[Marxism] Nationalizations help Ven workers restart factories

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Aug 5 08:55:03 MDT 2005


Another useful article from the Militant on  Venezuela.  Of course the
signal that the government is the enemy, if not the "main enemy," is
carried in the exposure that it "promotes co-management". Of course the
central battle is the battle to assure land to the tillers, and
politically defeat and disarm the landlords. Unless this battle can be
won, workers control and nationalization and so forth will only be
passing reforms, not steps in a genuine people's revolution.  This
should be the primary focus right now, in my opinion, not just for
peasant fighters but for vanguard workers. I hope and believe that the
revolutionaries who lead the Venezuelan government today grasp this
fact, which is decisive for the future of the revolution.
Fred Feldman

The Militant
August 18, 2005

Venezuelan workers fight to restart plants 
Government confiscates some shut-down
companies, promotes ‘co-management’
 
BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS  
LOS TEQUES, Venezuela—“In April the National Assembly declared this
factory a public utility and expropriated it,” said José Quintero, a
welder at Inveval, which produces valves for the oil industry. The
plant, previously called Constructora Nacional de Válvulas, is located
at the top of a hill near this city in Miranda state, about an hour
south of Caracas, the capital. 
The former owner of Inveval, Andrés Sosa Pietri, was a figure in the
country’s main business association, Fedecámaras, which backed the April
2002 military coup attempt and the employers’ lockout later that year
that sought to topple the government headed by President Hugo Chávez.
Pietri shut down the plant during the lockout, which was centered in the
oil industry. The “oil coup” failed after Venezuelan working people
mobilized to restart production and popular support for the bosses’
action dwindled. 

Afterward Pietri demanded workers agree to reopen the contract and take
steep cuts in wages and benefits to “save” the company. Workers refused.
Pietri then tried to move machinery out of the factory. In response,
workers occupied the plant in May 2003. They demanded the government
nationalize it and aid them to restart production. 

A little more than half of the 120 workers remained involved in the
two-year-long struggle. Speaking with Militant reporters July 4, José
Rondón said they survived during this period thanks to solidarity from
workers in nearby plants and other companies. 

“In the last three months of 2004 we suspended the occupation due to
difficulties in making ends meet,” said Luisa Morales, an office worker.
The owners then tried again to remove equipment. “But we were monitoring
the situation and reoccupied the plant. We stopped Pietri’s sinister
plans a second time.” 

During the occupations workers organized the Conflict Committee, which
replaced the union after local metalworkers union officials sided with
the boss. The metalworkers union was affiliated to the Confederation of
Venezuelan Workers (CTV), which backed the reactionary national lockout.


The government decided to confiscate the company, Quintero said, after
the latest action by the owners and the reoccupation by the workers.
Today the state holds a 51 percent stake in the new company and workers,
now organized in a cooperative, hold 49 percent. The workers have
elected members to a new board of directors who will serve along with
managers appointed by the state. 

Quintero and other workers said this is not exactly what they demanded.
Most of the dozen workers interviewed at the plant gate said workers
need to have complete control of production and job conditions. They are
now organized through a factory committee that calls monthly assemblies
of employees, while workers carry out repairs and maintenance in
preparation for restarting production some time this fall. 

Julio Rángel, another worker, said this is difficult to do in one
factory alone. Quintero and others said that to try to push the process
forward they are collaborating with workers in several other factories
where “co-management” is being implemented by the government instead of
nationalization under workers’ control of production. These plants
include Alcasa, an aluminum mill in Bolívar state, and the former
Venepal in Carabobo (see articles below). Co-management is also in place
at Invetex, a textile mill in Cojedes, and Pío Tamayo, a sugar mill in
Lara. Invetex is privately owned. Its board includes the boss and
representatives of the workers and government. 



------------------------------------------------------------------------
--------


BY OLYMPIA NEWTON
AND CARLOS CORNEJO  
CIUDAD GUAYANA, Venezuela—Last December, workers at the state-owned
ALCASA aluminum mill here slowed down production to demand 13 billion
bolívars ($600,000) in unpaid wages and benefits. “We brought production
down by 40 percent,” Enrique José Contreras, a line operator, said in a
July 6 interview. Contreras said workers argued the company had been
operating in the red for 16 years. They demanded the books be open to
public inspection and a new management be installed. 
The company tried unsuccessfully to fire 20 union leaders. The governor
of Bolívar state, of the governing Fifth Republic Movement, sent in 80
National Guardsmen to “protect the factory” and make sure production
kept going. 

“There was no confrontation because we didn’t let the troops provoke
us,” said Manuel Figuera, a member of the executive board of
Sintralcasa, the union representing 2,350 production workers. Some 500
others work here as contractors. The plant produces primary aluminum
products, which are exported mostly to U.S. and European factories
making soda cans and other finished goods. “We explained our demands and
won public opinion to our side,” Figuera said. In the end, the troops
were pulled out. 

