After over three weeks protesting the “imposition” of a manager on the worker-run factories of Industrias Diana, President Nicolas Maduro has appointed a new manager. However harassment of workers continues.
After the minister for food Felix Osorio appointed businessman David Mendoza to manage Industrias Diana on 23 July, workers held assemblies and rejected the move. Though protesting over the last three weeks, workers have maintained full production levels in order to “protect Venezuelan food sovereignty”.
Industrias Diana was nationalised in 2008, and produces cooking oil, margarine, soap, and other related products. 80% of its goods go to state run distribution companies such as Mercal, and the remaining 20% can go to private companies, including community collectives.
Workers argued they should be able to choose their manager from among themselves, and that Mendoza, who owns 5 small private companies, with 3 more of his companies having gone bankrupt, isn’t the right person for Diana’s 6 worker run plants. Industrias Diana workers have their own radio, newspaper, socialist education school, dining room, and gym. They don’t receive public wages, rather their wages come from company sales, and they contribute a portion of their profits to government funds.
On 31 July Diana workers evicted Mendoza from the Diana offices. Luis Ramos, spokesperson for Diana’s socialist workers’ council, said workers took the action because Mendoza entered the workplace without complying with the norms that any person has to fulfil in order to enter the premises. Ramos said that Mendoza brought food ministry workers and “eight to ten small trucks” in with him.
“They have to enter via the PCP (Plant Protection and Control), show their ID card, verify their credentials and receive a pass, just like everyone else. They didn’t get it, so we decided to evict them, with all respect, to outside the gate, until they worked things out amongst themselves,” Ramos explained.
Yesterday President Nicolas Maduro appointed Dester Rodriguez to be the new manager of Industrias Diana and its affiliates. Rodriguez has worked in the computing office of the education ministry and as a brigade general in the army. So far Maduro has made no other comments on the conflict.
Harassment and intimidation of Diana workers
Also yesterday Diana workers discovered their bank accounts had been blocked. The accounts include operational funds and their wages, meaning that workers can’t be paid for now nor buy supplies in order to continue production.
The Diana socialist workers council accused Osorio of blocking the accounts in a statement released today. They said the move “has created a technical stop work in our company, affecting not just the workers of the industry who can’t be paid but also creating a serious situation of instability in the supply of food that we produce daily”.
Further, Diana’s warehouses are full. Industrias Diana reported on 12 August that Mercal trucks hadn’t arrived to pick up stock. Also, SADA (National Superintendency of Silos, Storage, and Agricultural Warehouses) representatives haven’t be allowed to go to the Diana plants, preventing Diana from selling produce to private companies.
Yesterday Cesar Trompiz, information spokesperson for the Diana workers’ council, denounced that on Monday at 3pm council spokespeople were taken to the SEBIN (National Intelligence Service) head offices and were questioned for at least seven hours.
The reason given to workers was an “investigation into corruption” at Diana, but workers haven’t had access to any legal documents. Diana worker Aristobulo Meneses, speaking on Alba Ciudad radio, said that lies were being spread about corruption at Diana, and Industrias Diana tweeted “they are trying to criminalise the workers’ struggle at Diana, we are fighting for our right to participate”.
On 8 August some other Diana workers were also questioned for five hours by SEBIN Valencia, Trompiz reported. He said the SEBIN questioning was done “behind Nicolas Maduro’s back”.
Yesterday the Diana workers went to the national assembly to denounce their treatment and accuse Osorio of blocking their bank accounts.
Minister Osorio rejects worker control
Osorio has refused to meet with workers and visit the plants, but at a recent march against corruption on 3 August they managed to talk with him briefly. They recorded a video of the conversation, where Osorio asked, “Do you all recognise me as head, as the food minister?” Workers responded that they did.
“Well, it’s good that you came to Caracas to talk. For me it’s excellent that we talk. But I won’t go to Diana, in order to be treated badly, as my workers have been,” Osorio said, presumably referring to the management team he sent to the plant.
“You’ve all approved a collective convention? The workers don’t have that authority,” Osorio said, to which the workers responded that they had requested that the convention be approved by the labour ministry.
“You all need to know something, you all work hard, as we all all do in Venezuela, but the assets of the state, the resources of the people, can’t be managed by a group of workers, it’s not like that,” Osorio said.
When Diana was nationalised, President Hugo Chavez said it should be run by the workers. “It’s not about state capitalism, you all have a vital role to play in terms of worker control, worker self management, socialist worker co-management of companies, it shouldn’t belong to the state, but rather to the people, managed by the workers, not the state. Workers … who have to be accountable to the people. Worker control is worker control,” he said to the Diana workers.
Industrias Diana run by workers
Diana workers’ spokesperson Ramos stated that if there had been consultation regarding the new management, there wouldn’t be a conflict now.
“We would have begun a dialogue with minister Osorio… he would have made his proposals, we would have made ours, and we would have arrived at an agreement, as the revolutionaries that we are. But a person who has never been to the company, has never visited us, never seen how we work, how our worker control works – that its very successful and is an achievement of the revolution at a national level – …he comes and imposes someone like that, ignoring the revolutionary process of the last 14 years to organise the people in order to transfer power,” he said.
“The proposal is that the new management comes out of the ranks of the workers [of Diana]. We can send ten names to the minister, and he picks one of them for example, and the [worker] assembly will decide those ten names,” Ramos told Alba Ciudad radio.
“Everyone knows our achievements, our production increase, our creation of new production lines, our expansion of the refinery, our new products. We’ve even been pioneers in the creation of freeware,” Meneses said. Diana uses open source software for its administration.
In a statement from the Diana socialist worker council published on Monday, the workers wrote that “It’s been over five years now that Diana has been under responsible worker control…and almost a month without the presence of management authorities, a situation which hasn’t at all affected productivity and efficiency, showing concretely the effectiveness of the participation of workers in the running of a company”.
On 28 July, Hugo Chavez’s birthday, Diana workers, “as a present for Comandante Chavez”, worked overtime, and beat their production record, Venezuelan journalist Karen Mendez reported.