Venezuelan Labor Minister Dismissed

In a decision announced late Tuesday night, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dismissed Labor Minister José Ramón Rivero and replaced him with the former Communist Party member and vice-president of the National Assembly, Roberto Manuel Hernández.
Newly appointed Labor Minister, Roberto Henández (VTV)

Caracas, April 16, 2008 ( – In a decision announced late Tuesday night, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dismissed Labor Minister José Ramón Rivero. Official gazette number 38.910, indicated that Rivero has been replaced by former Communist Party member and vice-president of the National Assembly Roberto Manuel Hernández, and that the change was to take effect “immediately.”

The move appears to be a repudiation of recent actions of the Labor Minister, who only two days prior, held a joint press conference with one faction of the National Union of Workers (UNT)—the Bolivarian Socialist Workers Force (FSBT)—and announced the formation of a new national labor federation calling on unions to disaffiliate from the UNT.

Rivero, (a member of the FSBT) publicly attacked the UNT in an interview with regional daily Notitarde on April 11, saying "The National Union of Workers does not represent the spirit of the Venezuelan revolutionary process."

Rivero had also recently presided over negotiations between the management of Venezuela's largest steel plant, the Argentine controlled SIDOR, and the United Steel Industry Workers Union (SUTISS) in a long running and bitter dispute for a collective contract.

However, the former minister became widely discredited among the SIDOR workers and was accused of violating union autonomy after he attempted to impose a company run referendum on the management’s final pay offer or face arbitration.

The ongoing conflict provoked the intervention of President Chavez last week, who overrode the Labor Minister and ordered the steel plant to be re-nationalized. Rivero was subsequently sidelined from collective contract negotiations between the government and the SIDOR workers, responsibility for which has been assigned to Vice-president Ramon Carrizales.

National coordinator of the UNT and leader of the Socialist Tide union current, Stalin Pérez Borges, who had earlier called for Rivero to resign, said, “Like the absolute majority of Venezuelan workers, Socialist Tide cannot hide that we receive the news of the exit of Labor Minister José Ramón Rivero with great happiness.”

“This is a new triumph of the workers; now we are going to campaign for the unity of the UNT and the revolutionary union movement. This demonstrates that President Chavez listens to the demands of the workers and the people,” the union leader added.

Marcos García, a coordinator of public sector union FENTRASEP said “The workers movement, with the triumph of the SIDOR workers and the people of Guayana, who achieved the nationalization of the principal steel producer in Latin America, has produced a change throughout the country.”

“This triumph has helped so that a policy of deepening the process can be developed, so we can attack old problems and resolve the necessities of working people. Now, finally, an emblematic company has returned to the hands of the Venezuelan people.”

The attempt by the former Labor Minister to “decree a new divisionist, sectarian, bureaucratic, and pro-bosses union federation” was a desperate measure, but “no-one will accompany him apart from a few accomplices from his own current, the FSBT, who have been repudiated by the majority of workers,” Garcia continued.

Vilma Vivas, the regional coordinator of the UNT in the state of Táchira, asserted in view of these new developments, “All the leaders and currents that are active in the UNT, nationally and regionally have an enormous responsibility. We need to overcome the dispersion within our movement and, together with the workers, regroup and put back on its feet our national federation that was born in the heat of the struggle against the coup of April 11 and the sabotage of the boss’s oil lockout.”

“It is necessary to put aside old differences and take the necessary step towards a united federation, truly democratic, pluralist, independent, and autonomous from the state and political parties. A federation ready to support the demands of the workers and disposed to defend the Bolivarian process, as has been demonstrated in various moments and to struggle for the deepening of the revolution in the sense of promoting the path to socialism,” she added.

As a way forward Pérez Borges said Socialist Tide was proposing a meeting “between all the currents that are active within the UNT and the revolutionary process to give firm steps towards the necessary regrouping and unification of a worker’s leadership consistent with the process but democratic, pluralist, and independent of the state.”

As the second step towards a workers movement capable of “occupying the place that it deserves in the Bolivarian revolution” Pérez Borges said Socialist Tide was also calling for a united mobilization and march in Caracas on May 1.

Thirdly, it is necessary to “initiate a democratic process within the working class, their grassroots unions and their natural leaders to re-group and reorganize the UNT, without exclusions of any currents who support the revolution,” he explained.