Marxists, evangelicals, business executives, working class activists — meet Mexico’s strange new ruling coalition

“A good overview by a reporter who knows Mexico’ – Ben Davis, United Steelworkers.

By Dudley Althaus, Washington Post, July 6th

In winning Mexico’s presidency by a landslide, Andrés Manuel López Obrador is carrying with him into office an untested swarm of politicians and neophyte bureaucrats of disparate ideologies, skills and intentions.

Now he’ll have to govern with them.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the new president of Mexico.

López Obrador took 53 percent of the vote Sunday — a full 30 percentage points over his nearest rival — and triumphed in all but one of Mexico’s 32 states. The coalition led by his National Regeneration Movement, known as Morena, will probably control both houses of the National Congress, key statehouses and legislatures, and some of the country’s largest cities for at least the next few years.

López Obrador is a veteran leader of the left. But his coalition’s new office holders include social progressives and evangelical Christians, committed Marxists and pragmatic entrepreneurs, longtime rebels and reviled former leaders of the once monolithic Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Morena’s challenge is “to maintain the integrity of our majority,” said Higinio Martínez Miranda, 62, the mayor of the Mexico City suburb of Texcoco, who claimed a Senate seat on Sunday. “We come from many different paths.”

Other Senate winners for Morena include the fugitive exiled leader of Mexico’s miners union, a onetime U.S. immigrant freed from jail in 2016 after facing kidnapping charges and — most gratingly for many López Obrador supporters — the man widely blamed for a fraud-tinged 1988 election that denied a previous leftist candidate the presidency.

Scores of inexperienced lawmakers will take office Sept. 1. Thousands of state and federal jobs will have to be filled with movement loyalists also capable of public administration. First-time cabinet secretaries, governors and mayors alike will struggle to impose López Obrador’s ­zero-tolerance order for corruption in bureaucracies long oiled by it.

“It will be a learning process,” said Luis Valdepeña, a longtime leftist activist sporting a graying ponytail and goatee who helped lead the Morena campaign here in Ecatepec, a raw and impoverished sprawl of 1.6 million people bordering Mexico City. “Nothing is going to happen right away.”

Morena trounced the PRI in Ecatepec and across the state of Mexico, the country’s most populous. The state had been a PRI bastion for nearly a century — President Enrique Peña Nieto was governor here, the beneficiary of a political machine that dominated the state for decades.

But the PRI held on to only three of 45 state assembly seats. Morena also claims 38 of the state’s 41 seats in the federal Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, and 44 of 125 city halls, including those in the teeming working-class suburbs of Mexico City that account for most of the state’s population.

The party’s mayor-elect here in Ecatepec, Fernando Vilchis, is a lawyer and longtime leader of a left-leaning grass-roots organization but has never held public office. He will now have to administer one of Mexico’s largest, poorest and most violent cities. Ecatepec employs more than 6,500 people, including about 2,500 police officers.

“We are going to bring in experts to train people, including in the most important issue, which is honesty,” said Vilchis, 42. “There are some people who despite being from other parties are good public servants. One thing is a lack of training, another is a failure to govern. Past governments didn’t want to.”

Some residents doubt Vilchis and his team are up to the task.

“He doesn’t have a political career,” said Victor Villanueva, a 65-year-old PRI stalwart whose father held elective posts in the city for decades. “We don’t know with whom he is going to govern, and this city has many problems.”

López Obrador founded Morena little more than four years ago after the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD — on whose ticket he lost two previous presidential runs — made a pact with the PRI and center-right National Action Party to pass free-market energy, education and labor overhauls reviled by many on the left.

The party started small, with just other PRD deserters, and built slowly by attracting independent unions and those fleeing the other parties. In its debut election in 2015, Morena won about 8 percent of the vote in federal midterm elections, as well as five of Mexico City’s 16 districts and city halls and state assembly seats elsewhere.

The coalition led by Morena in this year’s election includes the Workers’ Party, which condemns capitalism as the root of Mexico’s inequality, and the conservative Social Encounter Party, or PES. The PES is a tiny evangelical Christian party that supports ­López Obrador’s anti-corruption message but little of his more socially liberal agenda.

Striving to forge even wider consensus, López Obrador has spent this week making nice with his political rivals and Mexico’s powerful business organizations, trying to calm both investors and the public.

After meeting with Peña Nieto, the president-elect said that his administration would respect the independence of Mexico’s central bank and would not be seizing any private property. Mexico’s trade-focused and business-friendly macroeconomic policies would continue, he said.

