Venezuelan Electrical Workers Demand Participation and a Collective Contract

Amidst increasing power outages and electricity rationing in much of regional Venezuela,
three thousand electrical workers marched in Caracas on Friday to demand worker participation
in the state-owned National Electricity Corporation (CORPOELEC) to resolve the
problems in the sector.

By Kiraz Janicke - Venezuelanalysis.com

march_electricity.jpg

An electrical worker's placard: "The current managment of CORPOELEC is bureacratic, it is neoliberal, it is not socialist!"
An electrical worker's placard: "The current managment of CORPOELEC is bureacratic, it is neoliberal, it is not socialist!"
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Caracas, September 28th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com)
- Amidst increasing power outages and electricity rationing in much of regional Venezuela,
three thousand electrical workers marched in Caracas on Friday to demand worker participation
in the state-owned National Electricity Corporation (CORPOELEC) to resolve the
problems in the sector.

The workers are also calling for the finalisation of an industry-wide collective
contract, which has been delayed for over a year by the CORPOELEC management.

"We have mobilized to tell the president of the republic that we want to
resolve, and we have the conditions to resolve, in the short term, the critical
situation in the electricity sector... The workers know how to resolve the crisis,"
said Angel Navas, president of the Federation of Electrical Sector Workers
(FETRAELEC).

FETRAELEC, which represents 10,000 workers, is calling for a direct
meeting with President Hugo Chavez to discuss problems in the sector, Navas
said.

CORPOELEC was formed in 2007 after the sector was nationalised and a
number of regional electricity companies were merged into a single company.
However, according to the workers, much of the old structures of the regional companies
remains in place.

"Bureaucracy is eating at the company," said Félix Vásquez, an
electrical worker from Bolivar state. "We have 14 companies, 14 presidents and now
15 with CORPOELEC. We demand the dismissal of that bureaucracy that is eating
our industry."

Several major power outages have occurred in Venezuela in 2008 and 2009, and electricity
rationing has lead opposition groups to claim that the problems were caused by
the nationalisation of the sector.

Joaquin Osorio, an electrical worker from Carabobo, disagreed, saying
that nationalisation was not to blame and that many of the regional companies
had been rundown by previous management, with their activities limited to
simply fixing faults.

Investment in expanding electricity production was neglected and some of
the companies were on the verge of "operational collapse" before they were
nationalised, Osorio added.

Sectors of the CORPOELEC management have blamed workers for the problem.
However, Navas explained, "It is not simply a question of power failures as
many people believe... but rather a deficiency in electricity production, which
is no fault of the workers."

According to the regular report issued by the National Centre for
Management of the Electric System (CNG), overall demand for electricity increased
by 7.05 percent between August 2008 and August 2009, compared to a production
increase of 3.6 percent.

Adding to the strain, it is estimated that more than one million
Venezuelans are illegally connected to the power grid and pay nothing at all for
their electricity.

In May 2008 Chavez announced a 40% expansion to the country's electricity
generation capacity through 42 structural expansion projects over a six year
period as part of the "Socialist Plan of the Nation" that was launched when
Chávez was re-elected to the presidency in December 2006.

As part of the plan, which aims to raise national electricity production
from 22,540 to more than 31,000 megawatts, CORPOELEC opened the 30 megawatt
Masparo hydro plant in Barinas state in May this year.

In Osorio's view, however, progress on many of the projects has been
slow, and management sectors opposed to the process of nationalisation and
worker participation have acted to impede the development and expansion of the
industry, he said.

Therefore, Osorio argued, the problem in the electricity sector is not
"technical," but "political."

Navas agreed, saying, "Workers are the ones who know how we can solve
this crisis. We have to change the bureaucratic structures and change the
structures of capitalist management to a structure with a socialist vision. We
have to change the relations of production and eliminate the bureaucracy that
is killing the company."

Navas pointed to the experience of the state-owned Electricity
Fomentation and Administration Company (CADAFE), as an example where worker
participation had significantly improved the running of the company. CADAFE has
since been merged into CORPOELEC.

"When our president says we have to empower people, we the workers are
the people. We must have control of the company and be part of the
transformation of capitalist policy towards socialist policy," added Aymar Plaza,
an electrical worker in Caracas.

Richard Coello, general secretary of the Union of Electrical Sector
Workers in Carabobo explained that workers from across the country were
marching in the streets of Caracas
to demand "the participation of the working class, together with the people in
the management of the company. We want to change the pattern of production in
this country; we want to end capitalist exploitation in the electricity
sector."

Stalin Perez Borges, a national coordinator of the National Workers
Union (UNT) and a leader of the Socialist Workers Front of Chavez's United
Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), said, "We are fighting, together with the
Venezuelan workers in the electricity sector, for them to be put at the head of
the company."

Perez Borges, together with UNT leaders Marcela Máspero and Orlando
Pérez also called on CORPOELEC management to restart negotiations for the collective
agreement.

"There has been sufficient time to sign the contract if there were the
will. But so far the bureaucracy that administers the company has done nothing
but hinder the discussion of the collective agreement," said Perez Borges.

At the end of the march a commission of 14 workers from the FETRELEC executive
met with a representative of Venezuelan Vice President Ramón Carrizález and a
representative of the Labour Ministry.

According to Francisco Alarcón, a member of the FETRELEC executive, the
government officials agreed to instruct CORPOELEC management to finalise the collective
contract negotiations within a period not exceeding 15 working days. "All the
workers present at this mega-march applaud the decision and hope that a
follow-up to this request is fulfilled."

Navas assured that the electrical workers would continue mobilizing in
the streets until their demands are met.