By Rafael Ramírez Carreño

Posted April 27, 2019

The actions of Maduro’s government have clearly been contrary to the interests of the working class. This administration has reversed the progress accomplished by said social class after decades of union struggle, and it has undermined the recognition of workers as an active social class part of the profound transformation experienced by the country during the Bolivarian period.

Workers are destined to be at the forefront of any revolutionary process, particularly when it comes to developing socialism. It is they who can foreshadow, in the workplace, the new type of relationships that will interact in the future society; those which will overcome the economic and spiritual relations of societies based on the exploitation of man by man, the appropriation of labor, and selfishness. It is, without a doubt, an essential social class in the development of any country whose wellbeing is based on labor and collective effort.

This government has stricken the interests of workers in such a way that we have regressed to situations pre-IV Republic, a state in which the collective agreements, the salary, the welfare, and the social benefits and protection have vanished; in addition to the freedom of association and right to strike, favoring the brutal exploitation of workers, reverting the country to outdated, savage, and deeply unjust production relations.

The working relations in Venezuela have carried to the point that these could be the envy of any authoritarian, neoliberal government, very similar to the working relations imposed by Southern Cone dictatorships during the 70s.

Another distinctive feature of the current situation is that this retrograde regime imposed on the country has destroyed the work as a factor of the creation of wealth for society. There is no work whatsoever; nothing is being produced, no oil, no food, no manufacture of basic or industrial goods.

The government has dedicated its time to handing over the country’s natural resources, particularly oil, gas, gold, and any other mineral that can be taken from our territory, everything that can be dealt with and hand over, as part of a savage exploitation with minimum investment. It is the total pillaging. There are no production processes; therefore, there is no wealth generation, but there is devastating poverty that engulfs us all.

This affirmation can be validated by the dramatic fall of the country’s Gross Domestic Product –GDP- during this disastrous period. Since 2014, the country has experienced an accumulated decline in the GDP of 63%. This ravaging figure indicates that there is no work, no one is producing anything.

The contribution of oil activities to GDP has historically been of 12%, which means that, keeping the impact of the destruction of the oil industry from the equation as a factor that influences this drop, the rest of the productive activity of the country, the remaining 88%: construction, manufacturing, agriculture, agroindustry; basic, metal, chemical industries, among others, experienced a decline, our productive activity collapsed.

On the other hand, the most recent economic estimates of the country point to an unemployment rate of 35%, a poverty level of 81% of the population, a minimum monthly wage of $1.7, and the migration of 3, 7 million people.

Recent data indicate that the average five-person Venezuelan family needs over $600 a month to survive, and, consequently, an unprecedented drop in consumption, of above 70%, is expected. These are figures of hunger.

We have an impoverished, dismantled, and paralyzed country. This is maduro’s country, that of the “non-work”, one that is holding up only by the pillaging of natural resources and the remittances sent by Venezuelans living abroad.

Maduro’s model has ravaged the rights of the working class and even their victories. Let us now see how this policy has been in motion:

– On August 17th, 2018, during his announcement of the economic package, maduro resorted to the trick of cutting five zeros off the strong bolivar to create the so-called “sovereign bolivar” anchoring it to the “petro-spectrum”. He immediately recognized the value of the heavily criticized “parallel” dollar posted in the website “Dólar Today”, and based on that, he established a new exchange system, using the DICOM rate. All of these wiles, deliberately convoluted so to confuse the citizens, resulted in a massive devaluation of the currency and in the recognition of his resounding failure in leading the economy and the government. The staff of “15 and last” has analyzed the behavior of the new currency and the unbelievable devaluation race encouraged by the government, in which the variation of the exchange rate from August 20th, 2018 to April 22nd, 2019 has been of 8,566%, a race where the only loser has been the working class.

– That same day, in the midst of accusations alleging that Chavez’ government was plagued with “false positives of socialism”, among the same old excuses and incoherencies, maduro erased, with a single stroke, all the benefits and savings of workers. In other words, their salaries, earnings, savings, and benefits disappeared, hopelessly devoured by hyperinflation and the devaluation; the result of years of work was suddenly lost. Maduro vanished the benefits of workers. Who was favored by this measure? Only the businessmen, employers, and the transnational companies in the country, who saw how, with a single presidential announcement, pretty much all of their economic commitments acquired by law with their employees were cut down. A fellow worker mentioned during a conversation with a group of blue-collar workers that when president Caldera eliminated the retroactivity of social benefits, at least a “tripartite commission” was enabled for workers to have a say about this measure, but now, the fellow comrade continued saying “no one was consulted, nothing was discussed, neither the consequences nor the devastating effects on the savings and social benefits of the working class were assessed”. Nothing, that is the kind of “national dialogue” practiced by the government or in the words of the PSUV “whatever maduro says”.

– The same August 17th, maduro admitted that he had been emitting inorganic money because “that’s life”, and he swore he would not do so ever again, promising fiscal discipline, with the goal of achieving a “zero deficit”, along with an increase of the VAT, the quintessential regressive tax, from 12.5% to 16%, one of the highest in Latin America. A few days before addressing the nation, maduro had already signed the executive order no. 3.569, exempting PDVSA and the transnationals from paying oil taxes. In my previous article “The package of failure”, we asked ourselves, how would the government achieve this neoliberal goal, if there was no oil production and it exonerated the sector from taxes? We had an answer a couple of weeks later: an anti-worker offensive was launched in the public administration and State companies. Suddenly, almost by force, even though our Constitution guarantees the progressivity of labor rights, the collective agreements of public workers were ignored, a single table was imposed, the benefits conquered after years of union struggle were erased, the incentives to training, preparation and knowledge were disregarded; what’s the point of encouraging training, preparation, effort, if this is a government of mediocrity? The government has made its own Franco’s motto “death to intelligence”, as it has been timely described by Toby Valderrama in his article of the same name, in which he makes reference to the maltreatment of the country’s universities, where a tenured professor’s pension is $8.

