Venezuela: the destruction of the automotive industry. The Chrysler Case

May 16, 2019 | Latin America

Venezuela had an automotive industry that employed thousands of workers in several car assembly companies. One of the most important was the FCA-Chrysler of Venezuela with a plant of approximately 1700 workers. Currently, there are only around 400working in conditions of absolute precariousness. Chrysler is just a photograph of an industry that was the fourth in Latin America and is now reduced to the barbarism of unloading the crisis on the shoulders of workers who suffer the blows of the traditional bourgeoisie that lays them off in violation of the law and of the governing bureaucratic bourgeoisie that not only lets the bosses do this, but also imposed the full import of vehicles, in its desire for private capital accumulation, thus weakening the assembly plants in Venezuela and leaving thousands of skilled workers on the street.

Our comrade, Henry Ospina, secretary of claims of the Chrysler Workers’ Union, was at the forefront of this situation with the workers, victims of the most profound violation of their rights. Organizing assemblies with the workers, listening and explaining the situation without conceding to the company that attacks the working class or the government that is the most responsible for the situation of the working class in the country, which has to choose between migrating as cheap labor or being informal workers to support their families. Obviously, these are times in which true working class leaders can not escape the burden, run away or hide under the tutelage of the government that also attacks them.

Without a contract, without a wage, without work

The policy of the company is the paralysis, sending workers to their homes and paying a minimum wage, which reaches the ridiculous sum of less than $8 per month, according to the value of the official dollar. Since 2014, workers at Chrysler and other companies have been putting up with the company’s policies, which began by sending workers on “early vacations” under the argument of a lack of supplies and raw materials. It is worth noting that the Chrysler company of Venezuela received large sums of dollars between 2003 and 2012, a billionaire sum that came from oil revenues. That is to say, that in the times of “exchange control” this company was highly benefited by the government.

Currently, the company’s management has prohibited workers access to the plant. It summons a limited and minimum number of workers, while those it does not call have their payment of wages suspended. This is obviously a violation of working conditions, which were relaxed by the government. It is a “two-handed blow”. Obviously, the government has flexibilized working conditions in favor of employers in a way that could well be the envy of governments such as Bolsonaro, Macri or Macron. Nicolas Maduro has taken the working class to a point in which Venezuela has become a paradise for the corporate and state bourgeoisie.

With the suspension of labor benefits, the company gives a bad signal about the future of its operations in the country. It has “de facto” eliminated  Hospitalization, Surgery and Maternity (HSM) insurance and even the funeral service. It has also not summoned the majority of the personnel that worked at the plan. These workers are conscious that it looks as if there was a technical stoppage or a massive lay-off. The president of the company has a double speech because, on one hand, he says to the workers that the vehicle assembly plant will continue producing in Venezuela, but, on the other hand, he applies a policy of asphyxiation on the workers.

The “happy meal”, the disgrace of the workers

When we talk about asphyxiating the workers, it is about taking them to such a level of informality that the wage they receive weekly barely reaches 2 dollars. This situation has taken the workers to do other activities in order to survive. In an assembly on May 15, a demand could be heard: “let us enter at least to go to the dining hall”, which shows the terrible situation they are in. There are even workers hat only eat half the food so they can take the rest home to their families.

This systematic policy of asphyxia facilitates the lay-offs through the figure of “voluntary retirement”. At this point the offer of the “happy meal” comes in, a bonus that is used as a lay-off mechanism through persuading the worker to do it voluntarily.

The “happy meal” is today asked for by a sector of the workers because of the consequences of living in these conditions in a hyper-inflationary economy. But this is not enough for the businessmen of the FCA and other companies, who, taking advantage of the miserable situation the workers are in, caused by them and the government, “offer” to complete the lay-off bonus with spare parts and rubber. That is the offer for decades of work.

The disappearance and crushing of the Venezuelan working class

Maduro is the government that led to the destruction of the Venezuelan working class and  to a precarity of such magnitude that workers migrate from the country to offer themselves as cheap and precarious manpower elsewhere. Others choose the informal economy and become lumpen proletarians. This is the economic and anti-worker policy of the government of Maduro.

The private companies and the local bourgeoisie, which is a lumpen bourgeoisie maintained with oil revenue, on the contrary to what they say, are highly benefited with the measures of the government. A clear example is the Memorandum-Circular No. 2792 of the Ministry of Popular Power for the Social Work Process, which gives businesses and employers a blank check to generally not fulfill labor benefits, leaving workers´ collective bargaining rights in hands of a commission of officials of the Ministry of Labor. Its central argument is “taking care of the source of work” and it even authorizes the elimination of all agreements that are onerous and “put the profitability of companies at risk”. Thus, the Maduro government gave carte blanche to the local bourgeoisie to suppress or mutilate workers’ conquests. This means that the false argument of the scarcity of profitability used by capitalists and their governments worldwide to unload the crisis on the shoulders of workers, who have responded with protests of millions in the world, in Venezuela are the official guidelines of the national government, which still has the shamelessness of calling itself “worker” or “socialist” and that is backed by the campist and Stalinist left internationally.

Resisting and not giving in

It is important to note that maintaining support for the Maduro government, as some workers´ “leaders” do, is being on the side of a government that overrides important conquests achieved by the working class through the struggle. Everything that was conquered in favor of the right to negotiate work and wage conditions, from collective bargaining to the laws that establish the respect of collective contracts and rights and that are still in force in the Organic Workers´ and Labor Law (LOTTT), in force since 2012, are openly ignored by the Maduro government, which is seconded by the union bureaucrats united in the Bolivarian Socialist Workers Central (CSBT). They are the face of authoritarianism and clearly show the bourgeois character of this government that claims to represent workers, and speaks for itself on the collusion of interests between the government and private capital. Local and transnational capitalists laugh with joy and rub their joyful hands, willingly accepting to be a part of the destruction of the Venezuelan working class, while the Bolsonaros, the Macris, the Trumps and the Macrons see them with envy.

Zuleika Matamoros