The syndicalism promoted by the socialist government of Venezuela has acted as a grouping agent, not as a system to stimulate production and productivity. There is no purported growth from which to divide capital and labor benefits; rather it has led to the ruin of both private and public companies.
There are plenty of examples: Helados EFE, Coca Cola FEMSA, Toyota, the industries of Corporación de Guayana (CVG), and Ferrominera in particular. They have fallen victim to this predatory and gangster syndicalism, a type of ideological bazaar with traces of Marxism, anarchic syndicalism with cheguevarianism, and a culture eager to fight and exploit private companies and drain the state’s public enterprises. Above all, it enriches the union aristocracy associated with and protected by the Government.
The Failure of the Electoral Way and the New Strategy
The government that was installed on February 2, 1999, with Hugo Chávez as president, tries from the very beginning to capture and impose an organized workers movement. It is precisely in that field where it faced its first failures, even while enjoying its highest popularity levels.
In December 2000, the government tried to prove illegal and replace the board of the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV) through a union referendum or Consulta sobre la Renovación de la Dirigencia Sindical, in order to enthrone its allies and militants within the Confederation. This national referendum (not only directed to the workers) mobilized but a small sector of the population of registered voters (23.5 percent) and did not achieve its main goal to get rid of the directors of the Confederation. In fact they were ratified.
Then in 2001, Carlos Ortega, a prominent leader of the Federation of Oil Workers (FEDEPETROL) and the democratic opposition, competed for the presidency of the CTV against known political Chavista leader, Aristobulus Isturiz. Ortega won the election by a wide margin.
In view of these successive and painful setbacks, the government opted for a new strategy with two lines of action: create organizations parallel to labor unions where it has no chance for victory, and isolate the organized and autonomous labor unions.
After the departure of Carlos Ortega of CTV in 2003, the Confederation faded into the hands of a lazy bureaucracy that supported the government abuses. Its past combativeness, shown in 1989 when fighting against the modernizing reforms put forward by Carlos Andrés Pérez, were gone.
In the middle of the worst crisis experienced by Venezuelan workers, with several thousand expired collective agreements and the right to strike threatened by public bodies such as the National Tax Service (SENIAT), the “leaders” choose to hide — not to face or fight. Their behavior was so docile and harmless that the most authoritarian of governments we have experienced since the tyranny of Juan Vicente Gómez has allowed them to survive with the crumbs given by affiliates and the International Labor Organization.
Those “leaders” only appear during the sad parades of May 1 to celebrate the “victories of the glorious” but practically abandoned working class. The groups of honest and confrontational unionists, like the ones in Frente Autónomo en Defensa del Empleo and Salario y Sindicato (FADESS), have not achieved enough strength or growth to become a significant reference nationwide.
The Socialist Syndicalism’s Offense
The negligence of traditional labor unions has left the door open to socialist syndicalism. Helados EFE is an emblematic example of this terrible practice. According to Francisco Olivares’s investigation, “Helados en coma,” published by the prestigious newspaper El Universal on July 30, 2013, “a group of union workers have the EFE products plant besieged, and they frequently impede work.”
During the 2011-2012 period, for example, the company lost an estimated Bsf.161 million (US$37 million under the official exchange rate of 4.30 Bsf. per dollar at the time of the events). According to Olivares, the “new collective contract offered to EFE workers would raise the mean wage to eight times the minimum wage, but the constant interruptions of labor have caused a 10 percent absenteeism.” The meetings convened by the union are performed at any time of the workday, and the production lines are interrupted at the union leaders’ pleasure.
The result of this extermination operation is that the company is on the verge of bankruptcy, after being the country’s most prominent firm in the business of ice cream despite the fact that the demand for its delicious product has continued to grow. This process will continue until de official socialist union satisfies its desire to annihilate the company . Then it will move on to repeat the same behavior on another company. The fate of workers does not interest this corrupt breed.
The example of Productos EFE is replicated in public enterprises, like Lácteos Los Andes and the cement companies, or in traditional public businesses like the ones included in the CVG. In those there is a mixture of incompetent and apathetic management, and voracious union leaders. In the cases of Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Coca Cola FEMSA — all private corporations with international capital — the union leaders are predominantly ferocious and have the government’s official support. Using phrases like “class struggles” and “combat against transnational capital” the union leaders try to cover up the aggression against private property and the rule of law, and are intended to mask a form of criminal conduct contrary to the national interests and the true interests of the working class.