Workers in Nationalised Companies in Venezuela Demand More Worker Control
National electricity workers are protesting post changes that they believe give power to the rightwing and override workers, while Sidor steel workers protested violence towards some of its workers as it runs union elections, and workers in the Bicentenario supermarkets demanded worker control and better conditions.
Electricity workers protests post changes
Yesterday, after Argenis Chavez, president of national electricity company Corpoelec, announced changes in some posts in the company, 1,800 workers protested, claiming the agreement they made with President Hugo Chavez last year was being violated.
The workers mobilised outside the Corpoelec head office in Carabobo yesterday, and in a statement, said they would spread the protest around the country over the next few days.
In three days of meetings in April last year Corpoelec workers, with the support of President Chavez, began developing a “revolutionary policy of worker control through management councils” based on regulations that guarantee worker participation in the management of the state owned company.
Also during these meetings, well-known union leader Joaquin Osorio was designated national commissioner for marketing and distribution. Osorio was outspoken in his criticism of the neglect by some subsidiaries before they were nationalised, and as commissioner denounced opposition sabotage plans and handed over proof to police so they could investigate.
Yesterday Argenis Chavez, a younger brother of Hugo Chavez, announced that Osorio would be replaced, while two people from within management were given national positions: Rene Guillen, and Avilio Villamizar.
Protesting workers rejected the decision to fire the “only worker who held a management position” and expressed concern that such the “manoeuvring” was putting power into the hands of people “who the workers know are right wing, who come from the fourth republic [political period before Chavez], who ran the sector when it was being destroyed in order to sell it cheaply to foreign capital”.
In their statement the workers stressed, “We’re not saboteurs, the only thing we’re doing is struggling for our rights and a policy that we are sure will deepen the revolutionary process, because without participation there is no revolution. Once again we ratify our commitment to this process and with President Hugo Chavez, just as we have done so over the last eleven years, in which we have not permitted the opposition to sabotage the sector.”
Argenis Chavez made the announcement during a video conference with workers. He said the motivation behind the changes was to “improve the dynamic of the company and form the kind of company we had envisioned”.
He said the moves were made to help along the process of fusing the 14 subsidiaries under a “socialist vision” and stressed that “under a revolutionary dynamic there is constant change, in order to rectify or strengthen possible weaknesses...Corpoelec isn’t free of them.”
Argenis Chavez was designated the new president of Corpoelec last month by Hugo Chavez because the previous president, Ali Rodriguez, will take on the role of General Secretary of Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) starting next year.
In 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez nationalised the electricity sector, including Corpoelec, by merging 14 regional electricity companies, some private and some state-owned, into a single company.
Steel workers protest violence
Also on Monday morning, workers of the state-owned steel company decided to strike for eight hours in protest against violent tactics. That morning they had been holding an assembly to listen to various candidates of different tickets running in their union elections. When a speaker from the Movement 27 faction spoke well over the time limit and was asked to sit down, people from that faction became violent and beat one worker on the head with a stick, causing serious injury.
Union leader Jose Melendez told the union publication Marea Socialista (socialist tide), “We, the Union Alliance, together with the workers, we’ll do what we can to stop this violence and aggression by the Movement 27. We regret that the National Guard, with the excuse of not having any personnel available, is an accomplice to the situation by omission. We reject the violence... Here we are and we’re not scared. Using our own methods, those of the working class, we’ll guarantee that worker democracy is respected, and that’s why we decided to strike for eight hours.”
On 24 September this year an attempt was made on Melendez’s life, and months before that his family was threatened.
The strike, which was supported by all 11 unions, is demanding physical (military) protection for the workers and the plant
Sidor, located in Bolivar state, is Venezuela’s largest steel plant. The government nationalised the Argentine company in 2008 following a 16-month collective contract dispute between the company and its workforce, more than 70% of which had been pushed into non-unionised contract labour. Government authorities and representatives of the United Steel Industry Workers Union (SUTISS) signed a collective contract shortly after.
Bicentenario supermarket workers demand worker control and better conditions
Further, last Tuesday workers from the Bicentenario supermarkets from around the country marched through Caracas to the National Assembly and handed over a document, demanding solutions to various problems.
The problems included; delays in the discussion of collective contracts, lack of compliance by management with its commitments, deteriorating work conditions, and lack of worker control. They also demanded that the supermarkets themselves better respond to President Chavez’s “revolutionary project”, the newspaper El Militante reported.
The government nationalised the supermarket chain Exito last year and renamed its stores Bicentenario markets. The nationalisation came two months after Exito workers participated in a rally where Chavez was speaking, and demanded its expropriation as well as better conditions. According to workers the demands they made still haven’t been met.
“A workers’ council was made, where they—those in the central office—impose and don’t propose, believing that what they impose are the needs of the worker,” one Bicentenario worker told El Militante.