On January 31st and February 1st, the workers of Lácteos Los Andes/Los Andes Dairy Products – a company nationalized under Chavez – carried out days of struggle against the mismanagers of the public enterprise. They find their company in a grave situation marked by a paralysis of almost 80% of production, the absence of prime raw materials, an expired contract, and extensive mistreatment. And so these workers from the state of Lara demanded the attention of the governor and ex-minister of defense, Admiral Carmen Melendez, who not only ignored them but used the CICPC (“Scientific Penal and Criminal Investigations Corp”) to imprison their union leaders.
Los Andes Dairy Products, a producer of artificial juices and dairy products, employs more than six thousand workers nationally, of which 1,850 are in Lara. On February 1st, the workers blocked the Intercomunal Avenue and later headed to the seat of the local government to urge the state to intercede in the company. However, they waited in vain for hours. Instead, two minor functionaries approached the crowd with an offer to receive a small delegation inside, but the workers refused to break up and insisted on a meeting outside and in their full concentration. Director of the union, Angel Manuel Medina, claims that simultaneous actions were also held the day previously across the country at the different plants.
The workers have gone 20 months without a contract and are suffering illegal deductions from their paychecks and harassment by management. Throughout the company, they denounced a virtual technical stoppage. At the plant in Cabudare a lack of primary raw materials and other supplies have cut production from 45 thousand tons to only five thousand. They further rebuked the bad management and irregularities of the bureaucrats who were installed by the government to head the company after nationalization. It is well known, for example, that fruit pulp is imported from companies in Mexico and Brazil while national producers go idle. This is likely a result of shady business deals, and similar corruption plagues dairy products.
“They Want to Liquidate Us. We Want to Work and We Want Them to Pay Us”
The workers suspect that hidden interests are looking to liquidate the company for private greed and send them jobless out onto the street. They accuse the government for having sought credit from big business and imperialist loans. Examples of this graft include the situations at Polar, Ron Santa Teresa, El Tunal, and Proctor & Gamble; private companies which compete with public enterprises.
These examples have multiplied as the Maduro government has turned towards the reprivatization of various companies that were nationalized during the “oil bonanza” years ago. In the oil sector for instance, his administration initiated a return of the nationalized companies to the Abastos Bicentenario network, the previous private owners. This was completed after a series of devastating layoffs last year and it was sold out with few details available to the public.
The devolution of the oil sector thus demonstrates that a new layer of wealthy business owners has grown alongside chavismo, and using their positions in government, have joined foreign capitalists in the neoliberal scavenging for bargain priced companies. In this context, the workers believe that the directors of the nationalized Los Andes Dairy Products plan to wreck the nationalized entity and buy it back as a private company. And so the workers fight against the bureaucrats who have used political instability to become a new caste of capitalists.
The Leaders of the Union Imprisoned
The response of the government, led by a “civic-military” caste – increasingly more military than civic – was indifference at first and later forceful repression. They are being held currently at the CICPC center. “Imprisoned for demanding our rights and telling the truth” say the workers.
The openly bonapartist government, increasingly propped up by the Armed Forces, has a range of mechanisms whereby the persecution and repression is utilized not only for the maintenance of power and to impede worker and popular protests, but also for the silencing of whatever voices might condemn disgraceful deals that sell out public enterprises and the mismanagement of nationalized industry. The workers are telling the truth about the situation of these enterprises, and the State bureaucrats use the police and the prison to shut them up.
It is necessary to redouble the efforts to coordinate the struggles of the unions and political currents that defend the interests of the working class, in order to fight against coercion and repression. In the immediate juncture, it is critical to demand the immediate freedom of leaders and workers of Lácteos Los Andes/Los Andes Dairy Products, and the dropping of any and all charges.
Translated by Evelyn