On February 28th, Judge Magda Hidalgo, head of the Sixth Tribunal in Puerto Ordaz, handed down the infamous sentence: 7 years, 6 months, 22 days and 12 hours in jail for Rubén González, General Secretary general of the Sintraferrominera ironworkers’ union in the Orinoco region. He was found guilty of ‘incitement to commit crimes’, and ‘violating designated security areas’ for his participation in the 15-day strike at the Ferrmoninera Orinoco mine in San Isidro in August 2009. The strike was agreed the previous month in a workers’ assembly, with the aim of demanding enforcement of the collective bargaining agreement.
Rubén González has been in prison since September 2009, just weeks after the strike. Government departments carried out the instructions of their boss, Hugo Chávez, to the letter. In Guayana, some months earlier, in March, Chávez had made a real threat and declared war on the working class in the area: if they took part in strikes or work stoppages for their rights, they were to be dealt with directly by him. Referring to the possibility of strikes, Chavez compared them with the strike and sabotage of the oil bosses and the bourgeois opposition in 2002-2003, and questioned the call for a strike with the words: “If you shut down the factory just because you don’t approve of some measure or other, that is sabotage (…) we will not tolerate that (…) I have already faced the PDVSA strike, and nothing could be more serious than that. I’m already tested in that war. I told them to go ahead and bring everything to standstill, and see what I would do do. But bear one thing in mind, I said, if you do you will have to deal with me, because you are meddling with me directly (…) those who stop a state enterprise are messing with the head of state.” Not content with that, at that very moment, in front of the television cameras, he gave instructions to ‘intelligence agencies’ to act against union leaders who promote strikes.
Today was the 28th and last session of the trial that began in September 2010. Scores of workers passed through the court testifying in favour of Rubén González, but the wretched judge only took note of five government witnesses called by attorney Fátima Urdaneta, who had the miserable task of prosecuting the workers’ leader on behalf of the state,
The conviction of González takes place at the same time as the national government is arranging a deal with the bourgeois opposition for the release of politicians involved in corruption, violations of human rights and attempted coups. Some days ago the government ordered the release of two of these ‘pitiyanquis’ bourgeois politicians, while today it condemned a working class fighter. Another example of the falseness of the ‘revolutionary’ and ‘socialist’ rhetoric of this government – a sign of its truly bourgeois class character – is that, while prosecuting hundreds of workers and peasants for participating in struggles against the exploitation and misery of capitalist society and condemning a labour leader to years in prison for striking in defence of workers’ rights, in December 2007 it declared an amnesty for the perpetrators of the coup, the strike and the sabotage, and has just released two of the reactionary politicians. For the bourgeoisie and its politicians, impunity; for those who fight on behalf of the working class and the poor, criminalization and imprisonment! With ‘revolutionary’ and ‘socialist’ governments like this the big capitalists can rest easy!
The government that calls itself ‘pro-worker’ has been taking on those sectors of the working class that have been fighting for their rights, those who are not prepared to wait until the state ‘resolves’ their problems, and those who refuse to obey the dictates of the governmental party or the trade union bureaucracy traitors. These attacks have particular force in Guayana, one of the main areas of labour unrest. It was in Guayana where Chávez threatened the workers, where the great struggle of the Sidor workers forced him to break the pact with Techint and nationalise Sidor, where there are dozens of workers facing prosecution, and where Rubén González has been jailed.
In Guayana workers are suffering from a crisis in the basic industries. The government has shown once again that in the interests of transnational capital, it is willing to trample on workers’ rights and redouble the chains of oppression. It pays its debts to the imperialist and domestic banks religiously, and pays out large sums of money for the so-called ‘expropriation’ of capitalist enterprises like the takeover of Techint by Sidor – one of the crisis-ridden ‘strategic enterprises’ in whose name strikes have been outlawed – but workers face terrible conditions, the price of which in many cases is industrial accidents, as well as job insecurity, late payment of wages, breaches of contract, and the outsourcing of thousands of jobs which places them outside collective agreements. And if this was not enough, there is now the threat of criminalisation and prison for those who resist this situation.
With the conviction of Rubén González the national government is seeking to ‘discipline’ workers who are fighting back and teach them a lesson. This creates an ominous precedent that we must resist. We must redouble our efforts to free this prisoner of the bourgeois state, a state led today by this farcical ‘revolutionary’ government.
The Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo (LTS) has committed its forces to this cause, first by setting up a campaign of our own, and later by promoting the Committee for the Release of Rubén González, alongside brothers and sisters from other organisations and independent activists. We strongly condemn this sentence and denounce those sections of the left who are subordinate to the government and have become accomplices of this attack by not saying a word and refusing to lift a finger to defend the most elemental rights of the workers. We call on workers and democratic organisations to form a broad united front to release González and prevent the extension of this attack on the entire working class. On hearing his sentence, comrade González said: “I will be in jail but I did what I had to do.” His words must be an inspiration to all in the workers’ movement: we must do what is necessary to defend the right of workers to fight back against exploitation, poverty and oppression.
February 28th 2011
LIGA DE TRABAJADORES POR EL SOCIALISMO
Thanks to Leonardo Kosloff for his translation