[News] Venezuela - Building ‘Patria’: A Conversation with Sergio Requena of the Productive Workers’ Army

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 16 13:22:59 EST 2018


https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14149


  Building ‘Patria’: A Conversation with Sergio Requena of the
  Productive Workers’ Army

By Cira Pascual Marquina - Nov 16th 2018
------------------------------------------------------------------------

/Born in 1974 in Puerto Ordaz, in the industrial heartland of Venezuela, 
Sergio Requena is a worker at CVG CARBONORCA[1]. He is a key player in 
the formation of the “Productive Workers’ Army 
<https://ejercitoproductivoobrero.wordpress.com/>,” a voluntary 
initiative that takes on the challenge of jumpstarting industrial plants 
(both state‐owned and worker‐controlled). Since 2016, the organization’s 
“Productive Workers’ Battles” have become a reference amongst those 
committed to rebuilding the industrial muscle of the nation. The project 
has brought hundreds of workers together and put some twelve industrial 
plants back on their feet. Of the twelve Workers’ Battles carried out by 
this volunteer brigade, eight happened while Requena headed 
CORPIVENSA[2] and was able to channel some state resources to the 
initiative. Today that support has dried up, but the struggle continues./

*I would like to begin by asking you to give us a brief overview of the 
situation of Venezuela's state-owned factories today.*

As is the case with most of Venezuela’s productive apparatus, the state 
enterprises are in crisis. Furthermore, those enterprises are fragmented 
and disjointed: each plant, each factory has its own specific objective, 
its own logic, meaning that there is a large number of isolated 
initiatives. Each is on its own, with nothing bringing them together in 
a network, because there isn’t a national production plan, nor is there 
a plan that would organize even the whole state-owned sector.

To make matters worse, there are some deliberate obstacles put up to 
production from within, from the enterprises’ leadership. So the main 
problem is that there isn’t a centralized production plan, but add to 
that the fact that within the crisis (and the disorder that comes with 
it) some particular economic interests have surfaced, and you get the 
picture.

[State firms form] an archipelago of islands, each with its own little 
ruler, who single-handedly decides if the enterprise will produce, under 
what conditions, what happens with the product, etc. Additionally, he 
decides who they will contract to acquire raw materials and services. In 
general, a director will contract outside of the state-owned 
enterprises, and will do so with the aim of seeking personal economic 
benefits.

When President Maduro launched the Economic Recovery Plan 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/tag/economic-recovery-plan>, he referred 
to the fact that there are many companies producing very little or 
nothing at all. Our view is that there are two roots to the problem: 
there is no productive plan for state enterprises, and private 
objectives and interests organize production (or lack thereof) in 
state-owned plants.

There is another bottleneck: in many of these plants, the bosses argue 
that production has come to a halt because the enterprise doesn’t have 
funds to purchase the machine parts that need to be acquired so that the 
operations can get back on track. But it turns out that the machine 
parts that have to be replaced come from abroad and must be purchased in 
US dollars.

Historically in Venezuela, and especially in state enterprises, machines 
and machine parts came from abroad and were purchased in dollars. All 
this happened without finding out if within the country, and 
particularly within state enterprises, partnerships could be found 
leading to joint solutions. Today, the bosses continue to request 
dollars (which are not available) and they justify the stalled 
production by pointing to funding limitations instead of looking for 
solutions that can be found within [the country].

*You are part of a collective volunteer project for the recovery of the 
country's productive apparatus, both state-owned and worker-controlled 
enterprises, which has come to be known as the “Productive Workers’ 
Army.” In 2016, a group of workers from the industrial heartland of 
Venezuela in Bolívar State began to recover a state enterprise called 
“La Gaviota,” a fish processing plant. Can you tell us about this 
initiative?*

I would like to begin by going back to 2013. It was the beginning of the 
crisis, and the workers of three privately-owned factories occupied the 
plants after the owners infringed workers’ rights and sabotaged 
production. The companies were Indorca 
<http://indorca.com/quienes-somos/>, Calderys 
<http://www.minppibes.gob.ve/web-final/noticias.php?id_noticia_busqueda=667>, 
and Equipetrol in Guyana's industrial ring. The process of recovering 
the plants was collective and very efficient. Soon after their 
occupation, the plants were back on a regular production schedule. These 
three plants continue to operate under worker control.

