Venezuela: Boss's campaign of terror against unionists
The owner of Fundimeca, an air conditioning factory in Valencia, Carabobo, is waging an intense campaign of terror and intimidation against the factory's work force.
Fundimeca's work force has been fighting to ensure that the company complies with Venezuela's constitution and labour laws, in particular an order by the labour inspectorate to rehire nine workers.
Fundimeca employs 360 workers, 80% of whom are women.
One worker has been shot in the leg by armed thugs and 18 workers and three union leaders are currently facing trial in Carabobo courts, accused of various charges including criminal gang activity with the threat of jail terms looming over their heads.
Among those standing trial is Stalin Perez Borges, a national coordinator of the National Union of Workers (UNT) and Venezuela's principal delegate to this year's International Labor Organization convention — where after seven years, the delegation successfully removed Venezuela from the list of countries that supposedly violate union freedom.
Perez Borges and a number of the others facing trial are also members of the mass-based United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), headed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Also facing charges is union finance secretary and key leader of the dispute Gloria Palomina, who was shot by armed thugs.
Some of those facing trial did not participate at all in the dispute, while others have been threatened with charges if they do not resign.
Meanwhile Fundameca boss Jose Ignacio Jaramillo, an anti-Castro Cuban who supported the coup attempt against Chavez in 2002, has outrightly refused to abide by the law.
He is suspected of being behind the shooting of Palomina yet continues to walk free, openly declaring he has enough money to buy all the "justice" he needs in Carabobo.
Since the election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 1998, the rights of workers have dramatically increased. Using the new constitution and laws introduced, a new layer of pro-revolution unions have been organised and scored some important successes in the fight for workers rights, including in certain instances organising workers to take over the running of factories shut by their owners.
This has also led to a reinvigoration of the workers movement, particularly after the struggle by workers, together with the community and armed forces, to break the back of the bosses strike in December 2002-January 2003 that attempted to shut down the state oil company and other important industries.
In response, employers have launched successive attacks against the new layer of militant unionists, sacking those that attempt to form new unions and demand their rights.
In a number of cases they have benefitted from state bureaucrats who do not enforce compliance with pro-worker laws, including counter-revolutionary elements within the still-existing capitalist state institutions.
In the case of Fundimeca, evidence points to close collaboration between the boss, the local court and the public prosecutions office in order to defeat the workers.
The struggle at Fundimeca began on June 26, when the boss refused to enact the order of the labour inspectorate of Valencia to rehire nine workers sacked last November.
In response, a group of workers decided to go on strike and formed a picket line outside the factory.
On June 30, Palomina was shot when two armed men rode up to the picket line on motorbikes and told the workers to get back to work. Out of fear for their safety, the workers took over the factory that day.
This is just part of the intimidation campaign against the workers, who have had their houses monitored day and night, received threatening phone calls and been threatened with jail terms if they do not resign.
On July 3 and July 18, the workers were ordered to leave the premises by state judge Mauricia María Gonzalez, who is also a member of the PSUV. The workers refused to leave the first time, and the factory was inspected and deemed to be in perfect shape.
The second time, following a signed agreement in which the workers would leave the factory and the boss would not take reprisal actions and would rehire the nine workers, cover the medical costs of Palomina and withdraw the charges laid, the workers left the factory.
However, the boss failed to comply with the agreement.
On August 4, the workers were notified that arrest orders had been issued against them. Three days later they presented themselves before the authorities and were held for almost six hours in a maximum security prison.
They were informed they were being charged with violating private property, impeding the right to work and criminal gang activity, among other charges.
Public prosecutor Jaime Alexander Martinez Lugo asked that the workers facing court be deprived of liberty until the end of the trial, a request rejected by the judge who instead ordered that the accused could not leave the state, be in the vicinity of Fundimeca or speak out against the company.
They were warned that if they broke any of these terms they would be detained in Tocuyito prison. If found guilty, the workers face several years in jail.
Many are asking: given all this, why is the boss — who has still not rehired the workers as ordered by the state, is under suspicion for involvement in the shooting of a union leader and who continues to threaten other workers — not facing charges or even investigation?
In response, an international campaign has been launched in defence of those facing trial. The PSUV candidate for governor of the state of Carabobo, Mario Silva, has publicly spoken out against the "outrageous" intimidation campaign against the workers.
Silva called for the intervention of the national government to override the state courts. A range of grassroots unions and worker federations have also joined the call for solidarity.
Unions and solidarity committees are urged to send a fax in support of the workers to the Public Prosecutors Office in Valencia at + 58 241 826 9352.