“We have to agree on many issues,” López Obrador said of Peña Nieto, who leaves office Dec. 1. “That there are no shocks, that there is confidence in economic and financial matters. Above all, that peace and tranquility be guaranteed in this transition period.”

Maintaining the economic status quo may not sit well with many of López Obrador’s more radical followers. Neither will the electoral deals López Obrador made with political leaders, many of them formerly tied to the PRI, to win niche votes.

Manuel Bartlett, the former ­interior minister accused by many of fixing the 1988 presidential election, will take a seat as ­Morena’s senator from central Puebla state. López Obrador sought and received the support of Elba Esther Gordillo, the once PRI-allied former leader of Mexico’s 2 million-strong teachers union, who remains under house arrest on corruption charges from six years ago.

“That hurt for many of us,” Rocio Lopez, 51, a former federal congresswoman and longtime ­López Obrador ally, said of the deals with former PRI leaders. “But Andrés Manuel decides and we have to follow. They are on probation.”

Napoleon Gomez of Los Mineros trade union now a senator in Mexico

Less controversial for Morena is the Senate win of Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the leader of the national Miners Union who has lived in Canada since being accused by federal prosecutors of fraud involving a deadly coal mine explosion in 2006.

Formal charges have long since been dropped, but Gómez Urrutia has remained in Canada for fear of facing new ones should he return to Mexico. López Obrador and others have defended him as a victim of government persecution.

Nestora Salgado, another incoming senator, will win immunity from pending kidnapping charges related to her brief stint as head of a volunteer community police force in the violent southern state of Guerrero. Supporters say the charges were a political attack by a former state governor.

Her release from prison is being appealed by state prosecutors.
Morena leaders say they are intent on maintaining party discipline. They want to avoid the factional infighting that crippled the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which many assume will soon disappear.

“We must unconditionally support López Obrador,” said Martínez Miranda, a surgeon who has been involved in leftist politics for more than four decades.

“His program isn’t to make revolution,” he said of López Obrador. “It’s to allow people to hope again.”

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Unions Welcome Tata – Thyssenkrupp Agreement

The trade unions within Tata Steel UK (Unite, Community and GMB) have welcomed the announcement that Tata Steel and thyssenkrupp will form a joint venture. The three unions recognise the industrial logic of this partnership and consider it the best solution to ensure the long term future of the Tata Steel UK operations.

Tony Brady, National Officer for Steel in Unite said: “Tata Steel’s UK workforce is world class and has worked tirelessly under a cloud of uncertainty to keep steel making alive in the UK. Those steelworkers have made great sacrifices in working to secure a future for Tata Steel.
 
“We will be seeking guarantees over  jobs and investment for the UK operations of the joint venture to secure the future of UK steel. The UK plants desperately require a level playing field through investment and commitment to the long term future of steel making at Port Talbot.”

Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of Community, said: “Steelworkers have fought hard to ensure the future of British steelmaking. With a commitment to avoid any compulsory redundancies until October 2026, and the first £200m of any operating profit being invested back in the business, this joint venture has the potential to safeguards jobs and steelmaking for a generation. However, this joint venture will only succeed if the necessary strategic investments are made to allow the business to thrive.
 
“Steelworkers have had a tough few years and have done their bit for the industry. It is important that government and business do their bit too and deliver the investment necessary to allow UK steelmaking to grow and compete in post-Brexit Britain. A key step would be the delivery of the steel sector deal, which would create new jobs and unlock investment.”

Ross Murdoch, National Officer for GMB said: “Along with our sister unions in Tata Steel, GMB has always strived to secure jobs and long term investment for the highly skilled workforce within Tata Steel UK.
 
“We will continue to ensure jobs and investment remain the key underpinning priorities within any final joint venture, which must equate to opportunities for our members in the UK, particularly after the difficult and uncertain recent times they have faced.”

Comment: The workforce in Tata Steel steel have shown dedication and commitment to getting this agreement and in the fight to save the UK steel industry. It is time for the Government to now step upto the plate. They must now deliver the steel industry sector deal, to show they back the UK steel industry and UK manufacturing; support measure to stop the dumping of steel on the market, oppose Market Economy Status for China and stand upto Trump’s job destrying tariffs. We need a global solution not a trade war.

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USA: Massive attack on trade union in Janus vs. AFSCME Council 31 decision

From Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO

The Supreme Court heard a case on June 27th (Janus vs. AFSCME Council 31)  brought by the rich and powerful who are trying to take away your freedom to join in union.

