Venezuela: Five iron and steel plants and the Carabobo Ceramics nationalised


"Under capitalism they have their methods for making companies profitable. That’s why I put ‘profitable’ in inverted commas. They sack thousands of workers, exploit them, deny them benefits, employment rights, and outsource the workers…"

– Hugo Chavez

Venezuela — At a recent gathering in the State of Guayana President Chavez announced a series of new nationalisations, but he also stressed the need for workers’ control, planning and socialism. What now needs to be done is to act on these words and the only force that can do that is the working class. Otherwise all the good proposals can be buried by the myriad of reformists and bureaucrats who infest the movement.

On Thursday, May 21, at a workshop with the workers of the basic industries in the state of Guayana, President Chavez announced the nationalisation of the following iron briquette and steel companies: Orinoco Iron, Venezolana de Prerreducidos of Caroní (VENPRECAR), Materiales Siderúrgicos (MATESI), and the Complejo Siderúrgico de Guayana (COMSIGUA), as well as Tubos de Acero de Venezuela (TAVSA) and Cerámicas Carabobo.

He also confirmed the collective bargaining agreement of CVG Ferrominera and spoke of the creation of an industrial steelworks complex, indicating that, "These companies must be placed under workers’ control; that’s how it has to be." He continued, "let’s start the process of nationalisation in order to create this industrial complex," adding that these measures should have been taken a long time ago.

The "Socialist Transformation" Workshop

The meeting, under the title of "Workshop of Socialist Transformation," was held at the CVG Ferrominera complex in Puerto Ordaz in the state of Bolivar, and was attended by some 400 workers, 200 from the aluminium sector and another 200 from the iron and steel industries. As well as President Hugo Chavez, the government representatives included the ministers Jorge Giordani, Rodolfo Sanz, Rafael Ramírez, and Alí Rodríguez Araque, among others, as well as the state governor, Francisco Rangel Gómez.

According to information provided by the ABN news agency, during the meeting, 40 different work groups were organised, led by spokespersons elected by the "Socialist Workers’ Front," which proposed and agreed upon the main lines of action to be taken. The main spokespersons put forward a broad variety of recommendations, suggestions and solutions that have emerged from the workers’ struggles for their demands. The Minister of Popular Power for Labour, María Cristina Iglesias, said that this highlights the profound transformation that has taken place in the working class, which for years was oppressed. President Chavez himself added, "What is happening here today is very important, since it is an example of the consciousness of the need for unity through debate."

During the closing statements at the end of the workshop, Chavez made important announcements which brought forth enthusiastic cheering from the audience, as happened when he announced the ratification of the collective bargaining agreement of CVG Ferrominera, as well as a 10 to 20% reduction in the salaries of the company managers. "Very well, then! I send my congratulations, because this is a victory for everyone! But especially of all of you, of the Union and of the workers," affirmed Chavez.

He also spoke of the need to continue deepening the political education of the workers, that now "every factory should be a school, in order, as Che said, to create not only briquettes and sheets and steel and aluminium, but also, above all, new men and women, a new society, a socialist society." He also raised the idea of continuing with political education schools, an initiative already tried at CVG Alcasa, when it was under workers’ co-management and Carlos Lanz was its president. "I think it is very important that soon we inaugurate a Workers’ School here in Guayana, a School of Political Education for Workers; that we begin to analyse various subjects at great length, on Socialism and the World, on politics, culture, society, the economy."

Productive Development, Socialism and the Working Class

The workshop work groups expressed the need to develop transformation industries for the natural resources extracted from Guayana. The President expressed his agreement with the workers’ demands saying, "The technological development of Venezuela; the idea is to have a pole of development in Guayana, an Integrated, Collective Industrial Complex, a top-of-the-range Industrial Complex. The idea is to develop transformation industries which add value to the products of the Basic Industries. How long will we continue to import things that we can produce here ourselves? For example, these aluminium chloride projects, heavy petroleum, metalworking coke, the metal plants. We must do this… So I ask you to give me the Projects that the workers have been developing and presenting, so that we can start up these projects straight away and develop them. We must begin looking for the resources and we cannot waste another day in doing so."

