Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on October 31 the expropriation of steel company Siderurgica del Turbio (Sidetur). The company is a major producer of steel used in the building of homes, bridges and other infrastructure and public works.
Chavez also announced government interventions in six large housing developments being built and eight others that are ready for residents to move in. Government oversight has been increased in a further 19 privately-run housing projects.
Sidetur, which manages 40% of Venezuela’s steel rod production, has been accused by the government of speculating with prices of building materials.
The firm manages six plants in Venezuela, as well as 15 collection and recycling centres for scrap metals nationwide. Sidetur states on its website that it has an annual production capacity of 835,000 tons, enough to build an estimated 160,000 homes.
Venezuela’s minister of mining and basic industries Jose Khan said: “This is not just any company. This is a company that must serve to guarantee inputs for housing, infrastructure and roads.”
All of Sidetur’s assets and facilities are included in the expropriation decree.
In a November 1 statement, Sidetur’s executive board opposed the expropriation and set out plans to stop it.
Elias Bessis, Lara state president of Venezuela’s largest business federation Fedecamaras, called the expropriation “alarming”.
However, Alejandro Alvarez, a steelworker at Sidetur’s plant in the state of Bolivar, supported the expropriation in a November 1 interview with the state television channel VTV.
Alvarez said the measure will have a positive impact on the country’s development since it will complement other publicly-owned firms in the basic industries.
Carlos de Oliveira, the president of the state-owned Siderurgica del Orinoco (Sidor), which is Venezuela's largest steel producer and was nationalised in 2009, said the expropriation of Sidetur puts 87% of rebar (steel rod) production in government hands.
“We feel strengthened by the decision [to nationalise Sidetur], a decision which is neither accidental nor isolated”, Oliveiria said. “This decision is taken in a context in which the president has personally taken up the problem of housing.”
Rada Gumuluch, president of the Venezuelan Aluminum Industry (Venalum), said Sidetur’s nationalisation was part of government efforts to create a national building industry to better serve “the public good”.
“The integration of the two iron-steel and aluminum industries is strategic for the country and for the building of socialism”, Gumuluch said on November 1. “To guarantee socialism, the means of production must be at the service of the people.”
Sidetur’s expropriation was discussed on VTV within the context of Plan Guayana Socialista 2019, which was launched by Chavez in 2009. Through this plan, the government seeks to play the largest role in the aluminum, iron and steel industries.
A key part of Plan Guayana Socialista is establishing workers’ control of production.
Gumuluch said workers’ control strengthens and democratises these basic industries. “This conglomerate of industries [steel, iron, aluminum] will respond to the people’s needs. We are moving towards a social, collective, indirect form of property.
“The state will administer the industry, but the workers are the fundamental actors, in association with society.”
Tirso Garcia, a steelworker at Sidetur’s plant in Antimano, Caraca, said: “We’ve been waiting a while for this to happen. It is part of securing dignity for us workers.
“We have finally removed the heel, the boot of the bosses.”
Chavez said: “Private interests, the speculators, they don’t want us to mass produce housing for the people. They operate on the capitalist notion of supply and demand.
“The less housing available, the higher the demand, and higher earnings for them.”
The announced interventions in the housing sector include the full expropriation of six housing building projects; the temporary occupation of eight housing projects (which are ready to be handed over to residents); and close supervision by government agencies of a further 19.
Chavez said on October 31: “To all the families who have paid into these projects, the government guarantees your deposits and your apartments, we will not allow you to become victims of the bourgeoisie.”
“We are returning them [the apartments] to their rightful owners.”
Public housing has been in Venezuelan news recently, as heavy rains in October left hundreds of Venezuelan families dependent on government shelters. Chavez also signed agreements with Russia, Iran, Belarus and Portugal to build or buy about 35,000 homes during his diplomatic tour that month.
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]