By Stalin Perez Borges
Introduction by Green Left Weekly:
April 19, 2008 -- Denouncing
the “coloniser attitude” and “barbarous exploitation” of workers by the
management of the Sidor steel company, Venezuelan Vice President Ramon
Carrizalez announced at 1.30am on April 9 that President Hugo Chavez
had decided to nationalise the company.
“This is a government that protects workers and will never take the side of a transnational company”, said Carrizalez.
The decision of the Chavez government to nationalise Sidor has begun
the process of returning to state hands one of the most important steel
factories of Latin America, located in the heartland of Venezuela’s
industrial belt in Guayana.
Sidor was privatised in 1997, one year before Chavez was elected.
The major share-holder has been an Argentinean-controlled conglomerate
Techint. Since privatisation, the workforce has been slashed from
around 15,000 to just over 5000 and the company has used contract
labour in violation of a government decree banning the practice.
The move to re-nationalise Sidor came after more than a year of
intense struggle by the Sidor workers, together with the people of
Guayana, against not just Sidor management but also the policies of the
local “Chavista” governor, Fransisco Rangel Gomez, and the labour
minister Jose Ramon Rivero — both of whom have been accused of
Sidor workers have been in conflict with the management over the
signing of a new contract, with the management refusing to meet the
workers’ demands. The workers suffered repression at the hands of the
National Guard and local police, including a brutal attack involving
tear gas and rubber bullets on March 14 that led to three workers being
The move comes as part of a “second wave” of nationalisations being
carried out by the Chavez government, following the recent
nationalisation of Venezuela’s cement industry (nearly 40 factories),
several milk producing plants and the subsequent takeover of 32 large
farms. These moves are part of government efforts to recuperate control
over food production and the construction industry — both of which play
a crucial role in national development.
The first wave, carried out at the start of 2007, focused on the
electricity, telecommunications and petroleum sectors. After his
reelection in December 2006, Chavez pledged to “re-nationalise” all
sectors of the economy that had been privatised by previous
governments, as part of the struggle to construct socialism.
The labour movement has been electrified by the Sidor victory. In
another victory, which reflects the struggle within the pro-Chavez camp
between more right-wing sections and those seeking to deepen the
revolution, Rivero has been replaced as labour minister, presumably due
to his bad role in the Sidor dispute, as well as his public support for
splitting the pro-Chavez National Union of Workers (UNT) and creating a
Below is an article on the significance of the victory by Stalin Perez Borges, who is a UNT national coordinator and a leader of the Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide, <http://mareasocialista.com>) current within the UNT.
* * *
The news regarding events at Sidor continue to reverberate across
the world, and will do so for some time. An extraordinary event has
occurred — the re-nationalisation of the principal steel factory of
Latin America. This is a new revolution within the Bolivarian
revolution, which we need to deepen.
This decision by the Chavez government, justly interpreting the
demand raised by the workers and people of Guyana (and won by the
colossal struggle of the Sidor workers and the revolutionary people of
Guyana with the support of people from across the country) changes the
political conjuncture following the defeat of Chavez’s proposed
constitutional reforms in the December 2 referendum.
Given that it involves the four principal countries in Latin
America, it modifies the situation in the region in favour of the
peoples of our America. The majority of Sidor shares were owned by a
corporation comprised of capital from a range of countries including
Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela. The Argentinean and Brazilian
interests were closely tied to the governments of those two countries,
and the Venezuelan interests were tied to key families of the
It is an event of great importance because it demonstrates, without
a doubt, that the revolutionary people of Venezuela want to deepen the
process. It could cause a substantial change in the revolutionary
process, within which the workers have not been political protagonists
of the first order. Nor has Chavez and the rest of the government, so
far, wanted to give us this role.
‘The dictatorship has fallen, we are free!’
The months of determined struggle could be seen on the joyful faces
of the Sidor comrades and the revolutionary workers and people of
Guyana. The day after the re-nationalisation was announced, the workers
shouted: “We are in democracy, the dictatorship has fallen!” and “We
The comrades did everything to secure victory, and they achieved
it. They confronted brutal repression. They stayed firm and ended up
going further than many expected.
The majority of Sidor workers have an immense desire to demonstrate
greater efficiency in production and social service than any
transnational, national or state capitalist company can provide. In the
midst of their jubilation, the workers have proven capable of doubling
Waiting for the state to take over the administration of the
company since April 10, workers in some of the sections started to
organise into security and control committees — well before the
sabotage of the old owners against the information system began. The
mission of these committees is to impede the dismantlement or sabotage
of equipment, control production and impede aggression by the
supervisors and other bosses.
The will of the Sidor workers is to manage production and the
administration of the company. They will present a written proposal for
how the new Sidor should function.
Implementing the policies supported by the majority of Sidor
workers would be, beyond speeches, a clear demonstration by Chavez and
the government that they do want to embark on the path of socialism.
This triumph will also be reflected in the experience accumulated
by the workers in an enormous fight, which will be difficult to get rid
What is fundamental is that the Sidor struggle has raised
enthusiasm, and not only to go out and demand economic gains. It has
also put the idea in the heads of workers that there are much more
strategic and important political objectives to fight for — ones that
can produce structural changes.
Workers have seen that it is possible to take away control of a
company from a powerful transnational and that this company can be
administered by its workers with good results. They have seen it is
possible to change the course of the government — and even of Chavez
himself — regarding some of its mistaken policies.
Role of the working class
The Sidor re-nationalisation has totally changed the situation in
the workers’ movement. It has once again proven that the path to
deepening the process is struggle and workers’ democracy.
