Venezuelan workers march for nationalisations

Workers rally in May outside business federation Federcamaras in support of the Chavez government’s nationlaisation policies.

The struggle against inflation, corruption, and destabilisation in Venezuela’s economy is continuing.

In the last week of May, workers from nationalised companies marched to protest hoarding and price speculation and call for worker-run management, while national investigators arrested the former president of the state-run food company PDVAL for alleged involvement in the diversion of food from the market.

Thousands of workers from food companies and cattle ranches that have been nationalised in recent years, as well as workers from nationalised electricity, petroleum, and mining companies marched to the headquarters of Venezuela’s largest private business chamber, Federcamaras.

The workers expressed their strong support for the government’s policy of nationalising companies in strategic sectors of the economy and constructing an alternative system of production and distribution co-managed by the state and workers. This is part of the goal of building “21st century socialism”.

The workers denounced Federcamaras and the former private owners of their companies for socially irresponsible behaviour, including violations of workers’ rights, hoarding and price speculation, and corruption.

Federcamaras helped organise the failed 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez.

Angel Navas, coordinator of the national electricity workers union Fetralec, told reporters during the march: “We are here to tell the country that we have the capacity to manage our companies alongside comrade President Hugo Chavez, we have the capacity to put production at the service of collectivity, and that the nationalised companies are a success.”

Pascuala Salmeron from the sardine processing plant La Gaviota, which was nationalised in April 2009, said: “The owners of the company, the capitalists, left it with the machinery damaged. In spite of this, we have been able to move the company forward.”

Two months after its nationalisation, La Gaviota workers elected a six-member council to manage the company’s administration.

Marchers protested what they called the “media campaign” to falsely claim production has decreased at nationalised companies.

Sergio Solarte of the sugar plant Central Venezuela said production has more than doubled, from 3800 to 7800 sacks of sugar, since last year’s nationalisation.

Venezuelan Vice-President Elias Jaua said production has increased in 80% of nationalised companies over the course of Chavez’s ten-year presidency.

Meanwhile, outside the Caracas headquarters of Venezuela’s largest food producer, Polar, 5200 former transport workers demanded severance pay they say the company owes them.

Such worker protests and unresolved grievances were grounds for several nationalisations in past years. Chavez has made clear he does not rule out nationalisating the food giant.

This conflict is evidence of the common practice among private companies in Venezuela of pushing workers into non-unionised contract labour to maximise profits. The government’s nationalisation program seeks to end the practice.

Chavez visited the nationalised cooking oil factory Diana Industries in Carabobo state on June 2 as part of rallying support for his government’s policies. Chavez declared “economic war” against the capitalist class.

Chavez said private businesses in Venezuela largely depend on the state for credits and raw material supplies. “With me, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, the bread crumbs have run out”, Chavez said.

Chavez said his administration was not against “honest business people” who followed national laws. He said his government would only nationalise those companies that violate laws, infringe on worker rights, or threaten the national economy.

Chavez said Venezuela’s economic problems, including high inflation, could not be solved as long as the capitalists controlled the economy. “As long as the bourgeoisie still controls 80% of the national banking sector, 90% of trade, and a large part of the transnational companies, we will not be able to lower inflation.”

“Each time we raise the minimum wage, they go and increase prices”, Chavez said.

“They want to create a great conflict so the country will be ungovernable, in order to justify international intervention, to carry out a coup …”

In a crackdown on corruption in PDVAL, authorities from the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIM) arrested PDVAL’s former president, Luis Pulido, on charges of hoarding food.

The arrest occurred after SEBIM officials found 1300 industrial crates of essential food items that were past their use by date in the state-owned storage facility in Carabobo.

In Cojedes state, 800 containers full of rotting food were also found.

The Popular Organised Anti-Corruption Interrogation (AIPO), a network of workers formed to uncover corruption, said Pukido was part of the “endogenous right wing” — corrupt, bureaucratic elements within the state apparatus.

In a 2008 denunciation, AIPO had said Pulido was part of “a food mafia that has been growing within all the public institutions”.

AIPO said this mafia was guilty of charging commissions on purchases and conducting illegal auctions in which PDVAL buys from the company willing to pay the most kickbacks for company heads.

Chavez condemned corruption in PDVAL and demanded jail time for those responsible.

“The revolution has created a true distribution network for good, cheap food for all the Venezuelan people”, said Chavez. “We must correct these flaws and continue the battle against inefficiency, corruption, and bureaucracy.”

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]