The American labor movement is a family that will not be pushed around or denied. Working people pave the streets, drive the buses, educate our children, and are the first to respond in times of emergency. Working families know best what is needed to build a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the historic 1968 strike in Memphis for better benefits, pay, and safety on the job marked by the poignant words: “I AM A MAN.”

Just like the AFSCME workers in Memphis 50 years ago, we will not back down from the struggle for justice.This past weekend, working people came together in cities all over the country to support the freedom of ALL people to join in union.

Workers are fighting back against the attacks that further rig the economic playing field and jeopardize our freedom to join and win together.

I know that together, we can stand firm to unrig the system and build a better life for working families. Sharing this graphic is a great way to show your solidarity in the fight for workers right now.

Share the image above to support the right of all workers to join together in union for a better life.

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AFL-CIO and ETUC Support Fair Trade Practices

AFL-CIO and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) issued a joint statement today on trade and multilateralism on June 15, 2018:

The working people of the United States and Europe have been harmed by unfair trade practices, including China’s deliberate overproduction of steel and aluminum, intellectual property theft, forced transfer of production, and violation of basic labor rights.

The working people of the United States and Europe have supported the growth of multilateral global governance since the end of the Second World War, and have continued to support that structure even as it has been increasingly captured by the interests of global corporations and the failed ideology of neoliberalism. A global economy requires multilateral institutions; the alternative is a war of all against all.

We support the reform of the multilateral system so that it is more democratic, more open and takes into consideration labor-social-environmental rights, but we oppose efforts to destroy it. The refusal of the Trump Administration to engage productively in established multilateral processes at the OECD and the G-7 in recent weeks has been detrimental to the international system and we urge the Trump Administration to change course.

We support trade that is fair and effectively enforced, in particular when it comes to protecting and enhancing key international labor rights such as freedom of association, right to organize and collective bargaining. This is the only way to ensure a level playing field for workers’ rights and avoid a race to the bottom on wages and working conditions. So far, our respective governments and the European Commission have paid too much attention to international trade liberalization, while neglecting the consequences on workers’ rights and their conditions. This neglect now threatens the underlying legitimacy of the international system and must be addressed.

When states or firms break trade rules or exploit loopholes, working people are the first to be harmed, and we expect our elected governments to stand up for us. When unfair trade practices go unaddressed, working people suffer further harm. That is why we have long advocated for swift and concrete global actions to address harmful, state-driven trade-distorting practices. To avoid a spiraling trade crisis, a comprehensive multilateral approach must be developed so no country has to go it alone.

We believe that trade enforcement is most effective when our governments cooperate to achieve shared goals. The priority should be to work together to thoughtfully and effectively address trade practices, including those by China, that for too long have allowed global companies to profit at our expense instead of with us. A rules-based trading system requires that rules be enforced. We are united in support for a concerted approach to China’s trade-distorting practices and in our opposition to a trade war. We believe the failure on the part of multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) to effectively address China’s trade-distorting practices is a threat to the multilateral system itself and must be addressed.

Global shared prosperity, sustainable development, inclusive growth, and respect for international labor rights require comprehensive trade reform and multilateral action. We urge all of our governments and the European Commission to work together, not at cross-purposes, to achieve these goals.

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Unsung Hero: The Jack Jones Story – Trailer

Unsung Hero: The Jack Jones Story – Trailer from Hurricane Films on Vimeo.

‘Unsung Hero – The Jack Jones Story’ is a documentary on one of the greatest British figures of the past century – a man who exercised more power over government economic policy than any other trades union leader in British history.

Jones took on four of the great evils of modern times: poverty, fascism, worker exploitation and pensioner poverty – and took them on with so much conviction that at one point, the public voted him the most powerful man in Britain.

The life of Jack Jones mirrors the story of the 20th century – a man whose like we may never see again.

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VSC Statement On Venezuela’s Presidential Elections

Venezuela’s Presidential elections on Sunday May 20th saw Nicolas Maduro re-elected. With 92.6 percent of the votes counted, Maduro had 5.8 million votes (nearly 68%), with his closest rival, former governor Henri Falcón getting 1.8 million votes.  Two other candidates also competed.

The election was observed by 150 international observers who confirmed the free and fair nature of the vote, including former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa who said “No one can question the Venezuelan elections… in the world there is no election as monitored as Venezuelan elections.”