– In order to impose this anti-worker policy in the State companies and in the public administration, maduro has used the military, particularly the National Guard. These believe that they are in the military barracks, in a hostile territory where workers are the enemy, where they are suspects, unwanted; so workers are abused, ill-treated, their rights are violated; they are humiliated or simply get fired, without the slightest respect for the Labor Law, and much less for the dignity of workers. These generals surround themselves with yes-men, sycophants, and subservient individuals of all kind; they use proto-fascist groups that monitor, harass, chase, and repress any legitimate claim of workers. They benefit from the young people from the program “chamba juvenil» to substitute qualified workers and to create divisions.

– There is also a more precise resource, directed against workers leaders, to raise false accusations, corruption files, conspiracy or, simply, take them prisoners. The prisons are now full of workers from all sectors: oil, electrical, the subway, basic and private companies. Where are the workers imprisoned-kidnapped by the government? Why are they taken to military facilities? On the other hand, the “prans”, as gang leaders are known in the country, are used to intimidate workers or labor leaders; in states like Aragua and Carabobo, the few collective agreements in place are discussed and decided in the prison of Tocorón. No one takes action, there is no government.

– The generals or ministers in turn, in order to contain the workers, have allied themselves with corrupt pro-maduro unionists; right then and there, these agree, behind the backs of workers, negligible benefits, turning a blind eye to the law violations while asking workers to do sacrifices and to have patience because “neither union elections nor collective agreements will happen here”.

– In the face of workers protests or dissent, the answer given by administrators, directors, chiefs of staff, or the very ministers is: “well, if you do not like it, then you can leave”, “I will not give you a Clap box”, “I will withhold your paycheck”, or even “ you go to jail”. At the Ministry of Oil, they lashed out against the teachers of the preschool “La Alquitrana”; the nurses of the Ministry of Health have been repressed with full disregard for the noble role they play for children or the sick.

– When the intimidation and «internal control» is not enough, then, the SEBIN, DGCIM, act up, even the FAES. All the police and intelligence apparatus of the State is at the disposal of the repression of workers.

– This government shut down the right to strike. It is forbidden. Those workers that protest are at risk of anything: imprisonment, repression, repression, dismissal from work, physical violence.

– The Ministry of Labor is nothing but an entelechy, just like the Prosecution’s Office. They turn a deaf ear, a blind eye; they become mutes to the constant violations of workers’ rights. It is because the minister in there is there to do “what maduro says”, not what the law mandates.

Every bit of this is illegal, contrary to the Organic Labor Law enacted by Commander Chávez as his last act of recognition of workers. It is contrary to our Constitution and violates the international treaties signed by Venezuela before the International Labor Organization.

This anti-worker government, with its anti-worker president, by dismantling the system of benefits and social protection of workers, paves the way to continue delivering the country to transnational capital. It is creating the bases and conditions for its right capitalist-authoritarian model. It has handed and transferred to the corporate sector the benefits, savings, and work of the working class. It has tried to reach its neoliberal goal of “zero déficit” at the expenses of State companies’ workers. It has divided them, demobilized them, and detached them from the Public administration, disregarding the Statute and special law that governs it. It has destroyed the productive capacities and the work; this is no longer has a value in society, just like knowledge or education.

Perhaps the greatest damage to the country has been to strip the working class off its transformative spirit, its leading role in the economic, political and social events. The working class was supposed to be the seed of a new type of relationships in society. The once rebellious, solidary, altruistic, Bolivarian working class, the one that defeated the oil sabotage, the one that confronted the political violence, the one that became aware of social duty, collective and patriot interest, does not longer exist. That one is leaving the country, abandoning its workplaces, its dismantled factories; it remains silent, fearful, divided.

Fellow workers, there is nothing to celebrate this May 1st. This May 1st should be a day to fight, to regain our historical role: the working class will be the midwife of history; it will spearhead the Bolivarian revolution.

I know you, I have seen you, I have marveled at your effort, your work, in sometimes such difficult conditions, but always caring, supportive, humble, with an admirable political clarity, with a class instinct that never fades, always Bolivarian, always pro-Chávez; from the young men that ride the boats in the Lake Maracaibo, in the oil platforms, in the barges, passing by the workers of the Colossus of Paraguaná, the Palito, the refinery of Puerto La Cruz, the Batallón Faja, the platform “4 de febrero”, to the drills in the savannah that worked reaching the bowels of the homeland to build a new one with the oil that flowed from them; workers of the steel, the aluminum, today with their furnaces and cells turned off. To all workers, those of PDVSA, Corpoelec, the subway, the UCV, the pipe plants, the Ministry of Oil, the Foreign Ministry, the CVG, SIDOR, Ferrominera, the cement companies; all workers of the homeland, men, and women who have shouldered an entire country.

It is not time to celebrate, nor to lament, raise your eyes, look up, see the future, listen to the call of your consciousness; only unity and the struggle of the working class will bring the interests of the homeland above misery and disaster. We cannot support the anti-worker and submissive policies of this government, but we cannot either echo the voices of those who want to undermine the homeland and crush the humble. It will be you, who have to show the way, return to Chávez, to socialism, be loyal to your own class interests that in the end are those of all the people, overcome fear, leave sadness behind, and prepare for the struggle towards a bright future for all the people, a solidary society, where the liberating work of man is the pillar of the homeland. We will be victorious!

Soy Rafael Ramírez, ing y politico vzlano, Min. de Petróleo y Presidente de PDVSA 2002–2014. Ex-Embajador ante la ONU. Visita mi blog https://www.rafaelramirez.