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Coca-Cola Blockade Ends as National Assembly President Negotiates Exit

Caracas, October 30, 2006 ( - Worker’s who were protesting Coca-Cola Femsa plants across Venezuela last week lifted their blockades late Thursday after securing a hearing at the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) which will take place this week.

Cilia Flores, the President of the National Assembly, announced the hearing after current and ex-workers of the plant met with the Minister of Work, Richard Dorado, the Minister of Light Industries and Trade, María Cristina Iglesias, the Minister of Basic Industries and Mining, José Khan, National Assembly President Flores and the Parliamentary Integrated Social Development Commission last Thursday.

Flores said that the company had been attempting to avoid paying out compensation to workers by designating them as contracted, rather than permanent employees.  She added that after helping the company to grow, “it isn’t fair that in the end of the day they don’t recognise the labor rights”.

Until the President of the National Assembly announced the solution the situation was looking like it might get out of control.  27 plants across Venezuela were blockaded and it was becoming a fight between the protesting workers, the company, and Iris Varela and Marcela Máspero, the two deputies of the Venezuelan National Assembly that pronounced themselves in support of the dispute.

Valera had threatened the company with expropriations which, one would have thought, would have pleased the workers and their union representatives.  However, Sintracocacola, the union involved, was unhappy with the conduct of Varela and Máspero who they said were negotiating with the company without consulting those affected.

“All they have done is behind the backs of the current workers which has weakened the struggle and what is worse, thanks to their methods, they have divided the workers, something that is very serious”, said José Cárdenas, General Secretary in Valencia of Sintracocacola. Cárdenas also said that Varela and Máspero were behaving in a dictatorial manner towards the union.

On Thursday afternoon there was a protest outside the National Assembly that demanded politicians inside not to take advantage of the dispute.  Stalin Perez, a leader of the National Union of Workers (UNT), the pro-government union confederation was at the dispute.  He said that the problems at Coca-Cola were much deeper than the situation of the ex-workers, and that many current workers (some of whom attended the protest) were also being mistreated at the plants.  Perez also said that the Deputies inside the National Assembly should include worker’s representatives in negotiations.

While the proposal to take the dispute to the TSJ may have taken the heat off the situation for now, Varela made an undisguised threat to Coca-Cola Femsa regarding the hearing, “If the company does not pay, we will study, that by way of a judgement as the Constitution demands, how we can expropriate this company and turn it into a company of national production”, she said.

It will be Iris Varela who presents the cases of 7,000 ex-employees at the TSJ this week, the claims of which are said to amount to some 11 million dollars.

Coca-Cola-Femsa is the biggest bottling company in Latin America and the second biggest in the world.  It announced last week that its net profits had increased by 44% in third quarter, totalling $156.7 million.

See Also:

Venezuelan Workers Seize and Blockade Coca-Cola Plants Across the Country

Published on Oct 30th 2006 at 1.54pm