Despite pressure from the Trump administration not to do so, international leaders have started to recognise the results and all governments should follow suit.

Following his victory President Maduro called for a permanent dialogue process and former Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who monitored the election, has offered to mediate dialogue between Venezuela’s government and opposition.

Governments internationally should do all they can to facilitate and support such a process.

It is to be hoped that dialogue prevails. Any attempt to use violence to overturn constitutional mandates, including that of the democratically re-elected president, must be opposed.

However, the Trump administration does not support dialogue. Instead, it is continuing to seek ‘regime change’ by various means including harsh sanctions aimed at starving the country of financing, military threats and invoking the possibility of a coup.  These will only exacerbate the country’s difficulties and divisions, not facilitate dialogue.

  • VSC CC Statement, May 21 2018.
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Speech at Labour Party State of the Economy Conference, May 19th

Jeremy Corby at British Steel

Tony Burke – ‘Brexit and the post Brexit economy and Labour’s Industrial Strategy’

Intro – Brexit

Thank you for the invite to speak today. I would like to start by saying something very briefly about ‘Brexit’.

The main objectives for Unite – and the wider Labour movement – is to work to protect and defend jobs, employment and trade union rights, investment, access to skills, in the EU withdrawal negotiating process and as the outcomes of political and legal processes that are unfolding domestically.

Specifically for us means the defence of workers’ rights and protections underpinned by EU legislation and their retention in primary legislation, alongside wider social and environmental protections.

And it means securing tariff-free access to a single market – and membership of a customs union, which for all sectors of our economy offers the best chance of protecting decent, well paid jobs particularly in manufacturing that could move out of the UK.

That is why Unite supports the ‘Six tests’ set out by Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership on any final Brexit deal.

But that is not the total extent of Unite’s vision – and it is not the limit to our analysis of what is necessary in this country to ensure the future security of, and better living standards for, our members and wider society.

We need to place Brexit in its proper context if we are having a discussion about the economy and industrial strategy.

So what led to Brexit and long term problems?

Firstly, let’s be clear about what has happened in this country over decades.

Chronic under-investment over decades stunted the overall level of economic growth.

Our country languishes near the bottom of nearly every OECD table giving investment levels on transport, communications, energy and housing.

This overarching macro-economic really policy matters – because it determines the jobs we will keep or lose, the jobs we do or don’t create as a society, and the living standards of us all.

The contours of our industrial landscape have been re-shaped as the free market was allowed to rip through our manufacturing base, local communities and public services.

Jobs growth over the past 30 plus years has been in low-paid, low-skilled, low job security occupations – with a raw focus on transition into ‘any job’ – with ‘quantity over quality’.

This has been combined with political policies to strangle trade unions and weaken employment rights that have led to a fall in collective bargaining, accelerating pay and wealth inequality and the growth in low paid and insecure work.

All of this has left us with an economy that is sectorally and geographically unbalanced, with low productivity, and a deeply unequal society.

And of course then we experienced the deepest financial crash on record.

Never ones to let a ‘crisis go to waste’, the Conservatives began their project of ‘austerity’ – directly leading to the slowest recovery on record.

Wages have still not recovered their pre-crisis levels – as highlighted by last weeks TUC march for a ‘New Deal for Working People’.

The current weakness in the UK economy has been widely acknowledged, and although it remains politically expedient for the government to repeatedly blame external events the weakness is a result of government policies.

This history is worth remembering because we still have a government’s whose plan appears to be simply to ‘dig in and carry on’ with the very policies that helped to further entrench the anxiety and powerlessness felt by many as public services and benefits have been needlessly and ruthlessly cut, and saw employment and collective trade union rights further weakened – and which expressed themselves in the ‘Leave’ vote.

The concerns felt by millions of ordinary working people were expressed in the EU referendum – a result that was as much a rebuke to an out-of-touch political and economic elite as it was about the EU itself.

Those concerns pre-dated the referendum and they will continue to exist after a deal is negotiated.

It also highlights that there is now more than ever the need for an industrial and economic policy – such as Labour is putting forward – based on sustained public investment in our infrastructure to generate sustainable economic growth, that can crowd in private investment, enable an industrial strategy to flourish, to develop the industries of the future and for us to transition to a high pay, high-skill, low carbon economy with decent work for all – with stronger employment and trade union rights.

Britain needs to carve out a role for itself in the world as a competitive, cutting edge, high-skill economy – and Brexit and the coming fourth industrial revolution makes this even more necessary.

