In the last few years, 2009-2011, the social programs have continued to grow slowly—increasing access to free and quality health care through the Barrio Adentros and larger, more comprehensive health clinics, growing access to higher education and other social programs such as job training, soup kitchens, and the building of affordable new housing. This is impressive as national output (GDP) fell in 2009 and 2010 and grew slowly for most of 2011. (data from Central Bank of Venezuela, http://www.bcv.org.ve).
The number of communal councils has continued to grow. They continue to be sites for popular control, self-government and substantive discussion and decision making by large numbers of its members in a considerable number of neighborhoods and communities. In most communities, they are mainly vehicles to distribute some of the government budget. In a few places, members of communal councils told us there needed to be more popular education and discussion of participatory democracy and vision in them rather than just being institutions to get money from, for local projects. Based on my observations and discussion, active participation in communal councils is more common in rural than urban areas; and in relation to population numbers, functioning communal councils are also more frequent in rural than urban communities. Overall, active participation within communal councils has not increased and may have declined from a few years ago. Still, as in my earlier visit in 2009, it was inspiring to see people from the popular classes, men and even more frequently women, involved in self-government. Both at the communal council level, which is 200-400 families in cities, and a much smaller number of families in the countryside, and in government behavior at the municipal, State and national level, so much depends on whether key people and officials are honest, competent and committed to furthering grass roots participation and economic and social justice or are mainly self-interested.
Comunas (communes) which are aggregation of communal councils were just beginning in 2009 during my last long visit. The comunas have grown more slowly than I expected and are mainly in rural areas, e.g., in Lara, outside of its urban center, Barquisimeto. They sometimes have a production function, e.g., production of milk, clothing, where wages are equal and some of the revenue goes to the broader community. One measure of the future deepening of the Venezuelan revolution is whether these comunas continue to grow in number and active participation.
There has been an increase in nationalization of private enterprises in Venezuela and the formation of new state enterprises, e.g., chocolate, but worker control or co-management between workers and management, or between workers and the state, is still the exception. The private sector dominates the production and distribution of goods and services although its share of GDP is declining.
A new and major labor law was announced on May Day. It has many good aspects: social security for all including the informal sector, for housewives, and for self-employed artisans; and three weeks paid vacation for all workers. It is strong on gender equality and against the discrimination of women in the work place. The process of writing it should have been more participatory and there is little in it about worker control. Workers and unions were asked to comment on the original proposal but not in a continual process of amendment and change. This was a critique we heard while we were there.