Within this framework, Chavez’s speech on April 13 (to more than
300,000 supporters commemorating the sixth anniversary of the 2002 coup
that briefly removed his government) has an enormous importance. We
need to take up the call made by Chavez for the working class to assume
its protagonist role in the Bolivarian revolution.
But a problem remained to be solved — the labour minister and all
of his team could not continue to remain in the government. The
minister already had to be withdrawn by Chavez from the negotiations in
the Sidor conflict because it was so evident that the workers did not
even want to hear Rivero speak.
For months he had pressured them to not continue raising their demands against their super-exploitation.
For a while now. he has acted in favour of the bosses and the
bureaucrats, favouring the plans of the right wing within and outside
the Bolivarian process. His last move was to decree a new union
confederation to split the UNT.
This problem was resolved when Chavez, interpreting the sentiment of workers against Rivero, removed him from his position.
It is true that there exists a large dispersion in the union
movement, but we are working to turn this around. We believe that it is
possible, because we are faced with a historic opportunity for the
working class, together with the Bolivarian people, to be the motor of
this revolutionary process.
It is urgently needed to convoke a meeting of all the currents
within the UNT and the revolution in order to begin to take firm steps
towards a necessary regroupment and unification of a working class
leadership — one that is democratic, pluralist, and independent of the
state. Let the workers, the grassroots unions and their natural leaders
be the ones who define the steps towards the reorganisation of the UNT
— without excluding any current that supports the revolution.
As a first step towards this unity so yearned for by the workers
and so necessary for the revolution, let’s convoke a huge united
contingent to participate in the mobilisations for May Day — raising
all the demands of the workers, beginning with a general wage increase
so that everyone can recuperate the wages lost due to increasing
Also needed is the immediate implementation of a plan of housing
construction on a mass scale, democratically worked out with the
participation of the workers from the steel, cement and construction
industries, together with the communities.
The mobilisation of the working class — involving the UNT, the
social movements and the battalions of the United Socialist Party of
Venezuela (PSUV) — is the only guarantee to successfully confronting
the right-wing opposition, as well as the betrayal of the “endogenous
right” within Chavismo.
This is the path that we all have to strive for and push towards.
The struggle of the Sidor workers proves this path — and that is why
they triumphed. This is one of the principal lessons of this grand
From International News, Green Left Weekly issue #747 23 April 2008.
* * *
Venezuelan steel workers: ‘A triumph of the revolutionary people’
April 19, 2008“Now,
to producing Venezuelan steel at the service of the revolution and
socialism!”, proclaimed Jose Melendez, referring to the victory
obtained after 15 months of struggle at the steel factory Sidor,
located in the heartland of Venezuela’s basic industry in Guayana.
Under orders from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Vice President
Ramon Carrizales announced the government’s decision on April 9 to
re-nationalise Sidor, which had been privatised in 1997, as demanded by
As finance secretary of United Steel Industry Workers Union
(SUTISS) and leader of the revolutionary union group, Union Alliance,
Melendez played a key role in the struggle.
Together with Elio Sayazo, who was elected by the workers as labour
director on the Sidor board, the two spoke to the newspaper of the left
union current Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide) to which both belong.
“They were some moments that were very difficult” recounts
Melendez, “like when we reached the conclusion that the labour minister
[Jose Ramon Rivera, since replaced by Chavez] was working for the
company, that he was betraying the workers …
“Another difficult moment was when they repressed us on March 14.
The repression was brutal [involving] the National Guard and state
police, directed by the managers of the company, in complicity with the
ministry [of labour] and the [state] governorship.”
Melendez noted the importance of the defeat of the attempt to
impose a referendum organised by Sidor management and the labour
minister on whether or not to accept the contract being offered by
management. “The union responded by carrying out our own referendum,
the only legal one. And the response was so overwhelming that there was
no longer excuses for the company to not return to the negotiating
Melendez thanked those that had demonstrated their solidarity to
the Sidor workers, “union organisations, revolutionary political
currents”, including some of the recently elected national leaders of
the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — the mass socialist
party formed to help lead the Venezuelan revolution — such as
Aristobulo Isturiz and the PSUV’s first Vice President Alberto Muller
Melendez said that the “renationalisation is a triumph of the workers and the revolutionary people.”
Melendez argued that the transnational owners of the privatised
Sidor “always treated us as slaves. For 25 months they did not increase
our salary. Instead they spent millions [of bolivars] to say in the
media that the Sidor workers were the best-paid workers in the country,
truly mocking us.
“We have always demanded that Sidor return to the hands of the
state, the workers and the people … In this sense the decision of
Chavez … interpreted the desires of the workers, and all the
“That is why we received the news with great joy”, he said, “with
the feeling that we had achieved our task — that our struggle was
beginning to bear fruit. Not only can we now discuss a just contract
and putting an end to the slave-based system of hired labour contracts,
but also ensure that our retired workers are treated with dignity.”
Melendez explained that there is a struggle for “us, the workers,
who make production run everyday, to be an active part of the control
and management of the new Sidor. This is a right that we are demanding,
and we hope that Chavez will support us in this, or that the PSUV plays
a role in convincing him that this is how it should be.”
Sayazo explained: “The proposal that we have made from within the
board of directors, and which has come from the active and retired
workers, is today more valid than ever. The workers, starting from when
the iron minerals entry the factory until they exit the process of
transformation, have to control production …”
According to Sayazo, “the challenge that we have is to demonstrate
that the administration by workers, as part of the people, means to put
those resources at the service of the society itself …” Sayazo argued
that “the workers have to demonstrate to the world that when we work as
a team, in an organised and participatory manner … these resources that
belong to all of society”.
[Abridged from http://mareasocialist.com. Translated by Federico Fuentes.]
From International News, Green Left Weekly issue #747 23 April 2008.