And a central part of that is an active industrial and manufacturing strategy.

Unite believes there is an active role for government to play in supporting our industries – state intervention shouldn’t just come as crisis intervention – such as we saw in steel two years ago – but an active industrial policy, as part of investing to create a stronger economy, is about government taking responsibility to make sure that things go right.

As Ha-Joon Chang argued two years ago at this conference – there is a need to ‘reindustrialise’ our economy, pointing out that ‘making things matters – this is what Britain forgot’. And government has a role in making this happen.

One thing Labour gets is that Manufacturing matters.

Labour’s industrial strategy is what Unite, business, industry, academics and many others had called for – for a long time – and we welcome its recognition of the need for an industrial strategy that covers not just rebuilding our manufacturing base but the whole economy.

But until we are successful in our fight to get Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10, John McDonnell as Chancellor and Becky Long-Bailey as our BEIS Secretary of State, we are left with this sorry, worn out, divided, do nothing government.

We have a government that is ideologically wedded to a failed economic model that would have stifled a coherent industrial strategy at birth.

And it was the Tories industrial strategy? Well, it was months late and not worth the wait.

A bumper document – an inch thick – bereft of ideas – that didn’t mention trade union participation and sees no role for the workforce in sector deals.

It is document that was long on words, big on typeface, and short on detail – and certainly no underpinning resources. Just a plethora of platitudes.

Unite is clear in our demands to this government – their mishandling of Brexit is magnifying their failure for a coherent industrial strategy and it is our members and all of us, working people in our millions, who will pay the price.

This country urgently needs;

  • investment in our infrastructure to remove the barriers to businesses basing themselves here,
  • investment in new technologies such as our car industry and electric vehicles, our shipbuilding industry – including the three new frigates that Jeremy Corbyn has said that under Labour – WILL be built in our shipyards with UK made steel and technology – our science and bio science industries, our aerospace and auto industry
  • support and defence for strategic and foundation industries like steel and engineering and defending and support for our companies like Bombardier GKN and DeLaRue
  • skills and training: access to skills and including the new skills we will need in this digital age and retraining in new skills
  • public procurement and a strategic investment bank
  • a revision of the UK legislation on takeovers, mergers and acquisitions
  • strong trade union and employment rights and sectoral collective bargaining so we all share in the rewards of economic growth.

Having worked with the leadership on an industrial strategy – with Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Becky Long Bailey, and their teams we in Unite know that they get it – they get that we need an industrial strategy that works for the many not the few.

This is also why the country and UK industry urgently needs a Labour government to make sure manufacturing really does matter.

Panel: Tony Burke, Unite; Laurie Macfarlane, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose; Lee Hopley, Engineering Employers Federation

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Guide To Venezuelan Elections This Weekend

With much of the printed media in the UK and USA already describing the Venezuelan elections being held this weekend as being ‘flawed’, or worse, and stating that even if elected by popular mandate Maduro’s government will be under siege I thought it would be useful for as chair of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign to set out how the elections actually work and the forces being lined up to denounce the elections without even a vote being cast.

The following article appeared this week in the Morning Star.

Presidential elections will be held in Venezuela this weekend on May 20th at the same time as municipal and regional elections.

Contrary to claims from some who support Donald Trump’s “regime change” agenda in the oil-rich country that Venezuela is a dictatorship, these elections will be the 25th national election or referendum since 1998.

Current President Nicolas Maduro is standing, along with opposition candidates. The most prominent of these is Henri Falcon.

Falcon is a former mayor and governor and, although originally a government supporter, he joined the right-wing opposition in 2012.

He twice backed Henrique Capriles as presidential candidate — against Hugo Chavez in 2012 and against Nicolas Maduro last time.

Five candidates were participating in the election, but this has now dropped down to four with one candidate pulling out to back Falcon.

Seventeen political parties are participating in all the elections, although absent from the contest due to their own decision is any formal candidate from the coalition of right-wing opposition parties known as Mud (Democratic Unity Roundtable), which has decided not to stand.

This is not a unique development. Some right-wing opposition parties have boycotted previous elections when they are likely to lose, including the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Nonetheless, it has been widely reported that a number of Mud-supporting individuals and organisations are breaking ranks and actively backing Falcon.

Jesus Chuo Torrealba, who led Mud for two-and-a-half years, has expressed support.

National Assembly (AN) member Timoteo Zambrano, has created a parliamentary platform called Let’s Change in support of the candidacy, which is also backed by representatives Teodoro Campos and the first vice-president of the AN, Julio Cesar Reyes.

