Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Worker's Power in Venezuela: Sanitarios Maracay

The fascinating story of one of the two bathroom ceramics making manufacturers in Venezuela, provides us with a vision of workers control. What makes something revolutionary is not protest, but utopian vision. This article from In Defense of Marxism gives an overview. The events in May, when workers were met by the National Guard, shows state governments in Venezuela have power. The repression was ordered by an anti-Chavez governor.

Venezuela National Assembly asks for the expropriation of Sanitarios Maracay
By Jorge Martin
Wednesday, 30 May 2007

A delegation of Sanitarios Maracay trade union representatives headed by Jose Villegas, organisation secretary and member of the Factory Committee, went to Caracas on Monday May 28, to meet with the Social Affairs commission of the National Assembly.

After meeting with the workers, the Permanent Commission on Social Affairs agreed to send a petition to the president of the Republic for the expropriation of Sanitarios Maracay.

The factory, which makes bathroom ceramics, has been occupied by the workers for more than six months, and they have maintained production and sales for the whole period, organised in regular mass workers’ assemblies and an elected and recallable Factory Committee. After a number of conflicts with the employer, coup-plotter Alvaro Pocaterra, over health and safety and trade union recognition, he decided to abandon the factory and it was at this point that the workers decided to occupy.

More than 550 of the Sanitarios Maracay workers, who are part of the Revolutionary Front of Occupied Factories FRETECO, have been struggling for the expropriation of the factory and that it be run under workers’ control.

On May 22 there was a region-wide day of action in Aragua, where Maracay is based, in which 3,000 workers from 120 different workplaces set up 19 road blocks from 5 am until 11 am, blockading the whole of the region. The action was organised by the regional UNT and the Sanitarios Maracay workers to demand nationalisation under workers’ control, but also to protest at the repression the workers had suffered at the hands of regional police and national guard forces when they were on their way to a national demonstration organised by FRETECO on April 23.

Undoubtedly, the action in Aragua served to put pressure on the National Assembly to pass this resolution which is also going to be sent to the Ministry of Light Industry and Commerce for endorsement. So far the position of the Ministry of Labour has not been favourable to the expropriation of the factory, and the minister, Ramon Rivero, publicly expressed his view that the factory is not “of national interest” and therefore should not be nationalised. To this the workers have replied that Sanitarios Maracay should be included in a national plan of housing projects to solve the housing crisis affecting millions of poor people. Sanitarios trade union leaders have also accused the Ministry of negotiating a settlement of the dispute only with a small group of administrative staff which are not part of the workers’ assembly.

The decision taken by the National Assembly is seen by the workers representatives as the first real step towards expropriation of the factory, their main demand. If this expropriation went ahead, this would be a further important step forward for the workers movement in Venezuela and would put the expropriation of other occupied factories (SelFex, Gotcha, INAF, etc) on the agenda.


memememe said...

Have you heard of the struggle of the workers of Sanitarios Maracay before finally being able to get some governments attention and the horrible police represion they were victims of during the protest they lead asking for an official expropiation of the company. Do not be fooled because of a socialist utopia and make a better research. Because not everything that shines is gold.

Frank Partisan said...

Thank you for visiting my blog.

The article mentions the repression that was faced, caused by the local conservative government.

sonia said...

The repression was ordered by an anti-Chavez governor.

That's a bold-faced lie! The governor in question is Didalco Bolivar, a leading member of PODEMOS, one of the largest parties in the Chavez coalition.

This looks like an internal power struggle among the Chavistas. It has all the characteristics of a political provocation aimed at discrediting a rival for power and control. A bit like Stalin getting rid of Bukharin. Or Zinoviev. Or Kamenev.

Chavez has exterminated his enemies. Now, it's the turn to assassinate his friends.

The Bolivarian revolution is entering its 'internal purges' phase...

John Peterson said...

As you say, the attack on the workers of Sanitarios Maracay was ordered by Didalco Bolivar, governor of the state of Aragua. And yes, he is a leader of PODEMOS, which has traditionally been a long-standing chavista party. But as I am sure you are also aware, life is not black and white, things are not static and immutable - things constantly change, especially in the heat of a living, breathing, contradictory revolutionary process.

