On December 19, in the context of a series of measures to confront the housing emergency exposed by the hard rains that left 130,000 people affected, President Chávez announced the expropriation of Sanitarios Maracay, besides another enterprise called Aluven (Aluminios de Venezuela). Yes, it is the same factory where approximately 400 workers carried out a big struggle from November, 2006, setting up production under their own control and demanding that the government expropriate the factory, without any compensation to the boss, while keeping workers’ management. That was the response the workers gave, in view of the owner’s decision to close the enterprise and leave them in the street, when they refused to work under conditions of hyper-exploitation that the boss proposed to them as the only way to keep the enterprise going. More than four years have passed since the beginning of that struggle, and more than three, since the government plotted to destroy it. Now the government is returning for the charters of Sanitarios Maracay, in the most pragmatic fashion, forced only by the pressing need for housing of the working-class and poor majorities, who have not seen this drama resolved after more than a decade of so-called “revolution.”
The struggle carried out by the workers, who dared to rebel against capitalist power, had to confront not only the owner Álvaro Pocaterra, but also the government itself, in the form of its union bureaucrats, its union deputies and the National Assembly itself, that acted against the workers in different ways: trying to set up a parallel union that was opposed to workers’ control, repression by the Guardia Nacional, even negotiations with the owner, behind the backs of the workers. Thus, workers’ management appeared to be really fenced in (without credit, without access to raw materials, without official customers), and although they managed to get around the situation for several months, by the ninth month (August, 2007), the situation became distressing for many of the workers’ families, since the wages would no longer cover basic needs. The national government, that never gave the workers a bolívar of credit, that never bought one bathroom from the workers’ administration (while it did indeed buy thousands from a private company, Vencerámica), gave a credit to Pocaterra so that he offered to pay the workers some measly severance pay “immediately,” so that they would leave the factory: a big group of the workers accepted the proposal concocted by the government, the former General Secretary of the union, and the owner, thus ending the experiment in workers’ control.
After this big retreat, a group of 70 workers that refused to agree to the blackmail, occupied a smaller plant where plastic bathroom parts were produced (Saniplastic), and from then on, they kept on producing, with difficulty, covering their most basic needs in a very precarious manner.
Thus it is that we arrive at the “expropriation” that Chávez decreed two weeks ago, that has nothing to do with the struggle of the workers who demonstrated an independent working-class solution to the crises and the closures of businesses. The government fought against the struggle of the workers of Sanitarios Maracay, because it involved a big example of independent workers’ struggle, of a class-conscious alternative, with truly anti-capitalist potential. Furthermore, the owner was by then part of an exclusive group of employers that were exporting to Cuba with the permission of the national government. Now, this compulsory acquisition is only guided by the pragmatic calculation of the pro-development state. “Sanitarios Maracay is going to allow the recovery of 44% of the market and provide bathroom parts that the government will use (for dwellings),” declares the Minister of Science, Technology, and Intermediate Industries. The government’s premise is that the enterprise will allow it “to strengthen the capacity of supplies destined for production,” nothing to do with workers’ power or a perspective of struggle against exploitation by capitalist bosses. And it is so much so that, while the army and government bureaucrats have been installed in the factory for weeks, no approach or hint of allowing the workers who struggled, to participate in the new management of the nationalized enterprise, has come up. This Sanitarios Maracay will be, then, one more nationalized enterprise, with the same or greater exploitation by the boss, with a bureaucratic-authoritarian chain of command, at the service of the national government’s plan of bourgeois “national development.”