Chavez reiterated the fact that, "The only way Venezuela can become a Power is by building Venezuelan Socialism! There is no other way, it is Bolivarian Socialism, and in this, the Working Class has a fundamental role to play! A crucial role!" It was then, clearly influenced by the proposals made by the workers, that he announced: "Encouraged by the experience of the workers, with the proposals that have been made, proposals that have emerged from the depths of the working class, let us make real this plan for a Great Integrated, Collective Industrial Complex. Now, let’s nationalise the iron briquette sector! There is nothing to discuss! We have been on this path for a long time, and we should have done this long ago! Let us begin the process of nationalisation straight away in order to create this Industrial Complex!"

These measures were met with great enthusiasm and cries of "That’s the way! That’s the way to govern!" ("Así, así, así es que se gobierna"). The workers’ and union leaders’ faces were full of surprise and jubilation… some of the ministers also seemed surprised.

The Need for Workers’ Control

Along with the need to develop transformation industries, the president also emphasized the need for this new industrial complex to break with the old structures and be operated on principles of transparency and with a strategic vision. It was in this context that Chavez issued an appeal for "responsibility and to struggle against the mafias, corruption, bad management, against the deviations and vices of the 4th Republic," as these are a "threat to the socialist revolution."

Chavez also made an important announcement to the enthusiastic workers: the need for workers’ control in these companies and in the industrial sector in general. He said: "The plan is an integrated plan. And we want you to carry it out, of course! We must raise all of these companies’ productivity, efficiency, and transparency. As you say, and you are right when you say it: it cannot be that you are working in the factory, and yet you don’t know how things are going with the company! What are the plans? What is the administration? What are resources being spent on? Who do we buy raw materials from and how much is paid for them? Who are the products sold to and how are they sold? All of that… The entire productive process… And getting the products to the market… All of this needs to be under workers’ control! I agree! That is how it must be!"

Contrary to the desperate cries of the bourgeoisie and their apologists, of the reformists and bureaucrats who are against workers’ management, the President emphasized the superiority of workers’ control as compared to bureaucratic management of the factories. "I am sure, that inasmuch as you are given more responsibility, the more efficient things will be," said Chavez. And just as it is crucial that the management and recovery of the basic industries be the result of the conscious participation of the workers, Chavez emphasized the fact that we need to participate in all aspects of planning during the transition to socialism: "I want us to discuss and design the system. Just as we speak of the ‘transition’ politically, we must do the same here. We need to plan the transition, even the smallest detail!"

Concretely, the proposal outlined by Chavez in the workshop included the participation of the workers in the election of the management positions in the company: "I am prepared that we, all together, but with your initiative, pick and elect the management of the companies." Moments earlier, during the discussion preceding the President’s closing comments, the workers had denounced the fact that in the basic industries, as well as in the recently nationalised SIDOR, there remain many counter-revolutionaries in leading management positions who sabotage all aspects of these companies and who are working hard to ensure the failure of the examples of nationalisation and co-management, as was the case in CVG Alcasa, especially after Carlos Lanz left the company, or as they did with Invepal, and as they are now doing with Inveval.

In addition to this, Chavez called on the workers to form workers’ militias: "in every factory there must be a workers’ battalion… with the weapons kept there… just in case someone makes a mistake with us."

Profitability and sustainability of socialist enterprises

In his speech, he spoke about the sustainability of basic industries and highlighted the fact that the workers themselves, in the work groups, mentioned the fact that the country lacks a fully developed industrial processing which converts raw materials into finished products, including Iron, Aluminium, Petrochemicals, etc. "A few years back I noticed plainly that no basic industry, be it iron or steel, bauxite and aluminium, or petrochemicals, none of them can be sustainable in the medium or long term if they are not brought together into a centralized network of industries of social property from raw materials to finished goods," emphasized Chavez.

This is an old question in the debates against the reformists and bureaucrats. Time and again they have used the need for "sustainability" and "profitability" to attack the experiences of workers’ management, especially in Guayana. The important case of the experience of workers’ co-management in CVG Alcasa is always compared to the productivity of CVG Venalum because this is also an aluminium producing company. But this ignores the technological backwardness and de-investment that Alcasa has suffered for more than twenty years has exacerbated the problem of dependence on a fluctuating market such as the raw materials market.

