Controversial Labor Leader is Fired from State Oil Company

Venezuelan union leader Orlando Chirino classified his dismissal from state owned oil company PDVSA, as an act of ‘discrimination and political persecution" this week.
Fired union leader Orlando Chirino (Aporrea)

Caracas, 30 January 30, 2008 ( – Venezuelan union leader Orlando Chirino classified his dismissal from state owned oil company PDVSA, as an act of ‘discrimination and political persecution" this week. Chirino, a national coordinator of the National Union of Workers (UNT) and a member of the joint direction of the oil industry union Sinutrapetrol, was fired without explanation by PDVSA management towards the end of 2007.

Speaking to the media as he lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Labor last Friday, Chirino said his sacking was arbitrary and without prior warning. He pointed out that although his wages were suspended on November 30 he did not receive notification of his dismissal until December 28.
"This act of discrimination that violates my constitutional right to work," he added.

Chirino explained that he was covered by a clause in the PDVSA collective contract, which gives additional protection against sacking to workers who earn no more than three times the minimum wage, however  he said the PDVSA management increased his wage prior to his sacking in order to remove these protections.

Chirino, who has worked for PDVSA since March 2003, said, "I gambled my life defending the principal industry and president Chavez from the attack of the coup plotting opposition and imperialism," during the oil industry lockout (Dec 2002- Jan 2003).

From 2006 Chirino worked in the Department of Social Control of SISDEM (System of Democratization of Employment), in PDVSA. However, he alleged that he has been the victim of marginalization and discrimination within PDVSA for two years, and that he has been denied the usual salary increases and bonuses. The reason for this persecution, "corresponds to my categorical opposition to bureaucratic and corrupt practices in the industry and my intransigent defense of worker's rights," he said.

Chirino claimed the decision to fire him was primarily based on his opposition to President Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms together with pressure from the Ministry of Labor and the Bolivarian Socialist Force of Workers (FSBT), which he described as a "bureaucratic union current."

Chirino lost significant support in the trade union movement last year, including from within his own trade union current C-CURA, due to his opposition to the constitutional reforms (which he described as "class collaborationist") and a proposal he made to fuse with sectors of the largely discredited, right-wing opposition aligned trade union federation, the CTV.

Despite Chirino's opposition, the vast majority of the rank and file workers in C-CURA also voted to join the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela and in September, twenty-four unions aligned to C-CURA in Zulia sent Chirinos an open letter criticizing his position on the reforms and the PSUV.

In a statement on October 22 a number of other union leaders from C-CURA, including Stalin Pérez Borges, National Coordinator of the UNT and Ismael Hernández, Coordinator of the UNT Carabobo (both identified with the MAREA Socialista current within C-CURA and the PSUV), also distanced themselves from Chirino's position on the reforms and criticized his comments on the CTV.

Hernandez said that Chirino's comments were often mistakenly believed to be to be the views of C-CURA. However, he clarified, "Chirino's declarations reflect his personal opinion…but not the majority of C-CURA. In our current there has been no instance or national assembly where a majority has voted in favor of the proposed resolutions on these issues."

Perez Borges also said he was radically opposed to any fusion with the CTV, which "depends 100% on imperialist support."

However, in another statement today, Perez Borges, Hernandez, and a number of other union leaders, on behalf of the MAREA Socialista current expressed their solidarity with Chirino. "Independently of the fact that we don't share some of the political positions that Orlando Chirino has defended in recent times, we defend his right to express himself, his right to work and to be recognized and respected as a trade union leader in our country," they wrote.

"It is evident that the decision to dismiss him is unacceptable as well being illegal and is the result of pressure, rumors, and intolerance that characterizes the Bolivarian Socialist Force of Workers, who are using their position in the Ministry of Labor to conspire in PDVSA for the unjust dismissal of this comrade," the statement continued.

The statement called for the direct intervention of Chavez into the matter to ensure that Chirino is reinstated. MAREA Socialista also said they would initiate a campaign alongside Chirino for his reinstatement. Chirino is also calling for international expressions of support.