After ordering temporary state interventions of the Polar companies for not producing the state mandated percentage of rice and for disobeying the law which regulates the types of rice to be produced, Chavez ordered the expropriation of multinational Cargill companies. March 6,th during a speech inaugurating the construction of the new national metalworking industry, he announced, “ today I confirmed the decision to expropriate a group of transnational (Cargill) rice processing plants, that refuse to obey the national regulations….” But during the same speech referring to the recent workers struggle in the state owned companies and in a clear provocation of the working class, he declared: “those who stop (via a strike) a state run company are messing with the head of state.”
On the one hand the interventions in the rice processing plants, including the expropriation of Cargill, caused a big commotion and even sympathy among sectors of the working class, while the rightwing business owners made the usual fuss about Chavez “attacking private property;” on the other hand the threats against workers right to strike, caused great indignation among the countries most combative sectors, even the rightwing newspapers recognized that, “ this has provoked the red workers”( El Pais, 11/3/2009). Chavez, sent solders to expropriate the rice processing plants, but at the same time he threatened to send them to control the workers, who are fighting for the basic demands, as we’ve seen with the workers of the state run aluminum industry. They even use direct oppression through the local governors, like in the case of the Mitsubishi workers that resulted in the death of two workers.
Expropriations with compensations while business owners continue doing business
Through the interventions in rice production Chavez is intending to respond to the business owner’s policy, which is responsible for the shortage and speculation of basic food necessities and is devastating the Venezuelan people. However, the government holds most of the responsibility, not because they didn’t act decisively over the group of agricultural monopolies, wheatear they be national or international; but because they use the agricultural producers as the principle suppliers of the government social programs, the Mercel (massive subsidizes sales of food commodities through local markets). During the past few years, particularly during the period of economic growth, the big industrial agricultural companies have benefited from a large increase in profits while simultaneously receiving government benefits: exemption from taxes and financial support for imported goods (even though most of the imported goods can be grown in the country; this has amounted to the distribution of 20 billion dollars to the companies). The government uses the excuse of supplying the “national” market, but in actuality it is just been a policy to help the business owner’s reap more profits.
Meanwhile the Venezuelan people are the ones suffering the consequences of the speculations; the prices of consumer goods have risen at an alarming rate with the annual inflation of common goods increasing 50%. Although the business owners cynically claim that the state’s control and regulations have strangled production, the truth is the business owners are the ones who are benefiting; as the prices rise the business owners announce a shortage of supplies and a rise in speculation. Furthermore during all these years the government has accepted the business owner’s threats and deregulated the price of many basic commodities. The government thinks that by making concessions with the business owners it will revive the agricultural production of basic food goods, which results in hurting the consumer and feeding the big capitalist agribusiness’ greed.
But the government’s attempt to “control the prices” has failed. After over a year of increasing prices on basic consumer goods, while agribusiness owners continue to “thirst for more wealth,” speculation and shortages, the government has appeared to take a more direct tactic through rice production interventions and according to Chavez “entering Cargill.” In the name of free market and in big capitalists’ interest he rightwing and the business owner’s campaign reprimands the government’s “price control.” Chavez’s weak threats won’t stop the capitalists or satisfy the needs of the people. That’s why we believe in order to confront the business owner’s reserved measures like temporary intervention or expropriation of just one business of a transnational corporation, aren’t enough. All of the agribusiness monopolies must be expropriated without compensation; all local and multinationals, like Cargill, who dominate the national economy must be put into the hands of the workers and the people. But Chavez doesn’t side with this position; he believes that by pressuring the big conglomerates he is answering to the people.
Reserved with the business owners and tough on the workers
Chavez’s scandalous declarations against the Guayana workers caused a great amount of indignation, after he had already threatened to send the military to the Caracas Subway workers if they went on strike demanding better working conditions. He even called the state intelligence to investigate the leaders of the workers, implying that this “declaration of war” isn’t just a metaphor. Chavez also affirmed, in reference to the subway workers and the collective agreement, which to Chavez is an “unsustainable” agreement and that he “won’t reduce the budget planned for the “Misiones” [Chavez’s social program] to contribute the union.” After so many years in the government it takes a lot of nerve to create a fictitious confrontation between the wages, workers benefits and the resources for the most impoverished sectors of our own class, who receive the Misiones, while simultaneously maintaining the capitalist banks, landowners businesses and properties completely intact. This just reiterates that Chavez wouldn’t even think about touching the big capitalists in order to meet the workers’ demands.
By creating greater discipline in the workers movement, the government intends to contain the important struggle and stop the demands for fair wages. The government’s tactic to restrict the workers’ wages in the midst of an accelerated inflation, that in the end of 2008 reached 30%, is putting the first shocks of the crisis on the worker’s shoulders; while wages (based on inflation) decrease, the price of consumer goods increase. Because of this Chavez has added to his official discourse the idea that workers shouldn’t demand an “exaggerated” increase in salary.
It’s evident that the appointment of Iglesias as Minister of Labor,( who had occupied the same post during the business lock out in 2003) was done precisely with the intentions to prepare to face new workers’ confrontations in the coming crisis, which will be hitting a government with an empty check book.
It’s not in vain that the following article was published in a local newspaper: “The orders that Chavez gave to Iglesías is no secret, he disclosed it last week in a speech in Guayana City: convince the unions that there are not enough public resources to meet the workers demands. In fact that day he [Chávez] accused the union leaders of being fierce and corrupt for negotiating collective agreements that included and a 3,000 to 5,000 bolivares [local currency] increase in salary, between holiday bonus for five months, health insurance in case hospitalization and help to assist to the education of the sons of workers in those industries.” (El Universal, 11/3/09)”
It’s worth noting that the main exportation companies are in the hands of the state everything from oil companies, which is the country’s main economic source; to basic industries such as iron, aluminum, steel, industries effected by the world crisis; also telecommunications , electricity cement factories; including government employed workers and the Misiones (social programs). It’s a government with control of the main industries, while their actions reflect a bourgeois sector, as they balance their books and bank accounts like any other capitalist company. Not allowing worker’s demand wage increases is a key strategy for the government. Through general threats and local repressions they’re attempting to discipline the workers and make them pay by firing workers, as is the case in the petroleum industry, and though the abrupt fall in the value of salaries (due to inflation). This is the government’s means of putting the responsibility of the crisis on the workers’ shoulders.
The passing of Chavez’s referendum February 15th has allowed him to take a new “tactic” towards the business owners while attacking the workers. But we, the workers, can’t be fooled by Chavez’s weak measures. His position really isn’t to attack the capitalists, as he has shown by becoming aggressive with us; Chavez is preparing for the economic crisis, tougher financial times and has decided to discipline the workers movement. This is why, more than ever, it’s necessary to fight for political independence for the workers. In these times we as workers must be persistent in our demand: That the capitalists pay for the crisis! Call for a plan for national struggle, and an increase of all wages to meet basic family needs. Stop the firings and layoffs , the redistribution of working hours , the organization of self-defense committees to defend against the police and union repression. For the organization of the bases and for a National Meeting of the workers in struggle.