[News] Venezuela - Building ‘Patria’: A Conversation with Sergio Requena of the Productive Workers’ Army
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 16 13:22:59 EST 2018
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. 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 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
[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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
First, I should clarify something. We don’t only repair machinery, we
also repair consciousnesses. There is a mystique 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
As a result of this, the plant’s workers get organized in workers’
councils, in feminist brigades, and in Productive Workers’ Councils
(CPT). 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” 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,
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 . 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
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.
 CARBONORCA is state-owned plant producing anodes, a component needed
to process aluminum.
 CORPIVENSA is a state institution whose mission is to encourage
industrial sovereignty and productivity.
 In progressive Latin American contexts, mística or mystique refers
to nonmaterial values such as morale, hope, and confidence.
 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.
 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.
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the News