Some Western media have reported opposition parties being banned, but this is simply not true.

What is the case is that, historically, parties are required to register and meet a set of basic requirements to run in an election.

To apply to run in an election, a party needs to show it has the support of at least 0.5 per cent of voters in 12 out of Venezuela’s 24 states.

The validation process is not onerous, compared for example with Florida’s requirement of support from 5 per cent of registered voters.

Other countries, including Germany and Estonia, also have electoral law provisions for parties losing their right to contest an election for non-participation.

It’s also important to understand that it is the National Electoral Council (CNE) that oversees elections and that elections are routinely and widely audited.

Each polling station has a number of stand-alone DRE voting machines. Each citizen is identified by their fingerprints. The touch-screen voting machine, activated only if the fingerprint matches the voter’s ID on the database, provides a printed receipt that is checked by the voter before being placed in the ballot box.

This rigorous system prevents fraudulent behaviour and provides an audit trail to check the results. Since there are two records of every vote it is virtually impossible to stuff or destroy ballot boxes without producing a mismatch between manual and electronic counts.

After the poll closes, the total number of votes cast is checked for consistency with the paper record, the machines are connected to the network to count the votes for each candidate and a number of machines are selected at random for a 54 per cent audit of both paper and electronic results. Finally, an audit report is produced and signed by staff and observers, officially sealed and handed to the military for delivery to the CNE, with copies to the two candidates with the highest votes.

These systems were termed by former US president Jimmy Carter as “the best in the world.”

As well as the usual protocols for conducting elections, discussions between the CNE and all presidential candidates have resulted in agreeing additional guarantees for this vote.

The elections will also be widely monitored by international observers and Venezuelan elections are normally monitored by as many as 150 international observers, drawn since 1998 from organisations such as the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), the Carter Centre, the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts (CEELA) and the Inter American Union of Electoral Councils (UNIORE).

A delegation of Venezuela’s UN ambassador Samuel Moncada and Henri Falcon jointly requested the UN to send a mission to observe. President Maduro has also invited the EU to send a delegation to observe the elections.

Significantly, former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who recently mediated the talks between the Venezuelan government and the Mud, has confirmed he will observe the process.

While Zapatero’s commitment to supporting democracy and dialogue is welcome, the attitude of the Trump administration is quite the opposite.

The State Department, having from March to June 2017 called for immediate elections, has changed its position following some successes for the Venezuelan government in elections last year and is now calling for the vote to be delayed and saying it will not, in any event, recognise the results.

Falcon himself has dismissed these calls by Trump administration, saying: “The postponement of the elections is not on the table. It’s a soundbite designed to create confusion.”

The US appears to have abandoned belief in the right-wing opposition being able to win electorally, instead favouring intervention and “regime change” and it is considering even more drastic measures than the existing severe economic sanctions.

In light of the US history of intervention, including backing the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez, it is hardly surprising that polling suggests the majority of both opposition and government supporters in Venezuela oppose the US widening sanctions and support dialogue.

Maduro has said that, if he wins the elections, he “will call a national dialogue for peace with all Venezuelan political forces.”

Whoever wins, it is to be hoped that dialogue prevails and violence to overturn constitutional mandates, including that of the democratically elected president whoever that may be, should be opposed.

Governments internationally should do all they can to facilitate and support dialogue and help peacefully resolve the country’s difficulties. In contrast, Trump’s threats will exacerbate the country’s difficulties and divisions.

You can sign a petition against Trump’s sanctions on Venezuela at vsc.eaction.org.uk/petition/notrumpsanctions.

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Speech at the launch of ‘A Trade Governance Model That Works For Everyone’ – London May 10th

Good evening and thanks for the inviation to speak this evening.

Unite and the TUC has worked with all of the bodies who took part in the work of publishing the document A Trade Governance Model Thats Works For Everyone and agreed a text that covers the main points we would wish to make on trade and it is important to make clear that as Unite we are not against trade or trade agreements.

Hundreds of thousands of our members’ jobs notably in manufacturing are directly linked to trade within Europe and across the world.

Trade has the potential to deliver not just economic benefits. It should also be a tool to raise everyone up to the highest possible standards.

But. And it is a big BUT.

Trade can only do this if it is organised and controlled in a way that reflects our values.And this is not happening at the moment.

