Mobilizations and Counter-Mobilizations in Venezuela’s Oil Union Elections

Mobilizations and counter-mobilizations of oil workers aligned with competing factions in the upcoming and bitterly contested elections for the United Federation of Venezuelan Oil Workers (FUTPV), have occurred throughout Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDSVA, in recent weeks.
Socialist Worker's Vanguard campaigning at the Puerto La Cruz refinery, Anzoategui (VOS)

Caracas, September 15, 2009
( – Mobilizations and
counter-mobilizations of oil workers aligned with competing factions in the
upcoming and bitterly contested elections for the United Federation of
Venezuelan Oil Workers (FUTPV), have occurred throughout Venezuela's
state-owned oil company PDSVA, in recent weeks.

The election contest has
become increasingly heated after comments in July by Venezuela's Oil Minister
and PDVSA president, Rafael Ramirez, when he said he would not negotiate a
collective contract with "enemies of the revolution."

Ramirez's comments were
largely viewed as interference in union affairs and an endorsement of one
particular platform in the union elections – the Socialist Worker's Vanguard (VOS
or Platform 7), a platform that groups supporters of President Hugo Chavez's
Bolivarian revolution. Wills Rangel, currently one of three provisionally
appointed national coordinators of the FUTPV, heads VOS.

A second group is Platform
1 headed by Jose Bodas from the United Revolutionary Autonomous Class Current
(C-CURA). Paradoxically, C-CURA, which employs a militant far-left discourse but
has formed a national union coalition called "Labor Solidarity" with far-right
sectors aligned with the largely discredited Confederation of Venezuelan
Workers (CTV). The CTV collaborated in the December 2002 – January 2003 bosses
lockout of the oil industry in an attempt to topple the democratically elected
president, Hugo Chavez.

A third faction is Platform
9, headed by Freddy Alvarez and composed largely of the incumbent provisional
leadership of the FUTPV which was hand picked by former Labour Minister Jose
Ramon Rivero (himself a leader of the Bolivarian Socialist Workers Force
-FSBT), and involves both supporters and opponents of President Hugo Chavez's
Bolivarian revolution.

The three major platforms,
as well as a number of other smaller platforms have been competing furiously
for the hearts and minds of oil workers around the country.

On September 2 Bodas and
about 40 supporters rallied in Puerto La Cruz refinery in Anzoátegui to protest
delays in the elections. However, several hundred workers supporting the VOS
platform counter-mobilized and occupied the refinery gates from 6am.

Then on September 9 Bodas
and a small group of supporters confronted a 150 strong VOS campaign event in
the same refinery leading to a war of words between the two sides.

On September 11 around two
hundred supporters of Platform 9 also held a rally in Anzoátegui protesting the
alleged financial support of PDVSA management for the VOS campaign.

In response to the
accusations, VOS member Eudis Girot declared he would solicit court action
against Platform 9 member Gregorio Rodríguez, saying "This is totally false. We
have produced our materials with our own resources," he said.

Raul Parica, also from VOS,
explained, "It is no secret that the elections of the federation are
highly politicized… We are receiving donations from unions that support us and
from the PSUV [Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela], however Platform
9 is receiving funding from a group of private businessmen."

Meanwhile, Rangel accused Platform 1 of receiving support from private
television channel Globovision and right-wing opposition parties.

What is at stake, Rangel
argued, are two political projects, one represented by VOS, which is socialism
and the re-foundation of the union movement, he said, in order to guarantee
active participation and meet the demands of the working class. The other
option he said is capitalism, crisis and loss of jobs.

Also tied up in the
election campaign is an ongoing dispute for a collective contract, which has
been in limbo since the previous agreement expired on January 21 of this year.

On September 14, VOS
supporters rallied outside PDVSA headquarters in La Campiña, Caracas, demanding
that management begin immediate negotiations with 27 delegates elected from
workers assemblies around the country.

However, others argue that
this is an attempt by VOS and PDVSA management to by-pass the union. The
provisional FUTPV leadership has selected its own list of delegates to begin
negotiations. However, Platform 1 argues that collective contract negotiations
should be held with the newly elected leadership of the FUTPV after the

In the midst of the furore
caused by his earlier comments, Ramirez assured that he will begin negotiations
with the leadership of the FUTPV after the elections.

The elections have been
postponed eight times due to disputes over the union's electoral roll and who
is and isn't eligible to vote, and are currently scheduled for October 1.

Bodas has accused VOS and
Ramirez of manoeuvring to postpone the elections in order to gain time because
they do not have majority support.

However, Rangel denied that
the elections had been delayed in order to influence the outcome. "We
are aware that PDVSA is red," he said, referring to the distinctive color worn
by supporters of President Hugo Chávez. "We are confident that we will be

On September 7 a group of
grassroots oil workers called the Contingency Guardians of Revolutionary Oil
Workers who are not contesting the elections, released a statement alleging
that opposition sectors of the union movement had been preparing "massive
fraud" involving up to 20,000 people "who had no employment relationship with
PDVSA and therefore could not be voters."

The delays in the electoral
process were caused, the statement continued, because appeals by VOS to revise
the electoral roll were rejected several times by the FUTPV electoral
commission – headed by Jose Sánchez – until it was proven that there were more
than 18,000 voters included on the roll that were ineligible as they were not
PDVSA employees, these voters have subsequently been removed.

Despite opposition from
C-CURA among others, the FUPTV's electoral commission also agreed, on August
31, to a request by VOS for the elections to be monitored by the National
Electoral Commission (CNE) with the use of electronic voting machines and
fingerprinting in order to prevent voter fraud.

Bodas described the CNE's
monitoring of the elections and the use of electronic voting machines as an
"imposition." However, others argued that it was necessary to ensure

Throughout the campaign VOS
has put an emphasis on worker's participation and support for the Bolivarian
revolution. Platform 1 on the other hand has concentrated primarily on economic
demands and Platform 9 appears to have prioritised criticism of the other

Although VOS is expected to
win the largest number of votes, it is possible that they might not win an
outright majority, allowing for the formation of an "anti-VOS" coalition in the
national executive of the FUTPV.