Venezuelan Steel Workers Extend Sidor Strike

Thousands of workers at Venezuela's largest steelmaker, Argentine-controlled Ternium Sidor, extended a 48-hour strike that started late Wednesday to 80 hours today, as part of a dispute for a collective contract that has dragged out for 13 months.
SUTISS leader José Melendez amidst sriking steel workers (Apporea)

March 13, 2008 ( – Thousands of workers at Venezuela's
largest steelmaker, Argentine-controlled Ternium Sidor, extended a 48-hour
strike that started late Wednesday to 80 hours today, as part of a dispute for
a collective contract that has dragged out for 13 months.

General Secretary of the United Steel Industry Workers
Union (SUTISS) Nerio Fuentes said "the worker's assembly decided to extend the
strike to 80 hours, we will resume work on Sunday at seven in the morning."

The key sticking point in the dispute is the workers
demand for a salary increase, which would put them on par with workers in
similar industries.

The original demand of the workers was for a daily
increase of 80 Bs.F (US$37.2). However, Sidor management offered only 24 Bs.F
(US$11.15). The Labor Ministry, which has been facilitating negotiations since
early January, made an intermediary proposal of 45 Bs.F (US$20.9).

On Tuesday Sidor made what it said is its "final
offer" of 44Bs.F (US$20.5) per day. The offer consists of an immediate increase
of 22 Bs.F ($US10.3) per day, 10 Bs.F in the first year, 10 in the second year,
followed by an increase of 1.5% in the two consecutive years and would increase
the basic monthly salary from 1240 Bs.F (US$576) to 2571
Bs.F (US$1196).

The company also said that with this offer, the average
monthly earnings of shift workers of 2972 Bs.F (US$1382) would increase by 108%.

However, SUTISS representative Yuri Hernández
told the Bolivarian News Agency, "The most recent offer of the company does not
satisfy the expectations of the workers."

The union
said it would not accept an increase of less than 53 Bs.F (US$24) per day, via
an immediate increase of 33Bs.F and an additional 10 Bs.F in
November 2008 and 2009.

broke down again on Wednesday and the Labor MinisterJosé Ramón Rivero, threatened to withdraw from
negotiations and take the matter to the National Assembly and the National
Electoral Council to impose a referendum of all Sidor workers on the issue.

"The company
is in agreement with activating this mechanism, but it is necessary that the
union is also. We are waiting until they give us a reply in the next few hours
and, if it's positive, the consultation will be this Friday," Rivero said.

In response,
the union called further stoppages, and by 7pm operations in the plant began to
shut down.

A statement
by Stalin Pérez Borges, a national coordinator of the National Workers Union
(UNT), and unionist
Osmary Escalona declared that the minister`s proposal "is illegal and a
totally anti-worker position. His attitude, as a minister in a government that
proclaims itself to be revolutionary and nationalist, should be to ask the
National Assembly – in the face of all the broken obligations and deceits by
the multinational Ternium Sidor and its criminal labor policy – for the
nationalization of the company under worker's control."

The dispute erupted into violent clashes last week
between the Sidor workers and the National Guard, who used tear gas to disperse
the strikers as protesters set fire to 7 buses in the streets surrounding the
CVG offices in Cuidad Guyana, blocking traffic circulation in the area for

The incidents occurred as a negotiating
commission, formed by the Minister of Basic Industry and Mining (also president
of the CVG industrial complex), Rodolfo Sanz; the governor of Bolivar State,
Francisco Rangel Gómez; the Labor Minister; Sidor president, Julián Eguren; and
representatives of SUTISS, was set to meet at the CVG offices.

In the early hours of March 4, workers had
initiated staggered stoppages for a period of 48 hours. A convoy that
was organized to meet with the commission converted into a massive protest
demanding a daily salary increase of 60 Bs.F ($24).

Pérez Borges said the National Guard attacked
workers with tear gas as they gathered outside the CVG industrial complex.

SUTISS president José Rodríguez, said the
actions of the workers were a "reflection of the serious struggle we have
initiated to put and end to more than 10 years of stalemate on the salary

Sidor, which is one of Latin America's largest steel makers with liquid
steel production of around 4.8 million tons annually, has been paralyzed five times since
January. Management estimated that the company has lost $7million dollars
for each day of strike action.

Located in the state of Bolivar in the south of Venezuela, Sidor was
privatized in 1997. Now, Argentina's Trechint owns a 60% controlling stake, 20%
belongs to workers and retirees, and the remaining 20% is owned by the
Venezuelan state. Workers say conditions have deteriorated continuously since
the plant was privatized.

Under the circumstances, "the spontaneous reaction of the comrades was
natural and could have happened at any time," Rodríguez argued,
referring to the clashes with the National Guard.

Last year, in the framework of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's call to
"re-nationalize everything that was privatized," sections of the Sidor
workforce initiated a campaign to nationalize the company and put it under
worker's control.

Chavez also threatened to nationalize the company if it did not prioritize
production for the domestic market and pay more for raw materials, which it had
obtained at a subsidized rate from a state-owned mining company. However, the
company later reached an agreement with the government to avoid nationalization.