That is why we were active in the campaigns against TTIP, CETA and are now concenred about the EU and Mexico trade deal and other recently proposed agreements including TiSA and the TPP deal in the South Asian and Pacific countries.

The Uk, when we leave the EU has to negotiate a significiant number of trade agreements. No matter what Dr. Liam Fox says, they will not be rolled over or ‘cut and pasted’ but what is clear is that if, following whatever form of Brexit we finally end up with, the UK is negotiating and signing its own trade agreements, there will have to be a fundamental change in approach if there is not going to be major public opposition.

That is why we were very pleased to collaborate on the document that is being launched today.

The first step to developing a trade policy that works for all is transparency. It is not good enough for trade agreements that will affect millions of people to be agreed in closed rooms.

Transparency in the development of negotiating mandates and in the negotiation process itself will not only build trust and confidence in the process but will deliver better agreements.

If we just look at the expertise contained within the organisations that are supporting this document – why would any government want to exclude them, and other members of civil society, in the process?

Another issue that Unite, and indeed the whole trade union movement have been arguing for many years, is that we need to take a much broader view of the impact of potential trade agreements before we decide whether or not they are in the best interests of the country.

Trade agreements that in a perfect economic model suggest a small economic benefit – but that in real life threaten public services, lead to reductions in environmental and labour rights, cost jobs or lead to heightened regional or gender inequalities- are not good trade agreements.

Unite work closely with sister unions and Canada, USA and Mexico in our global union Workers Uniting.

All of them will tell you the stories of the cost that working people have had to pay for NAFTA. I was in mexico last week and the effect of NAFTA on working people and there communities has been a disaster – the same for the uS and Canadian workers.

The UK can and must do better. We often hear statements being made about how the UK will play a leading role in global trade.

Our view is that a leading role cannot just be about signing more and more agreements – but should be about setting an example that trade can, and must be done differently.

Unite will continue to campaign for trade to be a force for good for the many and not the few.

But where trade agreements do not uphold these values then we cannot and will not support them.

Unfortunately we have yet to see anything from the government that gives us confidence that any vision they have for the UK’s future trade policy matches our own.

Although they have published so little detail about what their future trade policy will look like that it is sometimes hard to make conclusions!

But we are clear.

Unite will continue to campaign for bad agreements to be stopped.

But there is a chance to start again.

To build a democratic sustainable framework for global trade where the needs of people and communities are put first.

Then we can have trade that we really can support!

I am sure that there will be some aspects of trade policy where we will disagree with colleagues who have been involved with this paper.

But it is hugely encouraging that so many organisations are willing to support these fundamental principles and we hope that government takes notice.

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Posted in Economics, Employment Rights, European Trade Unions, International Trade Unions, Labour Party, Trades Union Congress, Unite The Union, Workers Uniting | Leave a comment

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign : Forthcoming Presidential Elections In Venezuela Explained.

Presidential elections will be held in Venezuela on 20th May. Venezuela Solidarity Campaign has produced a short executive summary of an earlier Q&A document outlining the truth about the vote and rebutting some key myths and misrepresentations peddled by Trump and some parts of the UK media. 

You can read the detailed Q&A this is based a PDF – FINAL-Elections-Q-A

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
VENEZUELA’s 2018 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS – Q&A

Who is contesting the Presidential election on May 20th?
Presidential elections will be held in Venezuela on May 20th, at the same time as municipal and regional elections. The President of Venezuela is elected for a six-year term by direct election plurality voting.
Five candidates have been confirmed by the National Electoral Council for the vote.

The current President, Nicolás Maduro, is standing for the Great Patriotic Pole alliance, along with four opposition candidates:
Henri Falcón for the Progressive Advance (AP), Movement for Socialism (MAS) and the Copei (Social Christian) parties. Falcón is a former Mayor and regional governor. Originally a government supporter, he joined the right-wing opposition in 2012.  He twice backed Henrique Capriles as presidential candidate, against Hugo Chávez in 2012 and against Nicolás Maduro in the last presidential election.
Javier Bertucci, of Hope for Change and leader of the Maranatha Pentecostal Church.
Alejandro Ratti, an independent candidate and an evangelical pastor.
Reinaldo Quijada for Popular Political Unity, who claims to oppose Maduro but not the revolution.

