Venezuelan Trade Unions, Left Parties Blast ‘Pyrrhic’ May 1 Wage Increase

The new $2.50 monthly minimum salary represents a 1,650% interannual increase but falls short of matching yearly inflation rates of around 4,000%.

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Communist Deputy Oscar Figuera leads a May Day protest outside the Labor Ministry in Caracas. (@OscarFigueraPCV / Twitter)
Communist Deputy Oscar Figuera leads a May Day protest outside the Labor Ministry in Caracas. (@OscarFigueraPCV / Twitter)
By Paul Dobson
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Mérida, May 3, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – A number of Venezuelan trade unions and left-wing parties firmly rejected the government’s May Day salary increase over the weekend.

Monthly incomes were upped by 289% from 1.8 million to 7 million bolivars (BsS) on Saturday, or from US $0.64 to $2.50 at the current exchange rate, respectively. The increase, which applies to public and private sector workers, will also be used to calculate pensions. Public sector workers likewise see an increase in additional food tickets from 1.8 to 3 million BsS, with their new monthly combined income of 10 million BsS equating to the cost of one carton of 30 eggs.

“We have made a great effort to find the resources and increase wages,” President Nicolás Maduro told supporters at a closed-door May Day event in Caracas. He highlighted the impact of the US blockade on the economy, which has an ongoing inter-annual inflation estimated at 3,867%.

The president additionally announced that social security payments are to be pegged to the country’s Petro cryptocurrency in order to “defend their real value.” Many workers have seen benefits such as healthcare, child protection and even funeral coverage canceled or reduced to zero in recent years in light of spiraling prices and fixed social coverage payouts.

In 2018, the Maduro government vowed to protect wages by pegging them to the Petro, which in turn is pegged to the price of a barrel of oil. Monthly minimum salaries were fixed at half a Petro ($30) but the policy failed to have any significant impact and was silently abandoned later that year.

Following the May Day announcements, Maduro also replaced Labor Minister Eduardo Piñate, assigning him the education portfolio vacated by Aristóbulo Istúriz, who died last Tuesday.

Piñate had been criticized for failing to address worker’s demands and implementing memorandum 2792 which allows for the violation of collective contracts in both public and private companies. He was replaced by José Rivero, who held the Labor Ministry from 2007-2008 and is currently serving his second term as a deputy in the National Assembly. Rivero holds strong links with Venezuela’s heavy industries in the east of the country.

Trade unions protest “insignificant” salary hike

Venezuela’s trade unions largely rejected the salary increase, with the hashtag #SalarioIgualCanastaBasica (”salary equivalent to the basic food basket”) trending in top place in a Sunday Twitter storm. Estimates from the rightwing Worker’s Documentation and Analysis Center and the Venezuelan Finance Observatory place the family food basket around $230 a month.

For its part, the FNLCT trade union confederation blasted the raise as “pyrrhic” and “outrageous.” At an alternative May Day rally outside the Labor Ministry, FNLCT National Coordinator Pedro Eusse told workers that “a revolutionary way out of this crisis of capitalism is needed” and that the working class “should play a leading role” in running the state.

“We are living through a destruction of wages and the imposition of workplace deregulation, flexibility in labor relations, the undoing of collective contracts, violation of union rights, (and) criminalization and persecution of labor struggles,” he went on to say.

At the rally, Communist Party Lawmaker Oscar Figuera also called on workers to “unite and struggle” against “imperialism and those who hand over our rights.”

The UNETE union confederation, which did not take part in any May Day activities, described the wage increase as “insignificant” and called for a “political change of course” from the government. A joint statement issued by another union bloc, including those representing workers of the foreign, transport and agriculture ministries, likewise criticized the government’s wage increases, explaining that they “only generate more inflation, greater unemployment and precariousness.”

Equally, unions representing Caracas healthcare workers, amongst others, placed the blame for the “destruction of Venezuela’s wages” at the doorstep of the “anti-worker President Nicolas Maduro.”

Unions and leftist organizations highlighted a series of other issues over the weekend, including wage restructuring, de facto dollarization and deteriorated workplace conditions. There have also been a number of independently-organized protests in recent weeks over pay, conditions, and privatization in recent months.

Only the government-backed CBST union confederation endorsed the pay rise, with spokesperson and National Assembly Deputy Wills Rangel applauding the government’s “efforts” in increasing workers’ purchasing power. Other workers’ movements accuse the CBST of a lack of independence and of uncritically backing government policy over workers’ demands.