Let us remember, for example, that the COMSIGUA company has among its shareholders the Japanese companies Kobe Steel, Mitsui and Sojitz, and a large part of iron production is sold to Asia, Europe and the United States. For its part, TAVSA, an Argentine subsidiary of Tenaris, the world’s largest manufacturer of seamless steel tubes for the oil industry, produces about 80,000 tonnes of pipes. In the case of Orinoco Iron, VENPRECAR and its affiliate International Briquettes Holding (IBH), a unit of the steel SIVENSA briquettes, has interests in the Belgian multinational Bekaert Corporation. Between them, these three firms produce around 3 million tonnes of reduced iron briquettes, used as a substitute for high quality scrap in the steel production process. IBH had a net loss of $20million in its first fiscal quarter, which ended in December 2008, compared to a profit of $12million during the same period the previous year. Also worth mentioning is the fact that FERROMINERA CVG is a shareholder of IBH.

Chavez insisted that the profitability of companies should not be looked at in capitalist terms, that the productivity of an enterprise under socialism is much more than simply substantial income, big dividends, etc. "Under capitalism they have their methods for making companies profitable. That’s why I put ‘profitable’ in inverted commas. They sack thousands of workers, exploit them, deny them benefits, employment rights, and outsource the workers… In different ways, as happened here – and it has been going on throughout all these years – they get governments, which are subordinate to the bourgeois state and the bourgeoisie and imperialism, to subsidize their energy sources, to sell them cheap iron, raw materials, and then sell very expensive products and by-products, with the maximum surplus value. Ah, well, that way any business is profitable!" stressed Chavez.

Guayana at the forefront of the construction of Socialism

Chavez also emphasized the role of the Guayana region in the building of socialism, as it has the heavy battalions of the industrial working class, iron and steel workers. "I am sure that Guayana and the Guayana Massif… Guayana is to become the massive platform of socialism, of the building of Socialism, its the working class as the vanguard, with the working class as the protagonist. And Guayana, will be – this is how I see it – a Socialist school, "said Chavez.

Finally, Chavez highlighted the pioneering role that the Bolivarian Revolution is playing globally and in the first ranks of the revolution, the Venezuelan working class: "Workers in Venezuela are going to give a lesson to the world on how the working class has arisen again on this planet! The working class has risen again to make a Revolution! You will set an example of greatness! I know, so my heart tells me, so do all my senses, and so does all of your passion. Under these guidelines: here you are in command and you will command. You are the ones in command! (…) You are called to greatness, and to build the Socialist nation. Long live the working class! Long live free Guyana! Long live the workers! Long live the Socialist country! Patria, Socialismo o Muerte! Venceremos!"

The task of the working class is to go from words to deeds

The President himself put it very well during his speech: the construction and planning of this transitional process requires the conscious participation of the working class. The speech he gave was a step forward, but it must be completed and acted on through concrete actions by the workers themselves. We have seen how many times, the President has outlined plans and given direct orders to his ministers, and how these have then ignored and buried them. To go from words to deeds is, in the first place, the responsibility of the industrial proletariat of Guayana, its heavy industrial battalions, such as the iron and steel workers, but also of the entire Venezuelan working class.

We workers should take a decisive step forward and take concrete action, in the election and recall of management and leadership positions in the basic industries. We should form committees of elected and recallable delegates in order to have genuine workers’ control over the administration and accounts of these companies, take control over the account books in order stop the pilfering of the surplus value we produce, which goes into the pockets of the bureaucracy. The experiences presented in the workshops by the comrades from Alcasa is of crucial importance. We must have collective and accountable management in every division and department of industry, control all aspects of the productive process, including sales, and firmly establish workers’ control.

The integration of the entire productive process of the iron and aluminium sectors under workers’ control can only be a first step towards the democratic planning of the entire economy. The recent nationalisations must be extended to all the occupied factories and those in dispute, such as Vivex, Gotcha T-Shirts, INAF, MDS Transport, etc. Why nationalise Cerámicas Carabobo and not these other companies? And following on from that, the banks must be nationalised, in order to put their enormous resources – most of which were originally generated by the state in the first place – at the services of the rational development of the Venezuelan economy, in the interests of the majority of the population. In the same manner, all the main national and multinational companies that operate in the country should be nationalised, in order to democratically plan the economy under workers’ control.

President Chavez clearly stated: "I am throwing my lot in with you." The working class must respond resolutely, not only in Guayana, but also throughout the country. If our trade union leaders are not willing, we in the rank and file must seize the initiative and replace them with others who respond directly to the desires of the working class.

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