A delegation of Sanitarios Maracay trade union representatives headed by Jose Villegas, organisation secretary and member of the Factory Committee, went to Caracas on Monday May 28, to meet with the Social Affairs commission of the National Assembly.
After meeting with the workers, the Permanent Commission on Social Affairs agreed to send a petition to the president of the Republic for the expropriation of Sanitarios Maracay.
The factory, which makes bathroom ceramics, has been occupied by the workers for more than six months, and they have maintained production and sales for the whole period, organised in regular mass workers’ assemblies and an elected and recallable Factory Committee. After a number of conflicts with the employer, coup-plotter Alvaro Pocaterra, over health and safety and trade union recognition, he decided to abandon the factory and it was at this point that the workers decided to occupy.
More than 550 of the Sanitarios Maracay workers, who are part of the Revolutionary Front of Occupied Factories FRETECO, have been struggling for the expropriation of the factory and that it be run under workers’ control.
On May 22 there was a region-wide day of action in Aragua, where Maracay is based, in which 3,000 workers from 120 different workplaces set up 19 road blocks from 5 am until 11 am, blockading the whole of the region. The action was organised by the regional UNT and the Sanitarios Maracay workers to demand nationalisation under workers’ control, but also to protest at the repression the workers had suffered at the hands of regional police and national guard forces when they were on their way to a national demonstration organised by FRETECO on April 23.
Undoubtedly, the action in Aragua served to put pressure on the National Assembly to pass this resolution which is also going to be sent to the Ministry of Light Industry and Commerce for endorsement. So far the position of the Ministry of Labour has not been favourable to the expropriation of the factory, and the minister, Ramon Rivero, publicly expressed his view that the factory is not “of national interest” and therefore should not be nationalised. To this the workers have replied that Sanitarios Maracay should be included in a national plan of housing projects to solve the housing crisis affecting millions of poor people. Sanitarios trade union leaders have also accused the Ministry of negotiating a settlement of the dispute only with a small group of administrative staff which are not part of the workers’ assembly.
The decision taken by the National Assembly is seen by the workers representatives as the first real step towards expropriation of the factory, their main demand. If this expropriation went ahead, this would be a further important step forward for the workers movement in Venezuela and would put the expropriation of other occupied factories (SelFex, Gotcha, INAF, etc) on the agenda.
You can see a video interview in Spanish with Jose Villegas as he left the Assembly.