Venezuela: With the businessmen, everything; without the businessmen, nothing?

May 04, 2014

"Overcoming scarcity and inflation," by emptying the pockets of the people and trampling on workers’ rights

With the businessmen, everything; without the businessmen, nothing?

The national government seems to have a new slogan. In the middle of the serious crisis of the economy, expressed especially in severe inflation and scarcity, the government has accelerated a kind of "productive turn" – that was already in operation since last year – where the focus is on "producing," "increasing production," no matter if that involves destroying rights of the working class and striking at the purchasing power of working people, on the basis of offering "the conditions" that businessmen are demanding in order to "produce."

In the area of the economy, the country has been subjected in the most recent months, among other things, to extortion by the national bourgeoisie: if they do not further relax access to dollars for the bourgeoisie, nor relax price control more for them, if government insists on using the half-hearted regulations on profits, and if they do not permit the bourgeoisie to trample on the rights of the workers even more, then there will not be production! It’s that simple. Businessmen say that they must be given those conditions; if that is not complied with, then there will not be investment, there will not be production; there will be scarcity and, therefore, inflation, etc. That is, either they do what suits our needs or to hell with them!

And the "economic war"? The "parasitic bourgeoisie"?

For Maduro’s government, like those of Chávez previously, not having
coherence between "anti-capitalist" talk and the practice of what is most normally capitalistic matters little; it is giving in all the way to these demands. At the end of last year, we wrote:

"The government, that talks about an [economic] war, instead of resolutely weakening the ’opposing army,’ is taking measures that rather strengthen it. When all is said and done, the government also considers that key to not having inflation or scarcity, is to offer the conditions so that businessmen ’will produce.’ For that reason, it is a prisoner of its own ’contradiction’: between putting limits on the most crude aspects of corporate blackmail and offering them the conditions they are demanding. For that, it is going in a ’productive’ turn, by establishing and seeking agreements with businessmen, playing tightrope walkers’ games, in order to go on relaxing some controls and keeping others" (En clave obrera 32, November 2013).

But now, Maduro hardly talks about "economic war"; the allusions are increasingly lost between a sea of appeals and praise of private enterprise. Also, by magic, it seems to be that the bourgeoisie is no longer "parasitic" nor "unpatriotic," but the basis for "national production." That balancing act that the government had been performing, between keeping some controls and relaxing others, continues surrendering ground to an increasingly clear pro-business policy.

Certainly, the situation after February 12 has accelerated this turn: the onslaught of the "hard" group of the right wing, that has marked the agenda for the entire MUD and for the government, and that has made manifest Maduro’s weakness, has a direct relation with this (see "The opposition takes the offensive, backed by imperialism," En clave obrera 33). Facing this, the government, far from "turning to the left," "becoming radical" or "deepening the revolution" – a matter that the left wing that subordinates itself to the government will be waiting for all its life – has accelerated its turn towards an agenda where the only thing that matters is "production" … that, while capitalist private ownership exists, and the means of production (lands, businesses, finances, etc.) are in the hands of the bourgeoisie, will be capitalist production based on the interests of the bourgeoisie.

In addition to relaxing the rationing of dollars and authorizing price increases, the government is negotiating thousands of layoffs!

Businessmen say they have few dollars: but it turns out that currently, in private Venezuelan deposits overseas, there are almost 167 billion dollars, a figure that equals two and a half times this year’s entire national budget (estimated at 63 million US dollars)! If "national production" really interests them so much, why don’t they bring those dollars?! On the other hand, in 2012 alone, there were 20 billion dollars that went to save "briefcase firms" or to "artificial demand, not associated with production." They are asking that "they free" the dollar for them: and there goes the government, relaxing control of exchange with SICAD I and II; in passing, increasingly devaluing the incomes of working people.

The capitalists are asking that they dismantle price controls, since, according to the poor dears, they are producing "at a loss." The truth is that they have continued and are continuing to earn; even Eduardo Samán, when he was President of INDEPABIS, admitted that "businessmen are earning more than ever." However, there goes the government, authorizing price increases for them, some announced and others concealed. Already in meetings with the most varied capitalist groups, last year, ministers came out stating that they had agreed with these capitalist groups "to revise prices periodically."

We can also talk about how the government subsidizes – with the money of "all the Venezuelans!" – different corporate groups, to "stimulate them," so that "they will not lose." Among other groups, they do not pay VAT (and some groups, not the ISLR either): primary agricultural and related activities, importation of capital goods and foodstuffs, iron producers from the agreements with China, transnational gas corporations, etc. While the people pay the VAT...

