Fw: ps re venezuela

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Fri May 21 2004 - 17:02:14 EDT

Unfortunately, I was 'cut off' Ope-l and could not respond sooner.
         You are so knowledgeable about Venezuela. Perhaps you can explain 
why there is no mention in this article (or in the more informed one on 7 
May on venezuelanalysis.com by Jonah Gindin, who was there during the 
strike) of opposition by SUTISS, the union, to the Chavez government. What 
do you know that they don't know... and vice versa?
         As it happens, there are many errors in this report. The strike 
was poorly conceived (in terms of timing, planning, and initial demands-- 
as opposed to those which emerged in the course of struggle), was of 
debatable legality (which has, as a result, produced a claim by the company 
against the Chavez government for losses because it did not declare it 
illegal) and may have weakened the union (in contrast to its previous 
struggles). See Gindin's article (venezuelan workers strike vs 
neo-liberalism), which raises the issue, eg, of the link between the strike 
and the contest for governor of the state (currently controlled by an 
anti-chavist who has been talking about secession) --- although there's 
much he doesn't include.
         in solidarity,

>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Rakesh Bhandari" <rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU>
>Sent: Friday, May 21, 2004 10:46 AM
>Subject: ps re venezuela
>from marxmail.org
>Another side to the Chavez government, no? Sending in the national guard?
>The Militant        May 31, 2004
>Steelworkers end strike in Venezuela
>CARACAS, Venezuela-More than 4,500 steelworkers returned to their jobs
>May 13 after a 19-day strike at the giant SIDOR steel works in Ciudad
>Guayana, in eastern Venezuela. The workers, members of steelworkers
>union SUTISS, were fighting for improved job safety and back payment of
>Workers approved a settlement in which each union member will receive a
>$1,500 lump-sum bonus offered by the government. SIDOR agreed to
>establish a joint safety committee made up of officials from the union,
>company, and government.
>The company had insisted from the beginning that the strike was illegal,
>and the government sent in the National Guard at the request of the
>company. On April 29 National Guard troops fired on striking workers
>with rubber bullets and tear gas.
>In telephone interviews, union officials and workers reported that while
>they had not won some of their demands, the strikers had stood up to the
>boss assault on the union. "The company was not able to break our
>strike," said Carlos Ramírez, a member of SUTISS. No workers, including
>contract workers who are not in the union, crossed the picket lines,
>SUTISS members said.
>SIDOR, the fourth-largest steel producer in Latin America, was a
>state-owned company until 1997. At that time the government of
>Venezuelan president Rafael Caldera sold a majority share to foreign
>investors and local businessmen. Today a consortium of capitalists in
>Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela own a 60 percent stake in the
>company; the state owns the other 40 percent.
>Since the sale of the company, the bosses have slashed size of the
>workforce from 18,000 to 12,000. Today almost half the employees are
>contract workers-temporary workers hired through subcontractors. The
>contract workers, who are not members of SUTISS, are subject to
>arbitrary dismissal and are often not paid the official minimum wage,
>which equals about $125 per month, one-third the average wage paid to
>union members.
>As a result of the bosses' productivity drive, forcing fewer workers to
>do more work, the number of employees killed or maimed on the job has
>increased. "Over the past six years, 11 workers have been killed due to
>unsafe working conditions. Nine of them were contract workers," said
>Valdemar Alvarez, a member of the SUTISS executive board, in a May 13
>telephone interview.
>The workers won their demand for a joint union-company-government
>committee to be established to monitor health and safety conditions. The
>company also pledged to enforce the contract stipulation that
>subcontractors pay workers the minimum wage.
>The union demand for payment of profit-sharing bonuses due to workers
>for 2003 was rejected by the company, which stated it made no profits
>that year and so owed nothing to the workers. This claim was rejected by
>the union. Under the strike settlement, the union accepted an offer by
>the government of a one-time "productivity" bonus totaling $6.3
>million-about $1,500 for every worker.
>The government deployment of hundreds of National Guard troops outside
>and inside the facilities was a blow to the strike. "They had the plant
>militarized," said Alvarez.
>During the strike the company fired 200 workers, including the entire
>SUTISS executive board. As part of the settlement the bosses agreed to
>reverse the firings of about two-thirds of these workers. Alvarez told
>the Militant the union is negotiating to reverse the remaining
>To mobilize support for the strike, SIDOR workers held a march May 6 of
>more than 3,000 through the streets of nearby Puerto Ordaz. Unionists
>said that demonstrators included contract workers and members of other
>unions and neighborhood organizations.One of the demands of the march
>was that the government re-nationalize SIDOR. Alvarez reported that
>sentiment in favor of nationalization has grown among the steelworkers
>as a result of their latest battle with the bosses. During a visit to
>the SIDOR steelworks last September, Militant reporters found that only
>a small minority of the workforce supported nationalization at that
>"Now I am in favor of nationalization," said maintenance technician José
>Marín in a phone interview. "Privatization has benefited only the
>owners, who have created nothing but problems for us."
>Alvarez said the union had been preparing to send a large delegation of
>workers to Caracas to ask the national government to back their fight.
>Shortly before the scheduled trip, the settlement was announced and the
>trip was cancelled.
>The SUTISS members at SIDOR have faced the bosses in a number of ongoing
>struggles. Last October thousands of steelworkers there carried out job
>actions demanding improved safety and health as well as wage increases
>stipulated in the contract. In December 2002, when the SIDOR owners
>joined a nationwide employer "strike" as part of an effort by
>capitalists to destabilize and remove the government headed by President
>Hugo Chávez, the steelworkers mobilized to oppose the bosses' sabotage
>of production. The national lockout was finally defeated through the
>actions of working people across the country.

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at

Residencias Anauco Suites
Departamento 601
Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
Caracas, Venezuela
(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724

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