Cooking Oil Socialist Workers’ Council Protests Minister’s “Imposition” of Manager

Workers from the worker run Industrias Diana plants are protesting the decision of food minister Felix Osorio to designate businessman David Mendoza as manager of the company.

By Tamara Pearson
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Mérida, 30th July 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Workers from the worker run Industrias Diana plants are protesting the decision of food minister Felix Osorio to designate businessman David Mendoza as manager of the company.

Workers have been protesting since Friday, when Mendoza and a new managerial board assumed office.

Industrias Diana was nationalised in 2008. With its main plant in Valencia, as well as five other plants, Diana produces mainly oil related goods such as cooking oil, margarine, mayonnaise, sauces, and soaps, and covers 35% of Venezuela’s margarine market. It has an annual production of 207,761 tonnes, an increase of 160.4% compared to 2008. Its full-time workforce has also increased to 2350 people. Diana is limited to selling 20% of its production to the private market, with the other 80% going to state distribution companies.

In 2011 and 2012 Diana provided the state with Bs 35 million in dividends. The government has also recently invested a further Bs 30 million in the industry to enable it to expand its palm tree harvest. Workers are organised into a socialist workers’ council, and decide company operations. They also have their own radio, journalists, and workers’ university.

Diana workers are arguing that they weren’t consulted in the designation of Mendoza. In a meeting on Friday with the workers, Mendoza admitted to owning some restaurants and other small companies, some of which have failed. At the meeting, which was recorded, workers stated that someone who runs private businesses “can’t understand how to run a workers’ factory and respect collective power”. Mendoza then said his ownership of private businesses wasn’t a conflict of interest, and “everyone has the right to work”.

Mendoza was also a regional manager of the state tax organisation, SENIAT, in 2005. According to Roberto Yepez, writing for Opcion Obrera (Worker’s Choice), Mendoza fired SENIAT workers who tried to unionise.

Diana worker, Oglis Garcia, told press that if the board positions weren’t discussed with workers, they would go to the national assembly to denounce the situation. She invited national assembly president Diosdado Cabello to debate “two models” with workers; “The model of imposition of the minister, the Adeco-Copeyano [traditional opposition parties] way of trampling by force, and the second model of worker control, of popular power making the decisions in Diana”.

Mendoza was formally appointed on 23 July. When he went to the plant to assume the position on Friday, he brought armed national guards to the plant. Yepez referred to the move as a “militarisation” of Industrias Diana “in order to impose the government’s decision on the workers”. He said there are normally some guards at the plant since it was nationalised, and workers see the soldiers as “military comrades” but argues that their “real purpose was revealed” on Friday.

Workers have released a statement expressing their support for the Bolivarian revolution and “worker president” Nicolas Maduro. They stated they had no intention of going on strike, as the company’s production is important “for guaranteeing food sovereignty”. In an assembly they debated the “imposition” by the government, and also proposed candidates for the board from among the factory’s workers “with professional and political experience”. The proposal, according to Yepez, was approved unanimously.

Outgoing manager of Diana, Angel Orsini, was also chosen by the national executive of the government. However, according to Diana worker Luis Ramos, speaking at the recorded assembly, Orsini was chosen at the time of nationalisation in order to help with the “transition” to worker control, and he played a key role in educating workers.

However, public radio network Radio Mundial published a statement by the “Chavez Vive” collective, which argues that Orisini has been “accumulating privileges”. Industrias Diana workers state though that the collective doesn’t exist, and demanded that public media visit the factory.

In their twitter account this morning, Diana workers said that some people had “disguised themselves as Diana workers in order to declare themselves against worker control”.

In another statement the Diana workers said they “have declared themselves in permanent assembly, with daily sessions of information and collective decisions”.

“We’re not going to accept any imposition from anyone, unless an assembly of workers’ approves it,” Ramos said at the meeting, arguing that was “Chavez’s legacy... the people decide”.

In 2010 when Chavez visited the Industrias Diana factory he said that the nationalisation of such “strategic companies has increased national production of basic foods”. In April 2012 he also stated that, “Industrias Diana is a very important example of how a company that was capitalist, now in the hands of the workers, has gone through the roof in productivity, efficiency, and lowering costs”.

For more photos of the protests see here, and see here for a video of the protest outside Industrias Diana, which has the support of local communal councils, movements, and alternative and community media.

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