of the teachers, of the mobilized education workers with the purpose of recovering our salary as established in Art. 91 of the CRBV (that has as a reference the cost of the basic basket of goods), to achieve the discussion of the collective contracts, to obtain the freedom of the workers imprisoned for fighting or that the possibility of a strike in the sector does not remain in the hands of some conciliatory union bureaucrats, but rather that it be part of a plan of struggle designed, discussed and ordered by all of us.

What is a conflict committee?

A conflict committee is an organism that is constituted in each work center, with spokesmen and spokeswomen chosen in assembly, who have the task of contributing to the leadership of a group of workers in a struggle or to prepare it, and that distributes the responsibilities and tasks to be shared with all the workers in their work center, zone or area of work that it covers.

Among these tasks are, for example, bringing union information, the dissemination of information and the use of social networks, the relationship with other organizations, the collection and use of resources for the struggle, the consultation with the base and the intervention in higher instances, the recording of proposals and decisions, security issues… among other competencies and activities.

In the teaching profession there have been experiences with conflict committees, delegates by work center and the articulation of delegates from different schools by educational zones and other levels. In numerous national strikes in the 80’s and 90’s, the figure of the zonal commands stood out, with delegations of the conflict committees of the schools, which united and coordinated the teachers of entire zones and even of all Caracas and other cities, made their plans of action, disputed with the union bureaucracies in the general assemblies to assure democracy and combativeness or to prevent the surrender of the struggle. They were the stone in the shoe for the bureaucrats and for the authorities in the face of their compromises. This is a history that must be recovered. And this is valid for the whole of the working class in struggle.

The urgent need to have a political tool of our own

Regarding the fight that the teachers and the whole educational sector have been giving, there are needs that are not going to be solved only in the trade union field, for what we say above and also because ultimately the elimination of labor rights is the consequence of the central policy of the government of Nicolás Maduro, clearly anti-worker, anti-popular, a clear enemy of the workers.

It is not correct to confuse the political interests of the bosses’ parties with the need for workers to politicize ourselves in order to intervene in every fight for our rights.

If the working class had its own political organization, with its own program, with its own theoretical elements and with its own class approaches, we would never be in the cornered situation to which the bosses, with the government at the head, have led us.

The whole framework of crisis and the present conflict we are going through, make evident the need we have of having a political tool from where to prepare ourselves for the fight and to put into perspective what kind of government we, the workers and the popular sectors, really need.

We at Marea are at the service of this task and many more. Come and participate with us in the various discussions and activities that we are undertaking organically, contributing to all these debates and actions that we urgently need to address.