Caracas , October 23, 2006 (Venezuelanalysis.com)— Coca-Cola-Femsa workers in Venezuela have seized the factories where they work and are preventing distribution trucks from leaving in a bid to force the company to pay out agreed-upon compensation to ex-workers. The dispute started on Sunday at midnight and the workers say they will continue until their demands are met.
Coca-Cola-Femsa, which is the second biggest soft-drink bottling company in the world, had been given until the October 18 by a special commission of the Venezuelan National Assembly to present an offer to settle the dispute. According to the commission, the company failed to respond satisfactorily to the demands, which involve anything from 5,500 to 10,000 ex-workers who were either sacked or were dismissed after suffering accidents. The claims stretch back several years.
The action has the support of at least two National Assembly deputies, Iris Varela and Marcela Máspero. Varela has called the worker rights in this case “inalienable and perennial” and urged the company to respond positively to their demands.
“We have all the plants in the territory occupied and we will not allow a single truck from Coca-Cola to leave with soft drinks… Now we will see if they will pay workers what they owe them,” Varela said. Rosa Natera the lawyer representing the workers in the dispute said that they were owed between 3 and 5 billion bolivars ($1.4-2.3 million).
A spokesperson for Coca-Cola-Femsa condemned the action and criticised the support given to it by politicians. At the same time it attempted to downplay the adverse affects of the blockade, saying all plants were still in limited operation, “Coca-Cola-Femsa of Venezuela is surprised that member of a public institution of the country like the National Assembly would coordinate this type of act and we reject them as they are totally illegal and unconstitutional. The spokesperson also said that all of the demands had been previously cleared up by the country’s justice system.
The labor union at the company, Sutracocacola, highlighted another issue that has brought this action against Coca-Cola. Project Phoenix, a restructuring project designed by the company, which has in mind the compulsory redundancies of 650 workers across the country. The union says those made redundant will not be compensated in line with the agreement negotiated between them and the company. Speaking from Ciudad Guyana a union representative said, “For that reason today, not only in Ciudad Guyana but all around the country, the workers will be guarding the doors of each of the Coca-Cola plants.”
While the sides seem so far apart it seems that the dispute could easily escalate. The blockade is currently over purely economic demands but it has the potential, if it is not resolved, to turn into a political battle for the expropriation of the plants. Varela has said that if Coca-Cola did not come forward with a solution then the factories could be expropriated and would produce “Venezuelan soft drinks instead.”
Factory Occupied in the State of Miranda Demand Co-Management
Workers, political activists, and members of the local community joined forces on Saturday, October 23rd, to occupy an abandoned textile factory in Marizapa in the state of Miranda.
The factory was abandoned 11 months previously by the owners when it was 100% operational and the 22 workers were dismissed without notice. Now, after that time, the equipment and machine are in a “deplorable” state. However, the workers still want to get the factory going again and are working with the Ministry of Work in attempt to formulate a strategy to achieve some form of co-management.