Caracas, August 12th 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Clashes between protesting workers at the state-owned steel plant Sidor and the Venezuelan National Guard on Monday in the southeastern city of Guyana ended with at least 14 arrests and two injuries, according to multiple sources.
The protest, focusing on continued delays in the negotiation of a collective workers’ contract with the state entity which runs the factory, began at 7 a.m. yesterday when workers gathered in the plant and decided to march to Guyana Avenue, the city’s main access road.
Before they could arrive, local media reported, the National Guard intercepted the demonstration with pellets and tear gas, inciting the conflict which led to the arrests and injuries.
According to a press release from the leftist Socialist Tide (Marea Socialista) organization, the National Guard had also stationed six tanks within the factory, in the area where company buses normally arrive to drop off workers. On Monday Sidor did not send out buses, which workers involved in the protests considered was an effort to avoid further unrest, though many workers found other means of transportation to arrive and participate.
Tensions between Sidor workers and the national government have escalated in recent weeks, particularly after both National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro criticized the protests, which have on occasion blocked roads in the city, as beholden to union “mafias” and part of a larger attempt to destabilize the factory and region.
There has also been a dispute about who is responsible for falling productivity at the plant. Workers blame company management for “inefficiency” and “bureaucracy”, while the government accuses union “mafias” of being responsible.
Over the weekend, pro-government National Assembly deputy Oswaldo Vera added to the debate, proposing to workers at the National Workers Congress that a “brigade” be conformed to recover the plant.
“We’re going to mobilize because Sidor is the property of the workers and the people, and we’re going to get it working again,” Vera added.
Following yesterday’s confrontation, Sidor’s trade union (Sutiss) president, Jose Luis Hernandez, called on the government to change course over its handling of the dispute. “President Nicolas Maduro, leave Miraflores (presidential palace) and come and listen to the workers who were waiting for you today. Here are the consequences of the subliminal message that Deputy Vera sent out”.
Among the demands voiced by workers include a wage increase, which has not occurred since the previous workers’ contract expired in 2010, and a discussion of retirement plans for over 800 employees who have worked for more than 30 years at the plant.
The Socialist Tide grouping, which is a dissident current within the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), also condemned the day’s events. “If the goal of this repression is to defeat one of the strongest, most determined, and intelligent sectors of our young working class, it will become clear that beyond these speeches [from the national government], the aim is to destroy the Bolivarian process, and regress from its social achievements,” the organization argued in its press release.