New 24-hour Strike at Venezuela’s Largest Steel Plant

Caracas, March 25, 2008 ( – Workers at Venezuela's largest steekmaker, Argentine controlled Ternuim Sidor initiated a 24-hour strike Monday afternoon as part of a 14-month dispute for a collective contract.

"The plant is now closed for 24 hours," the United Steel Industry Workers Union (SUTISS), general secretary Nerio Fuentes said.

This is the sixth time this year that the plant, located in the southwest state of Bolivar, has been shut down as part of demands for higher pay. The union says it will not accept a daily salary increase of less than 53 Bs.F (US$24), however, the company says its final offer is 44Bs.F (US$20.5) per day.

On Thursday, Sidor workers will also hold a protest, together with their families and other unions in support of their demands.

An earlier protest by Sidor workers on March 14, in the midst of an 80hr strike, was broken up violently by 120 functionaries of the Bolivar section of the National Guard and 60 state police. More than 50 people were arrested during the clashes.

Governor of the state of Bolivar Francisco Rangel Gómez, initially backed the actions of the National Guard and called on workers to "maintain their protests within the framework of the law," however, he later denied that his office had given the orders to the National Guard to disperse the protest.

Marsela Maspero and Oscar Figuera from the National Assembly Commission of Integral Social Development said they had received information that the National Guard had been paid by Sidor management and was acting under their orders. They have called for an investigation into the matter.

National Assembly Deputy from Bolivar Adel El Zabayar repudiated the violent actions of the security forces saying, "I consider these abuses to be a long way from the revolutionary principles promoted by the President of the Republic."

However, El Zabayar warned, "There are sectors within the state that play at wearing down the government, using governmental authorities to assume a bosses attitude, which confirms the indications of the existence of judicial groups linked and promoted by the governor of the state and the judge Luis Hurtado Francesqui."

He also reiterated the necessity to investigate who gave the order, "to find out who is culpable for this violation."