Mérida, January 30, 2009 (venezuelanalysis.com)-- Workers accuse the police of shooting two fellow workers yesterday who were participating in the occupation of a Mitsubishi plant in Barcelona, Anzoategui state.
The killed workers are Javier Marcano, age 36, of Mitsubishi, and Pedro Suarez of Macusa company, aged 23, who was at the occupation in solidarity. Alexander Garcia, from the Mitsubishi plant, was seriously injured in the chest, and at least six other workers and two police were also injured and taken to hospital.
The occupation began on January 12 when workers organized in the union Singetram (New Generation Union) took the plant following a decision by company executives not to rehire 135 contract workers from Indusevis, a company that was providing maintenance services to the plant.
In a mass assembly just before, the workers had voted 863 in favor, 21 against and 3 abstaining to occupy the factory to demand that the fired contract workers be re-hired as employees of Mitsubishi, to strike and use their strike fund. According to article by the Marxist Revolutionary Current (CMR), the workers also linked their struggle to those in the factories of Vivez, Franelas Gotcha, INAF, and Acerven, who are all demanding nationalization and workers control.
The union had also been denouncing over the last few years repeated breaches of the collective bargaining agreement, such as lack of holiday payment and the raffling of vehicles and electronic appliances.
According to a Mitsubishi worker talking to Laclase.info, yesterday afternoon a group of administrative employees from the company showed up at the gate along with state police, shouting slogans against the workers who were inside the plant, and demanding that the workers end their occupation of the factory.
A few minutes later two judges arrived with an order that the workers leave. A dialogue began between the workers and the judges, in which the workers expressed that they wouldn’t leave the plant, though they were available to talk with the company in the office of the Ministry of Work. No agreement was reached and as soon as the judges left the police started to attack the 100 plus workers who were still inside. It was at this point that the two workers were killed.
The CMR reports that this situation lasted until the National Guard arrived.
However, according to another account, published in El Tiempo, at 3 o’clock, after “intense discussion” one of the judges said, “We gave you the opportunity to mediate and you didn’t take advantage of it. Find a lock smith.”
At 3:20 pm a citizen appeared with a hand shear, which upset the workers who re-grouped in a human chain to block the entrance to the plant. At 4:10 pm seven police patrols lined up and started to aim tear gas canisters at them, “which had appeared thanks to the collaboration of the National Guard.”
The workers responded with rocks “the size of baseballs,” which hit cars parked outside and they also burnt one car. Then at 4:30 pm and 4:45 pm a round of gunshots was heard.
Many facts, however, remain unclear. El Universal reports that the secretary general of the state government of Anzoategui, Rafael Vegas, said the state police had not used arms and that rather the workers had thrown rocks and bottles at the police.
Vegas said that since 2005 Tarek Saab, current pro-Chavez governor of Anzoategui, had prohibited the police from using arms in protests and such worker removals. Further, he said he was sure the shots hadn’t come from the police and called on the Body of Scientific and Criminal investigations (CICPC) to open an investigation
Gonzalo Gomez, who manages worker related news for aporrea.org, spoke unofficially to the Anzoategui state government and said the police used in the operation were guilty of “misconduct” and their actions had nothing to do with the work of the state government.
Saab confirmed today that the police who participated in the violence have been suspended and that he has contacted the families of the murdered workers to organize compensation payments. He also requested that a commission made up of the ministries of work and of light industry mediate a solution to the conflict. He said both the police as well as a private security company operating at the Mitsubishi plant, which has been found to fire weapons, would be investigated.
“I want to stress that if a policeperson participated in these actions with firearms, we are going to open an administrative proceeding and they are going to be kicked out of the institution. [This is] for one fundamental reason- in April 2005 we made a decree that prohibits the use of firearms in protests. We are very clear that if there is a violent situation in a protest, it can be deterred in a proportional way, with the use of deterrent weapons.”
The minister for work and social security, Roberto Hernandez, supported Saab’s decision to suspend the police and said, “We believe that relations between workers and employers should be approached from the strict angle of adhesion to labor and legal norms.”
According to Felix Martinez, general secretary of Singetram, “The head of the Police Immediate Reaction Group, Grip, Manuel Ortiz, gave the order to fire.”
The director of Police, Ulses Flores, however, denied that the bullets that killed the workers came from his police officers. “None of them have pistols.”
The vice president of the Mitsubishi plant, Jorge Diaz, told the press he regretted the events, that they would not re-hire the 135 Induserve contract workers, but that they have never refused to discuss the collective contract. He stressed that the workers who took over the factory were doing so in an illegal manner.
Martinez however, disagreed: “Three months ago we introduced a conciliatory document and the company has put off the discussion.” He also claimed the company at a national level is planning to try to convert itself into a “capitalist cooperative.”
Some businesses have taken advantage of the cooperative system to avoid labor laws and paying the for-profit tax rates.
Workers are maintaining their occupation. Radio Ecos says 400 workers are taking part, including some in solidarity from other companies.
The CMR has called for messages of solidarity and messages demanding an end to police violence and that those responsible for the murders be tried.