Venezuelan meat packing workers protested Wednesday against the repression of factory occupations by local security forces.
Since the beginning of this month several factories belonging to the meat packing company Souto Group have faced protests and occupations by workers. According to factory union organisations these occupations came after the company tried to close some of its installations and sack workers as a tactic to refuse to renew collective contracts.
Factory union representatives also charge Souto Group management actions against workers and attempted closure of some processing plants as part of the “economic war” some businesses are allegedly waging against the government.
Union groups such as the pro-government Bolivarian Socialist Workers Federation (FBST) say that workers have used the occupations to demand new collective contracts and overdue social security payments. Some workers have also demanded that the company be nationalised and put under worker control.
According to the Souto Group’s website, the company is one of the leading agro-industrial companies in Venezuela. The company trade union states that Souto employs some 5000 workers in its packaging plants.
On Monday municipal police and the National Guard allegedly forcefully entered a worker occupied plant in Valencia, Carabobo state, and violently dispersed the workers’ protest. Thirty workers were wounded and seventy arrested, union sources state.
“They chased us throughout the company to attack us, including accompanied by the grandson of the company owner, who carried a pistol. We have photos and videos that show their violent actions,” said Gabriel Albino, finance secretary of the Souto Group trade union, on Wednesday.
Intimidatory or repressive actions by local security forces also occurred in Souto Group plants under occupation in Lara and Yaracuy states, an FBST press release alleged.
On Wednesday over 150 Souto Group workers in Valencia protested Monday’s assault in front of the local courthouse. They demanded that seven of their comrades still held in custody be released, and that action be taken against Souto’s alleged violation of legal pay and conditions.
During the protest, Albino told news website Aporrea.org that Souto Group management had allies in the Work Inspectorate and local authorities who were blocking effective action on the matter.
He also argued that labour relations in the company were in “chaos” and that “all” company workers were experiencing violations of the Labour Law.
Souto Group union leaders, along with the FBST and representatives of some factories under worker control, have submitted a formal denouncement of the situation inside the Souto Group to a commission of the National Assembly and to the office of the Vice Presidency. They hope to gain legal recognition of the Souto workers’ struggle, a redress of the alleged abuses of workers’ rights, and to pressure for the company to be declared a public utility under worker control.