Bureaucracy in Venezuela has failed to empower workers

Self-styled ‘workerist Government' has yet to deliver, unions say

Productivity in companies that used to be in private hands has declined, while trade union freedom is disregarded, sources said (File photo)
Saturday July 27, 2013  12:00 AM
The idea of a ‘workerist government' has been peddled in Venezuela for some years now. The late Hugo Chávez did it, and President Nicolás Maduro is persistent about it. But what do they mean by this notion? One would take that to mean that all conflicts related to labor liabilities have been settled, or that the minimum wage keeps up with inflation, or that the social security system works. Unfortunately, reality gets in the way. The government keeps huge debts with public sector workers as reported by workers themselves.

Strikes, labor disputes, expired contracts, trade union rebuff, disinvestment, and administrative corruption have become all too common while working class empowerment plans by the government have not come to fruition.

"Bureaucracy has failed to empower workers. As a rule, production has been chaotic. Regrettably enough, companies used to be productive under private hands, but now production has dropped to zero because nationalized companies are driven into bankruptcy," says Julio Polanco, the coordinator of the Federación Unitaria de Sindicatos Bolivarianos de Carabobo (Fusbec), a pro-government union federation.

Even if his federation has been in the forefront of private companies' nationalization, Polanco says he is dismayed by the condition of the companies and by the unfulfilled promises about working conditions. "Talk to workers about expropriation and they will be frightened, as the experience has not been good," he adds.
Workers have been the central focus in the official rhetoric to carry out expropriations.

The idea of placing companies at the service of society, making them self-sustaining, distributing profits in a transparent way, and dignifying the quality of life for workers appealed to the working class all across the nation, says Luis Chaparro, Secretary General of Sindicato Único de Trabajadores del Cemento, a cement workers union in the northeastern state of Anzoátegui.

However, on considering the cement industry, which used to be in private hands, Chaparro says that not a promise has been kept.

"The people take very little part in managing the company; there used to be programs directly benefiting communities, but they no longer exist; the government had to inject money into these companies to make them sustainable; cement is sold at a greatly increased price, and the distribution mafia has become stronger," he says.

The same is true for other public sector companies like Lácteos Los Andes, Agropatria, Abastos Bicentenarios, Petrocasa, Envase Internacional, Cultivo Organopónico, Civetchi where, according to Polanco, workers are harassed and legalization of unions is not allowed as they are considered "counter-revolutionary."

"Under private hands, unions were recognized; you could go on a strike without being termed a ‘destabilizer.' The shift from the old to the new scheme centers in the criminalization of protest," Chaparro says.

Polanco and Chaparro urge President Maduro to listen to the workers, just as he did business people. They warn that workers complaints are building up, which could have a pressure cooker effect risking explosion, and no one wants that.

Translated by Sancho Araujo
The end of a cycle

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brazil on March 13 to demand the ouster of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, carrying banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes. A banner read "We don't want a new Venezuela in Brazil."