Venezuela: Oil Workers on Strike : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Nando Times

Oil workers in Venezuela on strike

By ALEXANDRA OLSON, Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (March 28, 2001 12:30 p.m. EST) - Ignoring pleas by President Hugo Chavez's government, tens of thousands of workers in Venezuela's crucial oil industry went on strike Wednesday to demand salary increases.

Venezuela, the world's third largest oil exporter and a major supplier to the United States, says it can sustain a strike for seven days before exports are affected.

Union leaders claimed 92 percent of 40,000 workers adhered to the strike. The government oil monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, said only a "minority" of workers stayed home and insisted that operations weren't affected.

"At this time of day we are operating totally normally, " said monopoly President Gen. Guaicapuro Lameda. "Our clients can count on receiving supplies."

Lameda called the strike illegal and urged workers to return to their jobs. The government earned $6 billion last year - about 40 percent of its income - from the oil monopoly.

Workers earn an average of $484 a month and are demanding a 15 percent pay raise granted to public employees last year by presidential decree. PDVSA argues the decree didn't include oil workers.

In October, oil workers paralyzed the industry for four days to protest frozen collective bargaining talks. The walkout forced PDVSA to cede to almost all union demands. Workers received a 60 percent pay raise and other benefits that pushed up the production cost of the Venezuelan barrel by 70 cents .

In an effort to prevent this week's strike, PDVSA had agreed to let oil workers keep a $2,800 bonus that the company had previously argued was an advance it offered during contract negotiations.

Government officials claimed the strike was a political maneuver by Venezuela's entrenched opposition-aligned labor leaders. Chavez is seeking to oust those leaders in union elections later this year.

"It's completely absurd and has no moral, economic or ethical base," said Interior Minister Luis Miquilena. "They are trying to create a completely artificial conflictive situation in the country."

Venezuela's trade unions are the last power bastion of two traditional political parties that the populist Chavez trounced in 1998 elections. His government, which inherited billions of dollars in unpaid pensions and pay raises for state workers, has faced continual labor unrest.

Public school teachers on Wednesday also walked off the job for the third time this year to protest the government's failure to negotiate a new contract and honor a pay raise promised in October. Steel workers threatened to go on strike late Wednesday.

-- Rachel Gibson (, March 28, 2001

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