Venezuela: People of Petroleum vs. PDVSA's Blue-Collar Workforce

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Wed Dec 11 04:39:22 MST 2002

*****   ...The conflict between Chavez and the opposition is at least
partly over oil.

Petroleos de Venezuela is a powerful giant on the world stage. It is
ranked fifth among oil corporations in terms of revenue and is second
largest overall when reserves, production and capacity are taken into

But, unfortunately for Chavez's government, PDVSA is highly unusual
in several ways.

Although the firm is state-owned, it is a virtual fiefdom that has
always operated with near-total autonomy from the government. It is
perhaps the only large corporation in the world whose management has
its own separate labor union. The group, People of Petroleum, is
militantly anti-Chavez and accuses him of trying to grab control of
the company and politicize its operations.

The labor union representing PDVSA's blue-collar workforce, however,
has supported Chavez and refused to go out on strike.


But it is People of Petroleum that matters. Unlike most oil firms,
which hire shipping contractors for most or all of their transport
operations, PDVSA owns and operates all of its tankers. Now, as if
with a flick of the switch, People of Petroleum's captains and
executives have shut down the refineries and exports.

On Friday, Chavez announced that navy captains and crews would take
over the tankers and pilot them. But it appeared to be an empty
threat -- any move to do so would cause international insurance
companies to suspend the tankers' policies, thus prompting U.S.
maritime authorities to ban the ships from docking at American ports.

"The management of PDVSA and the tanker captains have placed their
political interests over their professional responsibility," said
Mazhar Al- Shereidah, director of Petroanalysis, an oil-industry
consulting firm, and a professor of petroleum economics at the
National Central University in Caracas....

"No democratic government would allow political interference with a
fundamental, complex industry that provides one-half of government
revenue," he said.

(Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer, "Strike Suspends Venezuelan
Oil Exports to U.S.: Higher Prices Likely at Pump, As Bush Team
Prepares for Iraq War," _San Francisco Chronicle_ 7 December 2002,

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