The UNT demands the nationalisation of bankrupt factories and cogestion, translated as co-management or worker participation.
Chávez has said he wants all basic industry under state control. The government has assessed 700 closed enterprises, evaluating their suitability for expropriation, to preserve 20,000 jobs.
Last month he said, “we are not just recovering these factories, we are recovering our true sovereignty.” Chavez also said that people had to be patient. He said, “We cannot speed up. We cannot drive ourselves crazy. We must be conscious that this is a process with a far-off deadline, this has always been the case.”
At the same time, workers have been occupying factories that have been abandoned or closed, to secure their jobs. This interplay of government policy and workers pushing their own demands has produced different forms.
The paper factory Venepal was heralded as the great example of co-management. When it went bankrupt, workers responded by occupying the factory and demanding its nationalisation.
In January after legal action, the government paid market value for the firm and decreed it would be co-managed by workers and the state. It was renamed Invepal – “Endogenous Paper Industry of Venezuela”.
However it is clear that management don’t see this as workers’ control. Alexix Ornevo, a member of the directorate of Invepal (and a former trade unionist) has said that since workers were part of a cooperative and no longer had any bosses, they no longer needed a union. The union continues to organise in the factory, but is not running it under workers’ control.
In April Chávez announced the expropriation of CNV, a company making valves for the oil industry. The company closed in 2003, laying off 100 workers. Its owner supported the coups against Chávez. Workers occupied the factory to stop the owner from removing machinery. The new company, Inveval — which stands for “Endogenous Valve Industry of Venezuela” — is run by a board of directors, not workers.
Probably the workplace closest to workers’ control is Alcasa, a state-owned aluminium processing plant employing 2,700 workers. Alcasa was already a state-owned company that had made losses for years.
Earlier this year Chávez appointed former guerrilla Carlos Lanz as president of the firm. Lanz set up a factory council and departmental assemblies, although only around 20 workers turned up to the first meeting. Workers elected managers and two of its five corporate directors, as well as rank and file representatives.
But there is still a gap between the rhetoric and reality. Lanz was appointed, not elected. Although union leader in the plant Trino Silva called for the election of the whole board and the company president, this has not taken place.
In an interview in International Viewpoint, manager Rafael Rodriguez makes it pretty clear that the emphasis is on “development and diversity” i.e. getting production going, selling to countries other than the US and getting Venezuelan contracts e.g. for housing.
Cadafe, the state electric company, began co-management in 2002, after the April coup. In reality it only involves two workers’ reps on a five-member coordinating committee — a committee that can make recommendations to the company president, though he has no obligation to take any notice.
The workers, led by electrical workers’ union Fetraelec, have staged a series of protests. Fetraelec leader Joaquín Osorio says managers at Cadafe are persecuting the trade unionists struggling to introduce co-management there.
Companies for Social Production (EPSs)
A number of other companies have also been taken over and turned into Companies for Social Production (EPS). The first EPS was Cacao sugar mill in Sucre, declared in July. It is a co-op of around 100 workers. Another EPS is the Cumanacoa sugar mill in Cumaná, expropriated in September. It had been running at below capacity since its privatisation in 1992. Workers and the local sugar cane producers had demanded expropriation.
Last month the Sideroca factory, which makes metal pipes for the oil industry was expropriated. Its owners abandoned it six years ago. Workers and local people took over the plant. The government is also negotiating the buy out of a Heinz tomato processing plant, which has been shut since the mid-1990s.
Other businesses that are the subject of expropriation at present are the Probamasa corn processing plant owned by Polar, two Parmalat dairy plants and the Fribarsa meat-packing company. These expropriations are generally of small, private firms that have been closed for years or loss-making state firms. Workers are consulted, but they do not make the key decisions. Co-management is mostly absent from strategic industries — notably oil.
Co-management means more worker participation and consultation, but is a long way from workers’ control, never mind workers’ self-management — especially when the bourgeois state remains intact and workers have not formed their own mass workplace organisations.