Venezuelan Unions and Government Discuss Labor Reforms

As part of their efforts to engage with community activists through the grassroots “Legislature of the People”, Venezuelan government officials met with labor union representatives from various industries in Caracas last Saturday to discuss reforms to the nation’s Labor Law.

By Edward Ellis - Correo del Orinoco International
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Union leaders representing workers from the country’s oil, education, health care, and transportation sectors were on hand for the assembly which took place in the Plaza Bolivar and saw the attendance of highranking government functionaries including the president of the National Assembly, Soto Rojas, and Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.

“In the name of President Chavez, we salute this initiative and the beginning of this work session”, Maduro said to the workers gathered for the openair meeting which served as “a launching point” for the discussions and debates that will occur at the community level over the following weeks.

According to labor leaders, one of the main issues to be addressed in the coming discussions of the Labor Law reforms will be the elimination of tertiarization, or the exclusion of workers from established benefits through tactics such as subcontracting.

Although Venezuela has seen a 50 percent increase in the overall percentage of workers in the formal economy over the past 12 years, tertiarization threatens to push workers back into the informal sector by stripping them of the rights and guarantees afforded to recognized members of the workforce.

GUARANTEEING RIGHTS

Eglee Sanchez, president of Venezuela’s Paper and Graphics Union called for an article in the new Labor Law to prohibit tertiarization and to strengthen workers’ guarantees on the job.

“In some private businesses, there are still tertiarized workers who don’t enjoy any kind of benefit.  We still have excluded workers. We can’t continue to permit this kind of situation”, she said during an interview on state television last Sunday.

BREAK WITH THE PAST

For many in Venezuela’s labor movement, the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with a revolutionary government is a welcome break from the past when corrupt and elitist unions colluded with business sectors to the detriment of the working class.

“We have a socialist vision, not like the unionists from the oligarchy who participated in the oil sabotage. We rank and file workers maintain our struggle”, said pro-government activist Francisco Garcia on Saturday.

For the decades preceding 2000, the union movement in Venezuela was suffocated by the Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation (CTV) which although technically independent functioned more as an “official” union of past neoliberal governments. The CTV has also been one of the most heavily US-funded unions in the region, receiving direct financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as the AFL-CIO.

In efforts to do away with his attempted democratization of the oil sector and its unions, the CTV alongside Venezuela’s chamber of commerce, FEDECAMARAS, participated in a violent overthrow attempt of President Hugo Chavez in 2002.

The attempt failed prompting the CTV to help organize a management lockout of the oil industry later that year with the political goal, once again, of ousting Chavez from power.

The oil lockout, like the attempted coup, also failed, discrediting the CTV and giving rise to other pro-government and independent labor federations that are pushing forth a stronger, pro-worker agenda.

Carmen Pantil, health worker present at the assembly on Saturday, noted the difference between Venezuela’s contemporary workers’ movement from that of yester years.

“We’re working with the community councils and the people from the grassroots as we should. We’re taking our position against the oligarchy that still doesn’t understand that there’s a radical change and revolutionary process [taking place]”, Pantil said.

Although largely without a base, the CTV continues to exist in Venezuela and helped organize an anti-government demonstration last weekend in collaboration with the country’s right-wing student movement.

The protest of less than a thousand people transpired freely and without incident, calling for an end to government nationalizations and what Chavez opponents claim to be the government’s “criminalization of dissent”. CTV’s president, Carlos Ortega, is currently residing outside of Venezuela, having fled justice in 2007 after he was indicted for his involvement in the coup and subsequent destabilization attempts against the government. From his self-exile, which varies from Peru to Panama to Miami, Ortega has continued to call for the overthrow of President Chavez.

WORKER SUPPORT FOR THE REVOLUTION

In contrast to the opposition demonstration, thousands of workers from around the country convened for a national demonstration in Caracas on Thursday to support the socialist policies of the Chavez Administration and exhibit their loyalty to the Bolivarian Revolution.

Some of the gains highlighted by workers since the Bolivarian Revolution came to power in 1999 include a five fold increase in pensions, a nearly 50 percent decrease in unemployment and one of the highest minimum wages in Latin America when measuring the Venezuelan Bolivar at the official exchange rate of 4.30VEB to 1USD.

Numerous businesses have also been nationalized at the behest of worker unions, various abandoned factories have been recovered and greater workplace democracy has been ensured through participatory management schemes.

Speaking about the advances in workers’ rights that have characterized the past twelve years, Minister Maduro attributed the gains to Venezuela’s break with a strictly capitalist development model.    

“There’s still a lot to do in the construction of socialism but it’s only with socialism, built by the people and the working classes that we will be able to guarantee economic and social rights for the majority”, Maduro said.   

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