But where the government’s conspiracy with the capitalists against the working class is most mean-spirited, is in the matter of the criminalization of the workers’ struggles and the layoffs. A constant complaint of the "unfortunate" businessmen is what they call "labor impunity": according to them, the workers’ struggles are an obstacle to producing more, at less cost, and the workers are not getting the punishments that they ought to. So much cynicism and hatred of the working class when it is in struggle! It turns out that in the country there are almost 150 working men and women on trial for struggling, several workers imprisoned for the same reason, dozens fired for fighting for a collective contract or wanting to set up a union, while there is not a single bourgeois imprisoned or indicted for violating workers’ rights. And they talk about "labor impunity"!

Certainly we cannot ask for "objectivity" from the bourgeois gentlemen. That is not enough for the exploiters; they want more. In the meetings with the government, that is a constant complaint. The very same Lorenzo Mendoza – that tycoon who now appears to be an "advisor" of the government, because the government is taking a line from him, as with the such-and-such "Economic Truth Commission" – he said, in front of Maduro and the television cameras that the unions’ action (that is, the workers’ struggle, expressed through the unions) was harmful for production, and the alleged "Workers’ President" was unable to refute him.

Well then, the businessmen say that they have to be given more freedom for laying off workers, in order to "overcome absenteeism," to leave job security aside, etc., "so that production will flourish." And there is the government authorizing the layoffs for them! Through the Ministry of Labor, it has been sending instructions to the Inspectorates throughout the country, so that they will approve the layoffs that the capitalists are demanding. The figure that the union tendencies – and workers of the Ministry of Labor itself – are using about the layoffs that the government and businessmen are negotiating, reaches tens of thousands. There are places and firms where we are already seeing it: Wrangler (Caracas), at Plumrose, Farplastic and Vasos Selva (in Aragua), Destilería Florida (Sucre), Fanalpade, Galletera Carabobo, Coca Cola Femsa (Carabobo).

And this renewed willingness of the government to support the employers’ retaliations does not go unnoticed by the employers’ groups. A few days ago, the President of the Venezuelan–Argentinian Chamber of Commerce said, "The worst that operate are the inspectorates, that tend to favor the worker, but that is changing now. The Minister of Labor is instructing the inspectorates to work with more objectivity." We already know that "objectivity" means supporting all the businessmen’s anti-worker measures. Everything must be for "production," and the products "must appear" in the market!

The government takes its own management and anti-popular measures

But it is not only about the fact that the government is conspiring with the private businessmen to employ management’s anti-popular measures that they are demanding; the government also has its own measures in this sense, as administrator of the bourgeois state and as a boss.

On the one hand, it uses the devaluation of the bolívar as a mechanism to ease its own debts in the country, those that it pays in bolívares, since, in devaluing, it gets more bolívares for each dollar that it gains, with which it "reduces" its own domestic debt. It does not occur to it to put its hand in the pocket of the national capitals, nor of the foreign ones; it puts it in the pocket of the working people, by devaluing their income.

Furthermore, in a country with a strong presence of the state in the economy, the government also thinks directly like a boss, in confronting the complaints and demands of the exploited in the state sector, which goes from public administration up to the basic enterprises, electrical, oil, water, etc., passing through food and agricultural companies, up to public banks. In that sense, the government has also been preparing to use compulsory retirements and layoffs. As an example, the 600 layoffs, assigned to the Venezuelan Sugar Workers Corporation [CVA Azúcar], that workers from the sugar plants throughout the country have been condemning and fighting these days.

Maduro defends his agreements with businessmen

Recently, Maduro has devoted himself, every so often, to defending his agreements with the national bourgeoisie, seeming, in discussion with people of his own government, that perhaps he does not want to go so quickly on the road of uniting with "the parasitic bourgeoisie," or that he wants to be more careful about appearances.

Thus, he has been heard to say that questioning these agreements is from "the dogmatic ones," that the "socialism" that he extols has nothing to do with hostility towards capitalist ownership (the same thing that Chávez used to say, that is, a "socialism" that is no socialism at all; rather, capitalism pure and simple, with some state regulations, and with the state itself playing the role of businessman in several sectors). In this ideological crusade, it was recently concluded, thus: "Who said that private ownership is not productive? Let stop talking nonsense; let anyone who dares to claim that private ownership is not productive raise his hand."

So the truth is that private ownership is not productive; the working men and women are the ones that produce! The key problem is that under capitalist ownership, production is carried on only in the interest of profit, and all social needs must be subordinated to the stingy interest of a minority that engages in extortion; the problem is that those who really produce, that is, the working class, have to relinquish their rights in favor of businessmen.

This way of "overcoming scarcity and inflation," of "increasing production," is that the working class and the people must kneel before the will of the capitalists. But good – everything must be for "production" –; Maduro seems to have a new slogan: "With the businessmen, everything; without the businessmen, nothing!"