Mitsubishi Motors

On how a Japanese multinational and the Chávez government are joining together in order to crush workers’ resistance with brutality

June 23, 2010

Right now, the workers at Mitsubishi continue to be ready to fight. But the blows they had been receiving are unquestionable; the most terrible expression of this was the murder of two workers by the Anzoátegui state police on January 29, 2009, after the seizure of the plant that the union led. At that moment, the Minister of Labor, María Cristina Iglesias, shut down the occupation by threatening to use the repressive force of the Guardia Nacional Bolivariana, unless the struggle was ended. Partially defeated, the workers returned to work, carrying out the hardships imposed on them by the company, like the increase of the pace of production and having to make up the hours they had been on strike, among other measures. At the end of August, Mitsubishi began a bosses’ lockout by shutting down all their production lines, with the argument of "violence," "a lack of discipline," and "anarchy," which "a group of workers" was exhibiting, at the same time it was threatening to "close the enterprise." In response, and with the permission of MMC [Mitsubishi], by September, the Ministry of Labor issues a "precautionary" measure against the leadership of the Singetram union, with a decision that prohibits 11 of the union leaders from entering the premises of the enterprise, at the same time that Mitsubishi lays off 157 workers, that brought the enterprise before the Ministry. In February of this year, the fight against the rates of exploitation revived, and, after a two-month standstill, once again the government acted in favor of the enterprise, leaving another 15 workers in the street. In total, 170 workers have been laid off since the beginning of the struggle.

A symbolic struggle

If any struggle is symbolic, from which we must draw lessons, it is that of the comrades at Mitsubishi, who not only confronted the Japanese multinational, but faced the opposition of the national government itself, through the Ministry of Labor, under the command of María Cristina Iglesias, just as it had acted under José Ramón Rivero, when the struggle of the workers at SIDOR took place against Techints. That was a fight where the workers shut down a factory in defense of the comrades with the most precarious jobs, the 135 temporary workers that were laid off, and they raised as a banner of struggle not only the rehiring of those laid off, but also their becoming permanent employees, implying a new workers’ consciousness.

A profitable contract is what "explains" the starting point for defining on which side the government stood, in the workers’ struggle at the Japanese transnational, where Mitsubishi Corporation was promising a "foreign investment" of 80 billion dollars in the next 7 years for exploiting the heavy crude oil from the Orinoco Belt. But, for the "investment," the Japanese imperialist company needed the firm security that its interests would be well guarded in the country, and the government was willing to give it that guarantee: the crushing of the the assembly plant workers’ struggle was the proof.

If the workers of Sanitarios Maracay, who set the enterprise to producing under their own direct management, were defeated by the attacks from the government in agreement with the employers, through repression; in connection with the workers at Mitsubishi, we are facing a clear proof of the true face of the government of Chávez, who through his alliance with the Mitsubishi Corporation, decided to deal harsh blows on this conflict, seeking through this lesson, to discipline the advanced workers of the country. The government that demagogically talks about an alleged "anti-imperialism," used all the means in its power to defeat the workers’ struggle and union organization, thus guaranteeing the conditions for hyper-exploitation by the imperialist transnational!

The new episode: the shutdown of February 2010 and a new blow

And the brutal offensive by the multinational Mitsubishi and by the government against the workers is not ceasing. If doubts remained about the role of Chávez’ government in the conflict at Mitsubishi, the shutdown begun in February of this year for almost two months came once more to confirm [the government’s offensive]. At the beginning of February, the workers charged that the enterprise was making modifications in the organization of the plant on certain production lines, where the workers were taking turns to avoid occupational sicknesses, besides which, the enterprise had eliminated one of the work shifts. To guarantee the reorganization in the methodology of job rotation, on February 11, the enterprise’s managers took away tools and switched off the equipment in the work areas, immediately causing the suspension of work.

