More than Fifty Arrested in Steel Worker Strike Clashes

Unionists have rejected the actions of 120 functionaries of the National Guard and 60 police who attacked and broke up a protest of workers from the Argentine -controlled Ternium Sidor steel plant, who were blocking the principle avenue of Cuidad Guayana, early Friday.
Injured Sidor worker (Allianza Sindical)

Caracas, March 16, 2008, ( – Leaders
of the United Steel Workers Union (SUTISS) have rejected the actions of 120
functionaries of the National Guard and 60 police who attacked and broke up
a protest of workers from the Argentine -controlled Ternium Sidor steel plant,
who were blocking the principle avenue of Cuidad Guayana in the state of
Bolivar, in the southeast of Venezuela early Friday.

The protest, which occurred in the midst of an 80-hour
strike by 12 000 workers as part of a prolonged dispute over a collective
contract in the steel plant, was dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets.

SUTISS General Secretary, Nerio Fuentes, said the
National Guard suddenly attacked the protest without any prior warning or
attempt to mediate the situation.

The National Guard also smashed up and towed away 50
vehicles that were blocking the road, the workers said.

More than 50 people, the majority of them Sidor workers,
were detained by the police during the clashes, and three workers, SUTISS
president José Rodríguez, Yuni Hernández, and Luis Alcoser, were hospitalized.

Fuentes said that Rodriguez, who was shot in the leg with live ammunition by
a police officer and was also hit by rubber bullets, remains in police custody
in a private clinic.

Police continued to search for and arrest members of the executive committee
of SUTISS and other Sidor workers throughout Friday afternoon and night, the
union official said.

Fuentes accused the governor of the state of Bolivar, Francisco Rangel
Gómez, of ordering the attacks as "revenge" because the workers had rejected a
proposal by a government negotiating commission to resolve the 14-month dispute
in Sidor.

Rangel Gómez, on Friday called on the Sidor workers to "maintain their
protests with the framework of the law" said the "public forces have orders to
not allow further road closures," however he later denied that the order to
disperse the protest came from his office.

A March 15 statement by the Marea Socialista union current also accused
Rangel Gómez, as well as the Sidor management and the Labor Minister José Ramón Rivero, of being "those principally
responsible" for the attack, however it said it did not rule out that other
high authorities of the central government might have been consulted.

"This aggression against the Sidor worker's movement shows once more what
the bureaucracy is capable of doing, and how they respond, because the Sidor
workers had politically defeated the Ministry of Labor by refusing to allow a
collective contract, with which they don't agree, to be imposed on them," the
statement continued.

SUTISS has rejected a proposal by the Ministry of Labor for a consultative
referendum of Sidor workers on the company's latest pay offer saying it
interferes with internal affairs and violates union autonomy.

Last Tuesday the Sidor management made what it said was its "final offer" of
44Bs.F (US$20.5) per day, however the union says it will not accept a daily salary increase
of less than 53 Bs.F (US$24).

On Saturday,
the company claimed that 40% of the plant was operational despite the strike,
saying many workers had returned to work Friday night after the protests.

However, Fuentes dismissed the company claims as "lies." "There are no
workers so content that they would want to restart the plant in the middle of
the struggle for pay claims," he said.

Sidor, 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 the beginning of 2008. The company claims the strike action has cost more
than $50 million.

The Italian-Argentine Techint group owns a 60% controlling share of the
steel plant, with 20% belonging to Venezuelan state owned CVG, and 20% belonging
to the workers.

representatives of communal councils and friends and families of the more than
50 protestors detained, gathered outside the Criminal Court in Puerto Ordaz on
Saturday to demand their immediate release.

Reyes Ortiz, Secretary General of the Union of Carbonorca and member of the
Collective of Workers in Revolution union current, who spoke at the rally, made
a call to Venezuelan President Chavez to open an investigation into the
governor of Bolivar and the Minister of Labor, who he classified as a "class
traitor" and defender of the transnational, Sidor.

The detainees were finally released at 11pm Saturday night accompanied by
their lawyers and revealed that the judge had ordered full liberty for all
those arrested. The judge also referred the incidents to the Human Rights
Attorney in Bolivar state, to open an investigation against the National Guard
and police functionaries involved in the acts.

A joint statement by Marea Socialista, Topo Obero and the Union Alliance of
Sidor workers issued today said it is necessary "for a government that has
declared itself pro worker, that has proposed ‘popular power' and the
transition to socialism, to close ranks with the demands of the workers,
principle subject of a revolutionary process, and make the necessary and urgent
step in the correct direction, towards the deepening of the revolution by
decreeing the nationalization of Sidor under the control of the
workers and popular communities of Guayana and the country."