In February, the government replaced most managers. The plant is now run
under “co-management.” ALCASA’s board includes two directors elected by
the workers and four appointed by the state. Foremen were also changed. 

Figuera said that this type of co-management “can exist even in private
companies.” He added that he is not for a wholesale nationalization of
the economy. “That is risky,” he said. “We depend a lot on the U.S.
economy, so we’re not for bringing down the empire. Just a more equal
society.” 

The company is using the new setup to draw workers toward increasing
productivity, with the help of union officers. “Now that we have
co-management, the union no longer speaks only of raising wages,” said
Trino Silva, the union’s general secretary. “We have to increase
production and lower costs.” Production at the plant has increased from
an average of 400 tons a day last year to 537 tons a day now, he noted. 

During a union meeting at the plant entrance July 7, workers expressed
various views on the new set-up. “I’m for co-management,” said Fidel
García, a maintenance technician. “Getting rid of the old management was
a victory. But up to now it hasn’t resolved the problem of the unpaid
wages and benefits.” 

“The new management punishes you the same and job conditions haven’t
improved,” said Gonzalo Rommel, a machine operator. “We still haven’t
gotten our back pay, which is why we slowed down production in the first
place.” 



------------------------------------------------------------------------
--------


BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS
AND CARLOS CORNEJO  
MORóN, Venezuela—Venepal was one of the main producers of paper and
cardboard in this country, supplying 40 percent of the domestic market
and exporting throughout Latin America. Its paper mill and associated
paper bag and notebook plants here employed 1,200 workers. The company
had two other plants in the nearby city of Valencia, also in Carabobo
state, and Maracay, in the neighboring state of Araguá. 
On January 19 the government expropriated the bankrupt company after a
two-year-long struggle during which workers demanded its
nationalization. Renamed Invepal, the company reopened in May under
“co-management.” The new five-person board of directors is made up of
three elected by the workers and two appointed by the state. Edgar Peña,
the former union president, is the new president of Invepal. 

“The expropriation of Venepal is an exception, not a political measure,”
President Hugo Chávez told the press after signing the takeover. “If
it’s yours, it’s yours. But for the company that is closed and
abandoned, we’ll go for them.” In his weekly television program Aló
Presidente (Hello President) on July 17, Chávez said the government may
confiscate over 100 such companies. 

Rowan Jiménez, a maintenance worker at the Morón mill who is now
responsible for public relations, said workers belong to a cooperative,
which holds a 49 percent stake in the company. The state owns 51
percent. 

Jiménez and other workers described the struggle that led to the
expropriation. It included a sit-down strike between July and September
2003, sparked by layoffs of 600 workers and announced wage cuts. The
owners had shut down the plant between December 2002 and January 2003 as
part of the employers’ lockout, and afterward claimed they were broke.
An agreement the owners and the union announced in the fall of 2003 was
short-lived. 

Manrique González, Invepal’s production coordinator and a former
salesperson for Venepal, is one of few administrative employees who
stayed. “I showed the union evidence that the owners had plans to
bankrupt the company and take their capital abroad,” he said. Last
September, after the failure of the recall referendum against the Chávez
administration, Venepal declared bankruptcy and announced it would sell
machinery to pay creditors. 

In response, workers occupied the Morón mill for five months, guarding
the facilities around the clock and organizing solidarity rallies. “We
also went to Caracas to demand nationalization,” said Jorge Guasimucaro.
They received support from other working people, including from oil
workers at the nearby El Palito refinery who provided food during the
takeover. The 300 workers who stayed in the plant during the occupation
are the ones working now, having started up parts of the complex. If
they bring production to pre-2002 levels, Jiménez said, another 1,000
workers would have to be hired. 

Workers here said the expropriation was a victory in their struggle, but
one riddled with contradictions. 

“We now control our job conditions and make decisions on how to organize
production,” said José Campos, a machine operator at the paper bag
plant. He and other workers also said this needs to be extended to the
entire operation, involving more and more workers in administrative
tasks. Workers said everyone now is paid 500,000 bolívars per month
($232), slightly more than the minimum wage and less than their pay
under the former Venepal. Several workers said that as “co-owners,”
organized into a cooperative that has replaced the union, it’s harder to
ask for better pay until the company gets on its feet and becomes
profitable. 

One of the two production lines in the mill that workers restarted two
months ago was down on July 8. Production during this period has been
running at 25 percent of capacity, workers said. 

“The main reason is lack of raw materials,” mainly paper pulp that is
imported from Chile, said mill worker Carlos Alberto González. Several
workers said there is a political reason behind the lack of paper pulp.
There is opposition within the government to making the new company a
success, because it could set a “bad example” of what could be done with
other private industries, the workers said.  
 
 
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