Venezuelan Workers Mobilize for Wage Reforms & Against Labor Persecution

A recent university investigation into the labor market also indicates a sharp rise in informal employment and a drop in social security coverage.

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Workers and leftwing organizations protested labor persecution in Caracas last week. (@MilitanteVida / Twitter)
Workers and leftwing organizations protested labor persecution in Caracas last week. (@MilitanteVida / Twitter)

Mérida, November 8, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Leftwing trade unions and workers’ organizations have held a series of activities to denounce labor persecution and present policy proposals to the government.

Activists and political parties set up a small NavidadSinTrabadorxsPresxs (Christmas Without Imprisoned Workers) protest in Caracas last Wednesday calling for the release of detained workers and trade unionists.

Campaign organizers claim that state security forces have arrested as many as 150 workers’ leaders, as groupings including the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), International Marxist Tendency (CMI) and Socialism and Liberty Party (PSL) demanded “an end to criminalization of those who struggle for their labor rights.” While the march was not backed by the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV), some rank and file members did support it.

“They [the workers] were arrested for denouncing corruption, fighting for their rights or opposing privatization (…) With workers behind bars there can be no Merry Christmas or Happy New Year,” League of Socialist Workers (LTS) spokesman Ángel Arias told those present.

Protesters also argued that many of the multiple arrests are politically motivated and violate due process, while others contrasted them with the government’s recent release of rightwing leaders implicated in insurrectionary violence.

One of the high-profile cases involves local oil managers Aryenis Torrealba and Alfredo Chirinos, who were recently sentenced to five years for allegedly leaking information to foreign sources. Both deny the charges and claim they were targeted for denouncing corruption in the industry. Their case has attracted widespread backing from Venezuela’s grassroots movements.

Likewise, Tupamaro members called for the release of their leader José Pinto, who was jailed on murder charges in 2020 after landing a number of criticisms against the government. Pinto’s supporters also maintain he is innocent.

Those at the rally similarly demanded wage and pension increases, as well as the overturning of the 2018 Labor Ministry Memorandum 2792, which enables public and private enterprises to rollback collective bargaining rights. Organized workers from both the public and private sectors went on to denounce mass layoffs, such as those at CLAP packaging firm Salva Foods.

Calls to index wages

Following the march, a picket was staged outside the Labor Ministry on Thursday to kick-start a campaign to index wages and social security payouts on a mobile scale pegged to Venezuela’s basic food basket.

The Working Class’ National Struggle Front (FNLCT) and Unified Workers Confederation (CUTV) trade union groups, which are spearheading the proposed legal reform, claim that it looks to “rescue the living standards of the Venezuelan working class” and protect “pulverized” incomes.

Speaking at the picket, which began a drive to collect 20,000 signatures, FNLCT leader Pedro Eusse claimed that current government policies “help bosses exploit workers and destroy all labor rights (…) hyperinflation and the two monetary reconversions have eroded away social security benefits.”

Calls for indexing have generated intense debate in recent months. Prominent Chavista economists such as Pascualina Curcio and Tony Boza have defended a wage scale pegged to the Petro cryptocurrency, which is currently used to calculate a number of government services such as issuing passports. Though the country remains in recession and under wide-reaching US sanctions, the backers of wage-indexing proposals have rejected government claims that there are no conditions to raise salaries.

Venezuela’s minimum wage and social security payments currently sit around US $2 per month, with higher private-sector salaries oscillating between $30 and $80. Estimates for the cost of the basic monthly food basket place it close to $230.

The Venezuelan government has looked to slow down wage increases of late as part of its efforts to control inflation, instead trying to compensate for low purchasing power with bonus schemes. Previous efforts to index wages to the Petro failed, with the “fixed” half-Petro ($30) minimum wage established in mid-2018 quickly sidelined by authorities.

An academic study released by Caracas’ Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB) likewise put the spotlight on Venezuela’s labor market this week.

The report indicated that 85% of Venezuelan workers did not have job security in 2020, up from 48% in 2015 and bucking a trend dating back to 2004 of formalizing employment conditions.

Researchers from the privately funded university also found that during the same period there has been an increase in non-qualified employment (9.7 to 36%), an overall reduction of waged employment (62 to 46%), an increase in self-employed workers (31 to 45%) and a sharp drop in public sector employment (36 to 24%), as most workers switch to the better-paid private sector or emigrated.

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