Caracas, August 18 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Organised workers at Venezuela's state-owned steel plant Sidor have spoken out against the Venezuelan government’s decision to dismiss the factory's president Carlos D’Oliveira earlier this month.
D’Oliveira, a member of the Revolutionary Steel Worker's Front, was nominated as company president by the plant's workers in 2010 as part of a plan to implement worker control in the factory. He was responsible for pushing forward the Plan Socialist Guayana, a government-backed initiative aimed at implementing a worker control management model in the state-owned industries in Guayana, in eastern Venezuela.
Groups of Sidor workers have rallied against the decision to remove D'Oliveira and criticised the government for not having notified the plant's workers' of the decision to dismiss the worker-president.
In a statement released by the thirty-five workers' control “working groups” at the factory, workers demanded a “clarification” of the reasons for D'Oliveira's dismissal from the Chavez government.
“Worker control is not just decoration, the workers are conscious of their role... we are convinced that the worker control model is the correct path for the management of our factories, [and] in line with (democratic) participation and protagonism, we need to be consulted in such a transcendental decision,” read the statement.
D'Oliveira's dismissal comes six months after fellow worker-president, Elio Sayago, was unilaterally removed from his post in state-owned aluminium factory Alcasa.
Rafael Gil Barrios, the president of the government’s Venezuela Guayana Corporation (CVG), which administers the state-owned Guayana industries, was announced by the government as Oliveira's successor at Sidor.
Barrios is a member of the Bolivarian Workers' Front (FBT), and is also considered an ally of local PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) state governor Rangel Gomez. Gomez and the FBT have previously been accused by other workers’ groups of attempting to sabotage the worker control project in Guayana and of wanting to take control of companies for their own personal gain.
“We have an endless amount of reasons to think that the person that is now being named as an option for the [Sidor] presidency (Barrios) is not representative, in fact it is quite the opposite in terms of the worker control project. [This is] because in the factories where this man and his group have got involved, quite simply workers' control has gone backwards. We have the Alcasa experience, which was being managed by workers and now it's just being managed by a small group,” said Luis Malavé, a spokesperson for one of the factory’s working groups.
Following D'Oliveira's dismissal, some trade unions affiliated to the workers' control project called for an eight hour strike, whilst others formed a protest. The strike was allegedly led by José Luis Hernandez, president of Sidor’s main trade union, SUTISS, who said that the appointment of Barrios was a “contradiction of the Socialist Plan Guayana, because the workers weren't consulted”.
The stoppage was also supported by the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), which accused the FBT and another union faction, the Union Alliance, of acting as “mafias” within the plant.
Differing Accounts of D’Oliveira’s Management
Official sources say that D’Oliveira allowed contracts held by outsourced Sidor workers to expire, leading to protests by those workers at the end of July, which was the final act leading to his dismissal on August 2.
Referring to the protests, President Chavez explained that the events were “a management error” by Oliveira for which Chavez had had to “assume responsibility” and dismiss him. The Venezuelan president also repeated his commitment to bring all outsourced workers onto the full Sidor contract, mentioning that only 1,000 workers now had their incorporation pending, with over 6,500 incorporated since 2008.
Meanwhile workers' control spokespeople claim that Oliviera is the victim of a sustained smear campaign at the factory and that his presidency has been marred by acts of sabotage.
Just a week before D'Oliveira's dismissal, workers' control groups reported that over US $431 million dollars-worth of damage had been done to the plant due to “illegal stoppages” led by the Union Alliance and asked the country's National Assembly for an investigation.
The Union Alliance, the second largest faction in the SUTISS union, backed the appointment of Barrios, and accused the D'Oliveira administration of mismanagement and corruption.
According to Venezuelan press, SIDOR is currently failing to meet its annual production goal of 3.2 million tonnes of liquid steel. Whilst some groups have blamed D'Oliveira's mismanagement for the plant's production troubles, others fault a lack of investment in necessary machinery.
“The management of Carlos D'Oliveira was better than the previous three presidents, but we need investment, until the excavators and the Pos Carry machines arrive, the company will not be able to reach 3.2 tonnes,” said SUTISS president Hernandez.
Barrios has dismissed that workers have rejected his appointment and has said that workers are “enthusiastic” about his presidency.
Written by Rachael Boothroyd, with additional reportage by Ewan Robertson