In a threatening manner, the transnational held the workers responsible for the shutdown, once again bringing up the old arguments that "lack of discipline and anarchy continue to be latent." The workers were not making wage demands, but simply that the assembly plant should end violence at work, and that the work rotation scheme be respected and the second shift be restored. To all these demands, the Ministry of Labor, as if it were representing the enterprise, threatened new layoffs, in order to end the demand for rights at work. And, moving from words to action, the Ministry of Labor automatically issued a judgment in favor of MMC, declared the shutdown illegal, and finds that "this measure was caused and promoted by the workers," blaming the workers for the shutdown and ordering them to resume production under the conditions that the enterprise was demanding.

Without wasting any time, the enterprise went on the offensive even more, and, supported by the Ministry’s settlement, sends the workers an official communication, where it explains that when the strike is declared illegal, the enterprise is not obliged to pay reduced wages, nor the night voucher, and it also warns that it will take the necessary actions against the workers. Six days later, on March 17, the Ministry of Labor would issue layoff orders to five workers. A few days afterward, another swipe would come from the Ministry, which now issued 10 new layoffs, for a total of 15 workers laid off. On April 14, defeated once more, the workers returned to work, after a two-month shutdown.

CMR: A disastrous, treacherous policy

Unfortunately, the Mitsubishi workers’ combativity, shown throughout the time of struggle, seeing their comrades fall at the hands of the repression and the wave of layoffs, has no correlate with the political leadership of the conflict in the hands of the members of the CMR ("Revolutionary Marxist Current," that publishes El Militante) that were leading the union. Although it is true, as Félix Martínez, a leader of the union, states, that "the multinational could not act in this way without the complicity of the Ministry of Labor, that covers up and promotes all its fraudulent actions," it is also true that the Ministry of Labor could act in that way because it knew that it had the complicity of the union leadership, that was absolving Chávez’ government of direct responsibility in the assault against the workers in accord with the agreement with MMC, by blaming only fifth-level officials of the [government’s] labor inspectorate in the city of Barcelona. In this way, they divert the workers’ struggle, concealing the real responsibility and complicity of Chávez’ national government in this brutal offensive by the bosses, as well as cheating the workers, by making them believe that a "revolutionary government" exists in the country, and that "it is moving towards socialism," when, in reality, it is completely the opposite. Not charging that the attacks were coming from the government led to disarming the workers in their struggle. The union leadership was appealing for help from one of those responsible for the assault that they were suffering: the national government, together with the MMC. They even covered the back of Governor Tarek William from his responsibility for the assassination of the two workers in January, last year. But there is something worse in the politics of the CMR, and it is that they had been obstinately refusing a proletarian united front to defend the workers, by isolating the struggle from the rest of the working class, since they practically put as a condition declaring subordination to the national government and to Chávez. With this attitude, they completed a disastrous, treacherous plan: they prevented the workers in struggle from joining with the rest of the working class and organizations that could help, if these were not avowedly chavistas. Far from preparing the workers for the struggle, the CMR disarmed them, by leading them to blind trust in Chávez. This was also expressed in the constant refusal of the CMR to call for the expulsion of the Mitsubishi Corporation and for expropriation of the enterprise, since, as they assert, they [the CMR] support "the international agreements established between President Chávez’ government and the Japanese government...." We should expect nothing from these union leaders, except new defeats; that is why it is necessary that the workers equip themselves with a new political union leadership, on a par with the struggle they have been waging.

For the broadest solidarity with the Mitsubishi workers! The government is trying to crush the Mitsubishi workers in this way, in order to teach the entire working class [a lesson] and prove its repressive reliability to the transnationals with which it has big deals for the exploitation of oil. Recently, Chávez described several transnationals, among them, the Mitsubishi Corporation, as his "allies," during a ceremony in which he handed over 40-year concessions for these firms to exploit the oil belt of the Orinoco. In spite of the blows they have taken, the workers at Mitsubishi have not let down their guard, and they are continuing to resist new assaults by the multinational and the government, that is now trying to buy off the workers, by offering them miserable compensations to give up the struggle. Now more than ever it is important to continue covering this big fight with active solidarity, to continue the struggle for the rehiring of all those laid off, the nationalization of the enterprise without compensation and under workers’ direct management, and for legal action against, and punishment of, those politically, intellectually and materially responsible for the murdered workers, and to participate in all the demonstrations that are planned during June and July.