We visited a small (50-worker) factory which had been run by the workers for four years, under state ownership. The workers had fought to take over the factory and from the start were intent on having state ownership and workers control, not a co-op.
The main deciding body in the plant was the workers assembly of all the workers (production and clerical) , meeting once a week to make the most important decisions. Between meetings, decisions were made on a daily basis by the factory committee, which was elected by secret ballot annually. We attended the election. Two workers were elected to each subcommittee. All the subcommittees (about eight, so nearly one third of the workers were on them at any one time) together made up the factory committee. Subcommittees did not make decisions, but became familiar with different aspects of the plant and made recommendations to the factory committee or to the workers assembly, and then worked to carry out the decisions. A worker could not be elected to the same subcommittee two years in a row, although they could be elected to other subcommittees. As I understood it, those elected could also be recalled during the year, although I don’t think that had happened.
The factory committee did not consist only of those elected by the workers. The state had two representatives on the committee and the community council of the town had one. The factory also had a delegate on the community council. Several workers emphasized to us that they knew that the factory was not ”theirs” but was part of the community and the nation. They also knew the state, not the market, was their source of new capital and they had drawn up a plan for a major expansion of the plant that they had submitted to the national government.
This was a factory, not a political group, so most of the tasks had to do with running the factory, which produces plumbing fixtures. But several of the subcommittees dealt with political tasks—liaison with other factories, press and public relations, community relations.
What I found particularly interesting, other than the fact that the workers had succeeded in combining state ownership with workers control, was that a lot of attention had been paid to avoiding the establishment of a permanent split into leaders and led, while at the same time not forcing those who were most active to withdraw. The forced rotation among tasks also reinforced the idea that many works were capable of learning and carrying out different tasks and that the high-prestige ones, like press representative, were not reserved to the few. These ideas may have relevance to our structure.
Unfortunately, this set-up was not typical of Venezuelan industry, most of which is privately owned, or is bureaucratically-run state enterprises. Our hosts said that only five factories in the country, each about the same size as theirs, were worker-controlled state-owned factories. However, a large struggle is now under way in heavy industry—steel and aluminum –around workers control.