Three years later, in February 2016, folks from La Gaviota in Cumana 
[Sucre State], a state‐owned plant, invited workers from Indocra, 
Calderys, and Equipetrol plus others to jumpstart the fish flour plant’s 
industrial oven. It was a five-day journey where the knowledge of each 
worker plus a lot of collective creativity (and sacrifice) allowed us to 
jumpstart production. We did this with no resources beyond our knowledge 
and our tools… Really, in five days we were able to raise production 
from zero to 100 percent!

During those five days, we worked long hours and slept in the plant. The 
work was voluntary and the whole process of recovery became a crash 
course – we all learned a lot, and all the workers who participated were 
remoralized. The fact is that each “Productive Workers’ Battle” is a 
school in which we teach each other, we share knowledge, and we look for 
solutions collectively...

And this brings us back to what I was saying earlier: by now there is 
plenty of evidence that workers are capable of recovering stalled 
factories and that large investments are not necessarily needed, even 
when production has dropped to zero.

*La Gaviota was the first in a long and ongoing campaign to recover 
state‐owned factories and factories under worker control.*

Yes, after La Gaviota we went to Maquinarias Barinas in Barinas State, 
and there we waged the second battle. In the factory, an important part 
of the machinery was non‐operative. Actually, there was a machine room 
with all new equipment that had never been made operative. It was never 
put to use and repairs were needed. We left it at about 80 percent of 
its productive capacity.

Again, the collective process of getting the plant back on its feet 
(well, on its feet for the first time!) remoralized the factory’s staff.

In this battle, we also implemented a parallel learning space, an 
initiative that is now key to every battle and that we call “Collective, 
Integral and Permanent Self-Formation.” We organized a workshop on 
freehand drawing of mechanical parts.

Then, in March of 2017, we carried out a battle in Planta Madre 
Wuanaguanare, a factory that produces food-processing machinery in 
Portuguesa State.

Little by little the Productive Workers’ Battles began to draw 
attention. They began to be known, and we got an invitation to head up 
CORPIVENSA, a state initiative to promote industrial and productive 
sovereignty in the country. During the seven-month period that we were 
in CORPIVENSA, we were able to carry out eight “productive battles.” 
Since we had institutional support, we had that extra muscle. Of the 
eight productive battles that we carried out during that period, four 
were in gas cylinder plants, and one was in a Nutrichicha plant that 
produces rice-based drinks for the School Alimentation Plan. We also 
waged another battle in La Gaviota, and finally a battle at the Amuay 
Oil Refinery in Falcon State <https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/14059>.

We have had 12 productive battles in total, and we have begun to call 
ourselves a “Productive Workers’ Army.” Some 2,200 people have 
participated in these battles, so we feel that we are an army that can 
be deployed to any plant in any state to raise productivity.

Our army is very varied… Our army is made up of both active workers and 
retired workers, both workers from the public and the private sector – 
in short, people with very diverse experiences. But the most important 
thing about our army is that it is made up of revolutionaries who want 
to overcome the current crisis…

*When you go to a factory, your main goal is to jumpstart production, 
but the educational process is also very important. Can you tell us more 
about this?*

First, I should clarify something. We don’t only repair machinery, we 
also repair consciousnesses. There is a mystique[3] to the whole 
process. When the Productive Army goes into a factory, a process of 
remoralization begins. The plants’ workers participate in the recovery 
of their factory and transform their own reality. This practice of doing 
(this praxis, if you will) opens the way to what Che called creating the 
new man and the new woman. Jumpstarting production with our own hands, 
with limited resources, getting the factory back on its feet, yes, all 
that is important. But if we do that and we fail to remoralize workers, 
then the plant will fall back into its earlier slumber.

Raising morale is through praxis, that is key for us, but we also foster 
parallel collective educational activities, as I said before when we 
mentioned the ongoing “Collective, Integral and Permanent 
Self-Formation” that we undertake. During the Productive Battles, we 
share experiences – skills acquired through work – and we also address 
organizational problems.

As a result of this, the plant’s workers get organized in workers’ 
councils, in feminist brigades, and in Productive Workers’ Councils 
(CPT)[4]. Ensuring that some form of organization grows out of the 
experience is fundamental, as workers’ organization is the only thing 
that will guarantee the continued production in a plant.

Basically, our main goal is to break with the inertia that installs 
itself due to bureaucracy: inertia that ends up killing production. 
After we leave, there must be internal conditions (not only material 
conditions) to continue the work, and that is why we emphasize organization.

