Venezuelan Steel Co. Contract Workers Incorporated, Company To Be a Socialist Enterprise

President Chavez declared contract workers from Venezuela’s recently nationalized SIDOR steel plant permanent workers and incorporated them into the United Steel Industry Workers Union (SUTISS) Tuesday, in accordance with the collective contract that SUTISS signed with the government in early May.
President Chavez with SIDOR workers during the ceremony to incorporate contract workers as permanent workers. (Prensa Presidencial/Juan Carlos Solórzano)

Mérida, June 13, 2008 (– Contract workers from Venezuela’s recently nationalized SIDOR steel plant were declared permanent workers and incorporated into the United Steel Industry Workers Union (SUTISS) Tuesday, in accordance with the collective contract that SUTISS signed with the government in early May, following 16 months of embattled negotiations with the previous private management.

“We have placed one more stone in the construction of a world model of Socialism of the 21st Century,” President Hugo Chávez declared during the ceremony in the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas.

An initial group of 216 contract workers were incorporated into the collective contract Tuesday, out of a total of 1,248 who are on track to obtain permanent status in a gradual process laid out in clause 97 of the contract.

Chávez announced that the new SIDOR will become a “socialist” enterprise run by the government together with the workers. “This is an historic day, on which the working class continues converting itself into the vanguard of the Venezuelan people and the Bolivarian Revolution,” the president boasted.

Chávez also called on the SIDOR workers, who are now seasoned revolutionary organizers, to help make the plant function like a “socialist worker school” for the rest of Venezuela.

SUTISS General Secretary José “Acarigua” Rodríguez assured during the ceremony that the union will be fully committed to the government’s national development plans.
“We are profoundly convinced that we should join forces, the workers and the government, to move this industry forward,” Rodríguez remarked.

However, the union leader was adamant about the need to “deepen the participation of the workers” in the overall management of the plant during its “process of transition” in which “the emancipation of the working class from savage neo-liberal capitalism and imperialism is underway.”

Rodríguez added that the workers have come up with a “national plan for steel” that is good for both the workers and the government. The plan includes the expansion of the country’s railway system, which will boost industrialization in all economic sectors, Rodríguez projected.

According to SUTISS Finance Secretary José Meléndez, the first priority of the steelworkers after the incorporation of contract workers into the union will be to improve the productivity of the company. Next, the company will expand its commitment to social, educational, and cultural programs, he said.

These combined efforts will help SIDOR to become a “pioneer company in Venezuela” that serves as a “profitable model for other branches of the industry,” Meléndez envisioned.

According to the union leader, SUTISS members “are convinced that it is necessary to impel the projects of President Chávez, because we consider that it is the only hope in Venezuela and the world for defeating the imperialist policies that the giant transnationals promote in poor countries.”

In the same spirit, Chávez vowed that the government will develop SIDOR as it has done with CANTV, the telecommunications company that was nationalized in early 2007. The President highlighted that last year the telecommunications sector was the fastest-growing sector of Venezuela’s economy.

“With this socialist model it is neither the government, nor the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, nor Hugo Chávez that is at stake; it is the Fatherland,” said Chávez.

The president emphasized the need to “bury” exploitative contract work, “just like we are burying capitalism and neo-liberalism.” Under private management since 1997, approximately 9,500 SIDOR workers were pushed out of fixed positions and into precarious, benefit-less contract work, deflating union membership to 4,000.

The government nationalized the plant April 9th after Ternium failed to agree to worker demands for higher wages and benefits and did not present a counterproposal. The negotiations had endured 16 months and were ridden with work stoppages, fierce media campaigns, violent repression against workers, and corruption among government officials referred to as the “endogenous Right” because they sided with the private managers.

At the height of the conflict, Chávez dismissed his Labor Minister, José Ramón Rivero, who had sided with the private management, and then nationalized the company.

The new Labor Minister, Roberto Hernández, teamed up with SUTISS Press Secretary Juan Valor recently to give a presentation in the offices of the Bertold Brecht Center in Geneva about the SIDOR struggle. The Venezuelans told of the history of the company, Ternium’s aggression, the “media fence” that surrounded and attempted to demonize the workers movement, and how the workers overcame this and secured the government’s support for a collective contract based on “social justice” earlier this year.

Originally 890 contract workers were to be incorporated into the collective contract, but 358 security officers were added to the list recently, bringing the total to 1,248.

The more than 8,000 contract workers who did not make it on to the collective contract in this round have accepted Chávez’s proposal to form cooperatives defined legally as small and medium enterprises, according to Secretary Meléndez.

The new SIDOR is named Alfredo Maneiro, after the well-known Venezuelan radical union organizer from the 1970’s.