It is indeed a power struggle - a life and death struggle between those within the Bolivarian movement who wish to put the brakes on the revolutionary process (folks like Didalco Bolivar); and those who would like the process to deepen and continue to genuine socialism (nationalization of the lands, banks, and means of production; a workers' state based on democratically elected, accountable, and recallable assemblies of workers, peasants, and neighborhoods, etc.) - such as the workers of SM.

We need to judge things by their content, not their labels. Someone calling themselves a "chavista" in name means little in Venezuela these days. What the counter-revolutionaries in red berets would like is "chavismo without Chavez" - i.e. for the process to halt where it is and for them to keep the nice positions they have carved out for themselves.

The process is far from over yet.

If folks are so concerned about the workers of SM , I encourage them to support what the workers want, which is the nationalization of their factory under workers' control. You can sign your support here:!_2.htm

Graeme said...

Wasn't Didalco Bolivar one of the governors facing recall?

If Chavez doesn't support such workers, he isn't of much use.

sonia said...

John Peterson,

I encourage them to support what the workers want, which is the nationalization of their factory under workers' control.

This is a direct contradiction in terms. A company cannot simulaneously be 'nationalized' and 'under worker's control'. In the first case, a manager appointed by Chavez will run the factory, in the second case, Chavez would have no say whatsoever as to who runs it. Only workers working there would decide.

If Chavez would agree to the second option, he would be the first leftist leader in human history to do so. I am not holding my breath. Most likely, he will appoint his own goons, and if any actual workers dare to protest, they will labeled as 'coup-plotters' or CIA agents...

Same story all over again...


If Chavez doesn't support such workers, he isn't of much use.

Don't worry. Chavez will support them as long as they don't complain about their new boss appointed by Chavez himself. If it's a good boss (he might be), they might even be happy (for a while). And if it's a bad boss (always a possibility), Chavez will find ways to deal with workers who will dare to complain. Very effective ways, already tested in Russia in the 1920's...

John Peterson said...

"This is a direct contradiction in terms. A company cannot simulaneously be 'nationalized' and 'under worker's control'. In the first case, a manager appointed by Chavez will run the factory, in the second case, Chavez would have no say whatsoever as to who runs it. Only workers working there would decide."

Um, actually, no, there is no contradiction whatsoever. In fact, it has already begun in some enterprises, most notably at Inveval,which makes valves for the oil industry.

100% state ownership with 100% workers' control over production is the only model that can take the process to socialism. The workers of SM have shown in practice that they don't need private or state-appointed managers / bureaucrats to produce quality goods. But they call for state ownership so that the state can invest in safety equipment, raw materials, more modern machinery, etc., and so the workers can work with the government to integrate the production of the factory into the needs of society as a whole, in this case, the need for quality housing for all.

It's a pretty simple concept and as I said, Inveval is a perfect example. See the article National Gathering of Occupied Factories in Venezuela at

sonia said...

John Peterson,

I used to believe those fairy tales myself...

The day you will realize the enormity of the lies you've been told won't be pretty. Be strong that day.

Anonymous said...

Expropriation is just another name for robbery. Only it's done with a piece of paper instead of a gun.

You people are sick.

Next time I need a ride somewhere, I know you won't mind if I expropriate your car.

John Brown said...

Fascinating dicussion, Ren. Good work getting it jump started.

Have confidence that Comrade Chavez will support the workers. We have no reason to believe he won't.

The UNT - a very powerful but completely schizophrenic union - seems right in the heart of the struggle right now. The effects of the power struggle within the union have great consequence here and elsewhere.

We agree on something, SumateHugo: expropriation is 'theft'. But only if it's stolen from the producers.

Vanilla Imperialists of one stripe or another have been "expropriating" from the people of Venezuela for centuries.

They produced nothing - they just came in and stole it.