How many parties are participating in the elections?
Seventeen political parties are participating in total in all the elections that are taking place in May.
Absent from the contest due to their own decision is any formal candidate from the coalition of right-wing opposition parties known as MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable) who have decided not to stand. The MUD has expelled Henri Falcón from its ranks after he registered with national electoral authorities as a presidential candidate, and is currently boycotting the elections, but it has been reported that a number of MUD-supporting individuals and organisations are breaking ranks and actively backing Falcón.
This is not a unique development. Some right-wing opposition parties have boycotted previous elections in Venezuela when they are likely to lose, including the 2005 parliamentary elections for example.

Are opposition parties barred from standing?
Some western media have reported opposition parties being banned in Venezuela, but this is simply untrue. What is the case is that historically in Venezuela parties are required to register and meet a set of basic requirements to run in an election. This is also common practice internationally.
To apply to run in an election, a party needs to show it has the support of at least 0.5% of voters in 12 out of Venezuela’s 24 states (Law of Political Parties, Public Meetings and Demonstrations, Chapter II, Article 10). The validation process is not onerous, compared for example with Florida’s requirement of support from 5% of registered voters. Other countries (e.g. Germany and Estonia) also have electoral law provisions for parties losing their right to contest an election for non-participation.

Who oversees elections in Venezuela and how does voting take place?
The National Electoral Council (CNE) oversees elections. This non-partisan body is responsible for all aspects of the electoral process, including the date, registering voters, facilitating and monitoring campaigns, organising voting equipment and auditing the vote together with party representatives.
Contrary to claims Venezuela is a dictatorship, these elections will be the 25th national election or referendum since 1998, more than any other comparable country. Elections in Venezuela are routinely and widely audited and a number of measures are in place to ensure against fraudulent behaviour. Each polling station has a number of stand-alone DRE voting machines. Each citizen is identified by their fingerprints. The touch-screen voting machine, activated only if the fingerprint matches the voter’s ID on the database, provides a printed receipt that is checked by the voter before being placed in the ballot box.
This rigorous system prevents fraudulent behaviour, such as double voting or identity theft, and provides an audit trail to check the results. Since there are two records of every vote it is virtually impossible to stuff or destroy ballot boxes without producing a mismatch between manual and electronic counts.
After the poll closes, the total number of votes cast is checked for consistency with the paper record, the machines are connected to the network to count the votes for each candidate, and a number of machines are selected at random for a 54% audit of both paper and electronic results at each polling station. Finally, an audit report is produced and signed by staff and observers, officially sealed and handed to the military for delivery to the CNE, with copies to the two candidates with the highest number of votes.
Fifteen audits have been scheduled for the May 20th presidential election.
Venezuela’s rigorous systems of registration, voting and auditing elections has been praised by observers, with Nobel prize-winner former President Jimmy Carter describing it in 2012 as “the best in the world”

Are there any additional safeguarding arrangements being made for these elections?
As well as the usual protocols for conducting elections, discussions between the CNE and all presidential candidates have resulted in agreeing additional guarantees for this vote. These include that the CNE:
* re-opened the electoral register for further voter registration
* has agreed to safeguard equal access to media
* agreed that voting centres which had been relocated following violent outbreaks in 2017’s Constituent Assembly elections are to be moved back to their original location
* will keep political party kiosks 200m away from voting centres to avoid voter intimidation or pressurising.

Will Venezuela’s elections be internationally observed?
The CNE has committed to creating a delegation to observe “all phases of the electoral process” with participants from United Nations and “other mutually agreed upon international bodies and organisations”.
A delegation of Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s UN ambassador, and Henri Falcón jointly requested the UN send a mission to observe. President Maduro has also invited the EU to send a delegation to observe the elections. Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who recently mediated the talks between the Venezuelan government and MUD, has confirmed he will observe the process.
Venezuelan elections are normally monitored by as many as 150 international observers, drawn since 1998 from organisations such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Carter Centre, the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts (CEELA) and the Inter American Union of Electoral Councils (UNIORE).

What is the United States’ position on the Presidential election in Venezuela?
This has altered substantially in the last year. From March to June 2017 the State Department called for immediate elections. However, after government successes in elections last year, the US position changed. When these elections were announced, the State Department declared the contest was illegitimate and its results would not be recognised. It has been reported they threatened to sanction Henri Falcón for running.
The US appears to have abandoned belief in the right-wing opposition being able to win electorally, instead favouring ‘regime change’ through military means or by facilitating the conditions for a coup. In line with this, the Trump administration is considering even more drastic measures than the existing severe economic sanctions in place against Venezuela.

* The full document on which this Executive Summary is based can be read here

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Posted in International Trade Unions, Politics | Leave a comment