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“It is impossible that we will achieve our goals with capitalism, nor is it possible to find an intermediate path... I invite all of Venezuela to march on the path of socialism of the new century. We must construct a new socialism of the 21st century,” said Chavez his speech at the end of the traditional May 1st workers’ day march.

Chavez had just returned from Cuba earlier that day, where his government and that of Cuba signed 49 cooperation agreements. In allusion to his visit, Chavez said that the Cuban revolution “vibrates to the same rhythm” as Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution and that the changes have just barely begun. He pointed out, though, that his government does not intend to copy the Cuban model of socialism.

For the fourth year in a row Venezuelans held separate May Day demonstrations through their country’s capital of Caracas. Both the old union federation CTV, which is allied with the opposition, and the newer union federation, the UNT, which allied with the Chavez government, had organized their own May Day marches.

Local news organizations did not make estimates of the relative crowd sizes, but the CTV demonstration ended long before the pro-Chavez march did, as Chavez held a speech that lasted over two hours. Both marches ended without incident.

Aside from Chavez’s endorsement of socialism, another major element in his speech was his government’s support for worker co-management both in public and private enterprises. Chavez announced that the leaders of the UNT had recently submitted a law proposal to him, which would require businesses to include worker representatives in the management of the company if they receive financial support from the state.

“With these cooperativist projects we are proposing a change towards the inclusion of employees in business’ planning, so that these may participate in the decisions of the top authorities in each organization,” said Chavez to the cheering crowd. Chavez also reminded his supporters of the recent expropriation and co-management plan of a valve factory, now named Inveval.

The opposition march, organized by the Venezuelan Confederation of Workers (CTV), had as its main demands the “guaranteeing of the right to labor stability and non-discrimination,” said Manuel Cova, the organization’s General Secretary. He also added that the CTV would call for a general amnesty for opposition leaders who are currently being held for having participated in the April 2002 coup attempt or the December 2002 to January 2003 shutdown of the oil industry, such as the CTV’s president Carlos Ortega.

Francisco Torrealba, who is the national coordinator of the National Union of Venezuelan Workers (UNT), which is the new Chavez-sympathetic labor federation, said that the UNT wants to “support and deepen the processes that are being managed in the country.” He also added that the UNT was the larger of the two union federations in the country because it truly reflects the interests of Venezuelan workers. However, the UNT must continue to struggle so that the working class might have a greater degree of participation in the formulation of the government’s policies.

Marcela Maspero, one of the members of the UNT’s executive committee, said that the government and the workers must watch out that private enterprises don’t suddenly raise prices because of the 26% increase in the minimum wage that Chavez had decreed for May 1st. The new minimum wage was raised to 405,000 bolivars, which is about $188 at the official exchange rate.

Chavez Criticizes City Mayors

During his May Day speech, Chavez sent a strong message to the Greater Caracas Mayor, Juan Barreto, and to the Caracas District Mayor, Freddy Bernal, saying that the two of them had to put aside their differences and get to work, such as making sure that the city’s garbage is collected. "Internal differences are debated internally because one should not give ammunition to one’s opponents so that they might rejoice," said Chavez in reference to a recent party conflict over internal elections for the candidates in the upcoming local elections.

Chavez added that if they cannot unite, then they should resign. Chavez said that Bernal and Barreto had their respective supporters shout at each other in the city center while General Baduel, the commander of Venezuela’s army, was giving a speech.

Last week members of Chavez’s party, the MVR, demonstrated in front of the Caracas district mayor’s office, charging Mayor Freddy Bernal of having participated in fraud so that his candidates would win the nominations for the local elections.

The conflict broadened when Greater Caracas Mayor Juan Berreto criticized Bernal, saying that party members were not being dealt with honestly because candidates had already been picked for some of the posts, before there even was an internal party election. Apparently many more candidates were elected in this internal election than there were spots on the ballot for them, as the MVR party had agreed to reserve some of the nominations for its coalition partners.