Yet for some reason, you're all good with that sort of expropriation - probably because your welfare checks come from Uncle Sam. In fact, you drool with delight - SumateHugo - when the expropriation first occurs by Vanilla Imperialists and whine like a baby, crying to the UN, the OAS - anyone who listens - when those who produced what the expropriators stole finally decide to claim what's theirs.

It's a real deluded sort of logic... one clearly marinated quite liberally in Uncle Sam's welfare checks.

MUMIA in 08!

John Brown said...

Good work Peterson,

It's always amusing to see Sonia retreat into full-on rheotric-spouting rather than giving us the mere 95% to which we've become so accustomed!

Anonymous said...

Any crime in the name of the workers is okay in their book, julia. This is a blog full of Chavista true believers.

Fry Mumia in '08

Graeme said...

Expropriation is just another name for robbery

Oh for christ sake. Read up on western history and you will see who are the criminals. Workers take abandoned factories and capitalists take fucking populated continents.

Anonymous said...

Robbery is robbery no matter where you find it.

So much for "life, liberty and the pursuit of property" with Chavez and his drones around.

You're lucky to have your life.

Anonymous said...

btw - AES, the petroleum industry, and CANTV weren't exactly "abandoned". And driving down the share value w/threats and then buying for $.50 on the dollar isn't exactly "non-capitalism", either.

beatroot said...

Sonia responds to Ren:
The repression was ordered by an anti-Chavez governor.

That's a bold-faced lie!

This word ‘lie’ gets on my tits on the blogs. How do you know Ren is lying? You don’t. Ren did not deliberately mean to mislead, he is just mislead himself. That comes about from a romantic view of workers councils, and through a lack of knowledge about the subject, maybe.

But he never meant to mislead – which is the meaning of a ‘lie’. Lie is the lexicon of those trolly bloggy twats who can’t win arguments through debate.

I have nothing against workers ownership, coops, that kind of thing. Just as long as you don’t expect it to spark off the revolution, cause it won’t.

But what I think Sonia and Ren are both doing is thinking that Chav and Che have anything in common. They don’t. Different times, different folks, different politics.

When are you people going to wake up and smell the (central and south America, fair trade) coffee? Stop fighting those old left right battles. It’s over. Let it rest in peace. x

Frank Partisan said...

Beatroot: I would gladly host a post written by you, about the end of ideology. I would add a plug for your blog.

I'm asking that of you, as I get clobbered every post, by cold warriors.

I think the Sanitarios Maracay issue, is bigger than what someone thinks of Hugo Chavez. It's a new model, for all the Americas.

beatroot said...

I will do you one in a couple of weeks. Off on holiday Saturday. Fraternally yours...

Larry Gambone said...

Expropriation by the workers is not theft. It is merely taking back that which was stolen to begin with. Capitalism is based upon theft and state granted privileges.Working people should directly own and control the means of production through federations of worker and stakeholder cooperstives. We do not need parasites and bullies running the show.

Frank Partisan said...

As usual commenter Hugo, doesn't pay attention to the facts.

Sanitarios Maracay was taken over by workers, after it was abandoned by its owners. Not theft, more accurately the workers were given a gift.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

"Sanitarios Maracay was taken over by workers, after it was abandoned by its owners."

If they hadn't of taken over the factory they would have been jobless. Given how the right seems to want to blame the poor and unemployed for everything (from benefit 'scrounging' to crime - at least in Britain) you'd have thought they'd be glad that these workers have kept working.

(But then again unemployment helps keep wages generally down and thus more profit)

@ Ren, interesting post, glad to see the workers haven't waited for anyone to rubber stamp it

Anonymous said...

Sanitarios was "abandoned by its' owners."

LOL! In March of 2006, eight months before Alavaro Pocaterra announced the factories impending bankruptcy, the goodie goodie workers were organizing and marching to have the company "nationalized" in conjuction with the Oil Industry, CANTV, and Electricidad de Caracas.

