After Chávez's decision to re-nationalise the giant SIDOR steel mills, the workers erupted in jubilant celebrations. Jose Acarigua, the president of the union SUTISS, said that this was a "victory against capitalism", and José Meléndez, the union's finance secretary described it as a victory for the workers who had "been liberated from the yoke of the multinational".
Paolo Rocca, the owner of Techint, the Argentinean multinational which bought SIDOR at a discount price 10 years ago, reacted by writing a panic letter to president Chávez. In a begging tone, he said that he was prepared to meet the demands of the workers and asked the government to reconsider its decision. However, the letter said nothing of one of the main stumbling blocks in the negotiations: the end of subcontracting of labour, one of the workers' main demands. The company also contacted the Argentinean government of Cristina Kirchner to ask for support in defending its interests. The powerful Argentinean Union of Industry, UIA, (the bosses’ union) also expressed their opposition to the nationalisation, warning of "dire consequences". But Chávez, in a national TV and radio broadcast confirmed the decision to nationalise Latin America's fourth largest steel producer.
At the same time, the workers announced that strange manoeuvres were taking place at the plant in Bolivar. Late on Thursday, April 10th, the Automatic Production System (SAP) had ceased to work. This is basically the company's electronic centre which controls the purchase of parts, delivery of orders, etc. The workers said that management had told them this was just a routine "maintenance" operation. However, as the workers explain in an interview on national TV (http://www.aporrea.org/trabajadores/n112272.html), these kinds of operations never last for more than half an hour and they are always announced in advance. This time, the workers were unable to log on to the SAP for more than 13 hours. It was only after a group of workers went to the human resources building and threatened the managers, that normal operations were resumed.
The workers suspect that the company was transferring documents and confidential information back to Argentina, and possibly even sabotaging the normal working of the company. "They want to do what they did in PDVSA during the oil lock out, when the managers sabotaged the company's electronic centre", said one of the workers, "but we are not going to let them".
With a clear revolutionary and class instinct, the workers asked the government to immediately send a commission to the company to start the process of handing over management, and that meanwhile they would defend the equipment, materials and technical and administrative information necessary for the normal working of the company. In other words, the workers moved towards implementing workers' control, as they now feel that the installations belong to the workers, to the Venezuelan people.
Further to this, the workers also paralysed the dispatch of orders for a few hours, as they said the situation was not clear. Only when they received assurances from the government did they start to allow trucks to be loaded, and even then, only those going to supply national demand, preventing the loading of a delivery to the US.
Another incident took place on Thursday in which the workers discovered a TV crew pretending to be a team from the state-TV station VTV. They were not. The workers confronted them and seized the tapes. They suspect that this was part of a provocation in which a group of hired thugs was going to be used to destroy company property, and that this would be recorded and then broadcast in order to accuse the workers of hooliganism. It did not work.
As we explained yesterday, the decision of the government to nationalise the plant has had an immediate effect throughout the whole of the Venezuelan working class. Messages of solidarity were received from groups of workers from all over the country, including a statement by the "Workers’ Control" group in the nearby CVG-Venalum, the state-owned aluminium plant.
One of the main issues now will be the fate of the workers who work in the auxiliary industries, 9,000 of them, who are demanding to be incorporated into the workforce. Daniel Rodriguez, SUTISS secretary, asked for these companies to be nationalised: "The president must investigate the case of Matessi and Tacsa and others, and we are ready to occupy them, take them over, so that they are also nationalised".
As in the case of PDVSA at the time of the lock out in 2002, all conditions are present for the development of workers' control in SIDOR. The union should call immediately a mass meeting to elect a Factory Committee with delegates elected from each workshop, furnace and department in the company, and this committee should take charge of monitoring and overseeing all the operations of the company and watching over managers and engineers. This committee should include the workers in the subcontracted companies in one single body, as the first step towards a single united SIDOR.
The workers have now won a victory, but in the next few days and weeks, they will have to face different enemies. On the one hand the multinational company, which in many different ways will put pressure on the government, try to take away sensitive information, disrupt operations, etc. But on the other hand, the reformist and bureaucratic sections of the government and the state apparatus will do everything in their power to water down the content of this victory and take power and control away from the workers.
Already there is talk of including national capital in the company and clearly there are sections of the government that have gone on the record as being against workers' control in strategic industries. These are powerful interests which already led to the setback of the experience of workers’ control in ALCASA.
The workers must remain vigilant and use this victory as a stepping stone towards workers' control and management, and the incorporation of SIDOR into a democratic plan of the economy.