Boss’s Campaign of Terror Against Venezuelan 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, which is fighting to ensure that the company complies with Venezuela’s constitution and labour laws.

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.

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

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.

Messages of solidarity can be sent to [email protected]. There is also an international sign on statement available at http://www.mareasocialista.com.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #764 27 August 2008.