Caracas, Venezuela, November 16, 2005 – Twenty five workers are on the 17th day of a hunger strike over the project to extend line 3 of the Caracas Metro, one of the Chavez government’s signature infrastructure projects. They and other workers are demanding union recognition and money owed by their employer Geobrain. Ramon Martinez, Health and Safety Manager for the site at Poliedro, Caracas, said they want, “Everything we were promised and everything that we should get according to the law.”
Geobrain is owned by the multinational engineering company Odebrecht. The Venezuelan government is paying Odebrecht to extend Line 3 of the Caracas Metro system. The strikers say Geobrain has not paid them their full wages, their social security or their production bonus. Mr. Martinez said, “we negotiated these things collectively with Geobrain and they have failed to honor them”.
Luis Manuel Villorroel, President of SOANCA, or the National Autonomous Workers Construction Union said Geobrain responded to their complaints by firing 13 workers and threatening to close down the operation. After this there was, “a collective meeting where the workers decided to stop working.”
Martinez said 25 of the 145 workers participating are on a hunger strike, “because when you can’t pay, you can’t buy food. It’s symbolic.” Supporting the strikers at the site are local community activists such as Tupamaros leader Alejandro Gonzalez and the director of community radio station Radio Ali Primera, Leonardo Dominguez.
The striking workers’ most important demand is to change their union. They claim the union their employer recognizes, SOVINCA, or the Venezuelan Construction Workers Union, does not represent them. “Jose Maria Figuera, the General Secretary, of SOVINCA is owned by Geobrain,” said Martinez.
According to Martinez, 130 out of 145 workers at Geobrain are part of SOANCA and virtually none are part of SOVINCA. Martinez also said that he wanted there to be a free and open vote of the workers over which union would represent them and that then, “they must recognize our union, SOANCA.”
A spokesperson for Oderbrecht, Diana Gomez, said that the claims of the strikers could not be discussed. Gomez said, “We are contracted by Caracas Metro. The problems of these workers are not Odebrecht’s but the Metro’s.” Gomez said that work had, “virtually stopped,” on the project and that Odebrecht could not fulfill its contract. According to Gomez, “The unions in Venezuela are too strong. When we have problems of this type we feel it is the responsibility of the Metro Unions, not Odebrecht.”
SOANCA President Villorroel said the strikers had been, “talking with all relevant government institutions, from the Ministry of Infrastructure to the office of the Vice President.” Villorroel said so far they had not had much response. Martinez said he hoped that the Minister of Labor would visit them in the next few days and help solve the situation. Currently SOANCA is an autonomous union. It is not affiliated to the UNT, the pro-Chavez Trade Union Federation. Typically members of the UNT have good relations with the Ministry of Labor.