Venezuelan oil workers end strike : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Venezuelan oil workers end strike

By STEVEN GUTKIN The Associated Press 03/03/00 7:45 PM Eastern

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Ending a threat to production in the world's third-largest petroleum exporter, Venezuela's oil workers called off a nationwide work stoppage Friday after just a few hours away from the job.

International oil prices are at nine-year highs. When the strike began Friday morning, analysts said a long work interruption could cut supply, putting further pressure on prices for gasoline and heating oil.

But late Friday afternoon, the strike against the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, was canceled. Carlos Ortega, president of the country's largest union, said failure to suspend it would have placed Venezuela's oil employees "outside the law" because of a new legislative decree.

The decree, written by an assembly that revised Venezuela's constitution last year, requires unions to choose new leaders through open elections instead of the current practice of hand-picking by party bosses. The decree went into effect Friday when authorities published it in the Official Gazette.

It was likely published as part of a government attempt to end the strike. Ortega called the decree "ominous" and said it could enable the government "to begin a plan of massive firings."

"We are not willing to give them a pretext to do so and we have decided to end the strike," he said.

President Hugo Chavez lashed out at the oil unions during a televised speech Friday evening, saying they had been defeated in a "thundering knockout."

Then he added a message to rank-and-file oil employees about their union bosses: "They all got rich at the cost of your misery."

The work stoppage had been called to protest the state oil company's refusal to sign a preliminary accord that would have provided the basis for negotiations on a new contract.

The last contract expired in November. Workers, who earn about $300 to $450 per month, have demanded that their pay roughly be doubled. The company is offering a raise about $30 per month and also wants to lower required severance payments to dismissed workers.

Government officials and oil union leaders announced Tuesday they had reached a preliminary deal on contract talks, but the accord unraveled Wednesday when company President Hector Ciavaldini said the company hadn't signed on.

It was not immediately clear what the next step in working out a new contract might be.

Ciavaldini and other company and government officials say they do not want to negotiate until union leaders, whom they say are linked to corrupt political parties, are replaced in democratic elections. Union leaders deny allegations of corruption and say Chavez is putting labor freedoms in jeopardy.

Oil accounts for about three-quarters of Venezuela's export earnings. The country exports some 2.72 million barrels of oil per day.

-- Martin Thompson (, March 03, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