*The “Chinese Model”[5] has discursively entered the public sphere. On 
the other hand, your model is a socialist model that points to workers’ 
control and seeks to bring solutions to our problems from below and from 
within. It could even be called a Guevarist and patriotic model, 
couldn't it?*

We refer to our effort, our collective epic struggle, as an “Admirable 
Campaign,” a term that recalls Bolivar’s campaign for the liberation of 
Venezuela’s western regions [1813]. We understand that there is a crisis 
situation, with some elements of conspiracy and economic war. Yet on top 
of that, there are serious management problems in public enterprises, 
corruption and other interests that don’t contribute to a solution. 
Faced with this complex situation, many are looking for solutions elsewhere.

For our part, we cast our lot with the people of Venezuela. The gaze of 
Venezuela has historically been directed to the exterior: we felt that 
we couldn't solve our own problems. Chavez offered a brief respite from 
that logic; with him, we were able to see what we had, we recognized 
ourselves. I think it is time that we begin again to acknowledge that we 
can do things, that we do have skills. Our productive apparatus has 
practically come to a complete halt, but there are thousands of men and 
women who are committed to coming out of this crisis, and they have 
incorporated themselves to the Productive Workers’ Army. These workers 
do not want to be spectators. They want to be subjects again, 
reactivating our participatory and protagonic democracy.

So indeed our proposal is patriotic. We believe that we can do and make 
things, that we aren’t doomed. We have a strong conviction that the 
people, the workers, the working class… together we can bring ourselves 
out of the crisis that we face in the industrial sector and elsewhere. 
We are the ones who will build the sovereign and emancipated Patria 
[homeland] that Chavez aspired to create with the protagonic 
participation of the people. We are convinced that we can do this, that 
patriotic Venezuelans can do this, although we will always welcome with 
wide open arms comrades from other countries, people who are committed 
to socialism. But this is a war that we have to wage and that we must 
win. Only the people of Venezuela can solve the problems of Venezuela, 
and from our point of view, this must be done with Chavez and with 
commitment to participatory and protagonic democracy.

*One of the most intense debates within Chavismo right now is the debate 
about the “ethical referent” and the need (since Chavez’s death) to 
point to exemplary experiences that might bring the project out of the 
stagnation that we are facing now. There is a mystique around El Maizal 
Commune <https://venezuelanalysis.com/tag/el-maizal> and the Admirable 
Campesino March <https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/13966>, but in the 
working class, in the industrial sector, the Productive Workers’ Army 
has become a referent as well. Can you talk about this?*

When we talk about ethical referents, we must talk about revolutionary 
coherence, and revolutionary coherence is a kind of North Star that 
guides our praxis. Our objective is to help to recuperate the productive 
apparatus of the nation. For this to happen, as I said before, there 
must be a process of remoralization and organization, which is key to 
the success of our initiatives.

In the Productive Workers’ Army we teach by example, with a praxis that 
brings together political and social commitment with work. So we hope 
that we will carry with us a school for the workers with whom we work, 
arm in arm, during the Productive Battles.

Sacrifice is, like it or not, an essential part of our epic struggle. We 
often travel for thousands of kilometers to get to a factory; we leave 
our family behind; we sleep very little and when we do, we sleep in the 
plant… All this tends to change the plant's dynamics. We can actually 
say that we – the hundreds of men and women of the Army – teach by 
example. The sacrifice that a Battle entails is key to a shift towards a 
revolutionary ethos.

All this, of course, happens with President Chavez as a guiding light. 
His example fills us with strength day in and day out. He taught by 
example and he sacrificed himself for us. In return, we commit our lives 
to our country.


    Notes

[1] CARBONORCA is state-owned plant producing anodes, a component needed 
to process aluminum.
[2] CORPIVENSA is a state institution whose mission is to encourage 
industrial sovereignty and productivity.
[3] In progressive Latin American contexts, mística or mystique refers 
to nonmaterial values such as morale, hope, and confidence.
[4] A Productive Workers’ Council (CTP for its Spanish initials) is an 
organizational figure promoted by a February 2018 Constituent Assembly 
law. CTPs are meant to encourage production in a plant or factory, be it 
public or private.
[5] The term “Chinese Model” is used in Venezuela to refer to the 
growing participation of Chinese capital in the reorganization of the 
economy. Chinese officials are also assuming advisory roles in the 
Caribbean nation, encouraging “development” initiatives such as “Special 
Development Zones”: territories where certain laws do not apply to 
encourage foreign investment.

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