Waving banners saying "Yes to expropriation!" workers from the supermarket chain Exito celebrated the decision of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to nationalise the French-Colombian owned transnational company for speculation offences on January 17.
Nationalisation proceedings were initiated against Exito after inspections by the consumer defence institute Indepabis. The inspections are part of a broader campaign against price speculation after Venezuela's Bolivar currency was devalued on January 8.
The devaluation makes imports, on which the Venezuelan economy is heavily dependant, more expensive.
Trade unions responded by calling for wage increases to compensate. Chavez called on people to denounce any unjustified price increases, threatening to use the army to expropriate the businesses of those who engage in speculation.
Speaking to state-owned television station VTV on January 18, a group of Exito workers from Miranda state applauded the nationalisation move. They denounced the company for speculation and abusive anti-worker practices.
Exito Workers Union secretary Caren Castillo said: "They ignore the Indepabis inspections and now, after the adjustment of the dollar, sell more expensively than they normally do.
"They remark and increase prices as they please."
Union health and safety secretary Claudia Romero said the company often ignores increases in employment benefits issued from the labour ministry, as well as occupational health and safety requirements. She said the majority of workers support nationalisation.
Union claims secretary Lisbeth Jimenez also denounced delays in negotiations for a collective contract, adding that the company had ignored National Institute of Prevention, Health and Safety at Work regulations.
"We, the workers, are the ones who make this shop work, while they are exploiters who do not respect the law or job security", said Jimenez. "We applaud this measure taken by the state."
Trade minister Eduardo Saman said that the company not only committed speculation offences, but also mistreated workers.
"We have long accompanied and maintained direct contact with employees of Exito and are aware of all the abuses they have suffered and the struggle they have carried out for their claims," Saman said.
Exito stores will be incorporated into the Corporation of Socialist Markets, a publicly owned network of subsidised supermarkets and food stores.
Saman said the measure would be taken hand in hand with the workers, who will continue receiving wages and other benefits throughout the transition and will have their job security guaranteed under the new system.
Saman said the workers themselves will maintain the operations of the Exito stores and "generate transformative change towards a fair trading system".
Saman said workers who have been unfairly dismissed would be rehired, in line with a directive from the labour ministry — a measure, he added, that the company had failed to implement.
As part of the broader campaign against speculation, Indepabis representatives and National Guard officers have inspected 1967 businesses since the devaluation, and sanctioned 1031 with fines or temporary closures.
The government has also decreed a 25% minimum wage increase and is expanding access to subsidised goods to offset inflationary impacts on workers and the poor as a result of the devaluation.
Venezuela's opposition-aligned business chamber Fedecamaras, which led a failed coup against the democratically elected Chavez in 2002, criticised the government's actions. It claimed the move "violates the right to private property" enshrined in article 115 of the constitution.
However, Venezuela's constitution allows for nationalisation, with compensation, if the company is deemed to be of "public utility".
[Abridged from Venezuelanalysis.com.]