Mérida, May 2nd 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Yesterday in Caracas at a mass mobilisation to commemorate May Day, President Hugo Chavez announced a new law to protect workers’ salaries and also a new employment program aimed at creating millions of formal and productive jobs.
Workers, the working class, and the Venezuelan people in general commemorated May Day yesterday with a giant march in Caracas.
“In Venezuela there are reasons to have this popular [or grassroots] celebration [of May Day], one of the most important celebrations, as here we have managed to recover the meaning of the real 1 May, the real meaning of the day of the worker,” Chavez said.
Since the Bolivarian process began 12 years ago, “every day that has gone by Venezuelan workers have taken on a more protagonistic role in building the socialist revolution.”
A participant in the march, Ewan Robinson, told Venezuelanalysis.com, “It was inspiring to be walking with thousands and thousands of people from a diverse range of political parties, trade unions, and social movements...and while there was widespread support for President Chavez and the accomplishments of the revolution so far, there was also a wide range of ideas and opinions of how to deepen and radicalise the revolution...including many groups advocating increased worker control and the passing of the Organic Work Law.”
“For me, overall, the day was a celebration of the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution, and the efforts of the Venezuelan people to continue to overcome exploitation and oppression and construct a socialist society,” Robinson said.
Another march participant, Alex Utrera, told us, “For me the day was a success in terms of the sheer number of people who turned out, which demonstrates that in Venezuela today there is a widespread popular movement which supports and is engaged in the process of the construction of socialism. In the march, people were also demonstrating a wide range of demands and policies, something which highlights the complexities and political maturity of the people and the revolutionary process.”
The opposition, as it does each year, also organised a march through the CTV (the Venezuelan Labour Confederation, a union federation that was stronger under previous governments and supported the April 2002 coup attempt), which had a small turn out of perhaps hundreds. One of the key messages of the march, according to Aporrea, was to criticise the Venezuelan government of supposedly ruining work opportunities.
New Work Mission
In his speech to the march Chavez announced that the government hopes to launch a “Great Work Mission” in the second half of this year, with the aim of incorporating a further 3.5 million Venezuelans into formal work in the next eight years.
Chavez said it was important to create productive work, with “socialist and humanist criteria” for one million currently unemployed citizens, and to the 260,000 people who annually join the work force, which is currently at 13,140,000 people.
The president explained that the government wants to change Venezuela from an economy dependent on exporting petroleum, to a “socialist productive model, and that will be accelerated with the Great Work Mission because the economy can’t continue depending, to such a large extent, on petroleum earnings.”
So far, according to Chavez, the Bolivarian government has created an additional 3.3 million “productive” jobs, seeing unemployment drop from 14.6% in 1999 to 8.6% in March this year, a decrease of over 40%. He also highlighted how the government has increased the minimum wage each year, and that now, only 21% of workers are on the minimum wage, whereas 12 years ago, it was around 65%.
Last week Chavez approved a 26.5% increase in the minimum wage.
An important source of new jobs will be another mission, the “Great Housing Mission”, formally launched on Saturday, and which aims to construct 2 million homes in the next 7 years, in order to combat a serious housing shortage in the country. In this mission alone, Chavez said, they hoped to be able to employ 300,000 new workers in construction.
For that, he said it would be important to create a “systematic registry” of people qualified for or interested in the field.
The government also needs at least 100,000 workers in the Orinoco oil belt, and thousands for the construction of a rail line, and others to plant soy, corn, and rice. Chavez also predicted job opportunities in what is often called the Great Mine Arc in the centre to the south of Venezuela.
“What’s coming is work, work, and more work. For it to be liberating work it needs to be accompanied by wisdom, knowledge, and awareness of responsibility towards our people.”
“Work shouldn’t alienate or demoralise, but rather contribute to a new society, [it] should be liberating and productive, the main creator of society, not a punishment, and that’s only possible under socialism,” he said.
A new salary protection law
Chavez also announced a new Law of Costs, Prices, and Salary Protection, and today he and the Ministers’ council are discussing it. Chavez said he hopes to approve it soon, using the currently valid enabling law.
He said the law seeks to give the state and its citizens the tools to, “defeat speculation, hoarding, and the gluttony of the market and the bourgeoisie”.
The idea of the law is to convert Indepabis, the Institute for the Defence of People in their Access to Goods and Services, which currently focuses on monitoring shops and business practices, prices, and regulated goods, into a “Superintendency of costs, prices, and wage protection so it has greater national presence,” Chavez said, explaining that the institute should work with communal councils, communes, and other popular organisations that aim to protect wages and family income.
Chavez also urged for the new Organic Work Law to be approved soon. The Organic Work Law is a proposal that has been on the table and under discussion since 2003. The current proposal includes abolishing contract labour- requiring all companies to hire workers permanently and with benefits, reducing the work day, paid time for participation in workers’ councils, among other things.
In November last year, a few thousand pro-government workers marched to demand “more socialism” and “no bureaucracy” and to demand the new Work Law finally be passed. Marcela Maspero, of the union federation UNETE, said the law should, “bring dignity to our relations of production and place the running of this revolutionary process in the hands of Venezuela’s workers”. A larger march of a similar nature was repeated in February this year.
“We can’t keep holding back the approval of a new work code, I think it is time already for our very respectable National Assembly to approve the new Work Law, but of course, there has to be debate,” Chavez said.
One of the key debates has been over the working week, with some left groups calling for a six-hour day. However, Chavez said the eight-hour day should be maintained. “Right now it’s not advisable to reduce the work day, let’s work eight hours well and make maximum use of free time,” he said.
According to Chavez, 6,000 unions have been formed in the last 12 years, compared to 12,000 that were registered in a space of 50 years before the current government. In Venezuela, unions tend to be workplace, rather than industry based.
Combating price speculation
During his speech President Chavez warned that if EPA, a Venezuelan house construction and decoration chain store, continues to jeopardise consumers, the state would “take further measures” such as expropriation.
According to AVN, on 27 April, as a result of accusations by customers, Indepabis closed 16 branches of the EPA store for a range of irregularities including marking up regulated and non regulated prices, and restricting the sale of construction material and price speculation. It also levied an $8,835 fine against one branch.
One of the reasons why housing has become problematical in Venezuela is the difficulty in obtaining cement, or obtaining it at reasonable prices, and cement was among the materials that EPA was limiting.
“We have to put pressure on the on bourgeoisie, on speculation, because it’s shameless robbery,” Chavez said.