They called the project "nationalization without indemnification" (aka - taking without paying). They claimed that the owner for 47 years had been supportive of the coup against Chavez, had supported the "general strike" and therefore didn't deserve to own his company, and that since business was now unintentionally bad, he was still deliberately sabataging his own company so that he could declare bankruptcy (the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life short of Mel Brooke's, "The Producers")

The innocent workers then immediately "occupied" the factories when layoffs/ closures were announced, and subsequently sold off a number of its' inventory and assets (owned by Mr. Pocaterra) to buy more raw materials and keep production going.

How much personal debt Alvaro Pocatera may still owe on the company and its' assetts is NOT being addressed by the workers. They have stolen EVERYTHING from him. And those to whom Mr. Pocaterra owed money still hold him personally responsible for paying back.

The workers were ALL paid for their labor. The claim that they were taking ANYTHING owed them is FALSE. You can cry that the surplus value of labor belongs to the worker until you are blue in the face, but then you would have to acknowledge that the crops that grow from the sun and the rain belong to G_d or the plants themselves and that the farmer robs his/their labor with every bite of food that you eat....

And this is the "model" for many many MORE takings to come, an example of how to STEAL and then get the Government to sanction the theft.

This THEFT has not been "officially" recognized by Hugo Chavez, because the very second he does, the PLUNDERING and THEFT of the rest of the country will take place... JUST LIKE UNDER THE Ex-SOVEIET OLIGARCH's.

And the second THAT happens, CAPITAL wil FLEE from Venezuela faster than the speed of light, plunging the ENTIRE economy into a Cuba-like cesspool of inactivity and poverty.

Chavez was smart enough to pay shareholders a nominal amount for the petroleum, telephone and electric utilities. That's the only thing that preventing him from putting his whole "Bolivarian" revolutionary economy to the test... and he's reluctant to do that becuase it will COLLAPSE LIKE A HOUSE OF STRAW, requiring him to flood the international oil market and drive the price of oil below $10/ barrel.

Funny how the very same arguments about coup plotting were used to justify RCTV's seizure.

Anonymous said...

Within six months of oil falling below $40/ barrel, Hugo Chavez will become an ex-caudillo.

And most likely, a dead one.

John Brown said...


I had no idea that in addition to being a coup-loving Vanilla Revolutionary you were also a fortune teller!

No wonder Uncle Sam's paying you so much.

The next time one of his coups is thrown back into Sam's face by the people of Venezuela, you can tell him about it in advance!

One big problem: If you're predicting a collapse in the price of oil, your Ouija Board doesn't know economics.

Frank Partisan said...

SumateHugo: Again Sanitarios Maracuay was abandoned. The management refused to honor previous contracts. They closed the doors, only the workers stayed.

RCTV only lost its license for the public airways. Since Chavez has been in power, cable TV subscriptions have been up, so more can watch RCTV.

Another loss for Condi. It looks like the OAS were sensible.

Since Chavez has been in power, the economy is less oil dependant, than before. Still oil will stabilize. That doesn't mean your friends will be back in power.

As a Trotskyist I have many criticisms of the old Soviet Union. Unlike you I'm precise in wording. You could never prove the leaders were oligarchs. They were bureaucrats, not oligarchs. You lack political knowledge, and react emotionally.

Why does someone advocate assasination? In your case you are projecting your political isolation. Actually you are advocating terrorism. Democracy can't work when for you because your ideas are unpopular.

Again you show you have nothing to offer.

Anonymous said...

Abandoned one day and occupied the next.

Yeah, you could call that abandoned. But you have to be an lying Marxist.

Anonymous said...

...and I'm not advocating assassination. I'm just stating the likely fate of a dictator, and a thief.

Chavez may be "popular" at the moment. But within a few years, he'll become very "unpopular", but by then, the Venezuelans won't have a vote. Becuase Venezuela is rapidly becoming "less: that a democracy.

Which is why COMMUNISM can't work. It cannot survive except in a totalitarian state.

Anonymous said...

The Cuban people needed to "learn" to love me. To love poverty. To learn to kiss my hand.

And so will the Venezuelan people.

Peter K Fallon, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for your kind comments on IN THE DARK. Keep up the good work on your fine blog.