President Hugo Chavez has ordered the suspension of collective negotiations in the oil/gas and power sectors until sometime in 2010, officially – but it’s possible the talks could remain on hold until 2011 or even 2012.
The projected two-year cost of the new oil/gas contract with FUTPV for the 2010-2011 period reportedly has almost trebled from $3.4 billion when the negotiations started, to at least $9 billion today. Fetraelec’s proposed two-year contract is worth over $4 billion on paper.
That’s $13 billion over two years for about 135,000 workers, or over $48,000 annually per worker, on average. But President Chavez has made it clear that he will not agree to labor cost increases of this magnitude – particularly when all of Venezuela is suffering a power supply crisis caused in great measure by years of inadequate maintenance.
In Chavez’s view, the power sector’s workers bear most of the blame for Venezuela’s power crisis because they didn’t maintain the grid properly, and the “wasteful capitalist consumerism” of the “pueblo” is responsible for the fact that power demand now exceeds supply by over 1,500MW.
How have the presidents of the FUTPV and Fetraelec responded? Not even the slightest chirp of protest from FUTPV president Wills Rangel or his Fetraelec counterpart, Angel Navas.
Chavez owns the leaders of the Bolivarian energy unions FUTPV (oil/gas) and Fetraelec (power). Rangel and Navas will never bite or even snarl at the hand the feeds them.
Rangel, the new FUTPV (oil/gas) president, was the candidate of the Socialist Workers Federation (FTS), which is the labor faction of Chavez’s PSUV party. Energy Minister/Pdvsa president Rafael Ramirez openly endorsed Rangel’s election.
Fetraelec’s (power) president, Angel Navas, also was Chavez’s preferred candidate back in 2006. And apparently Navas is an easily cowed labor leader.
Chavez publicly scolded Navas and other Fetraelec officials recently for threatening “conflictive actions” against Corpoelec. Chavez also warned that any Fetraelec actions deemed conflictive by the government would be treated as “sabotage.”
Navas immediately made a public apology. Chavez “misinterpreted” Fetraelec’s intentions, Navas stammered. Fetraelec has “never” had any intention of calling a strike.
Rangel and Navas won’t pick a fight with Pdvsa and/or Corpoelec on behalf of the workers they “represent” nominally – because President Chavez will take it as a personal attack and it likely will cost them their jobs as presidents of the Bolivarian oil/gas and power federations.
Also, in recent years the National Assembly has approved legislation criminalizing protests in and near all state-owned installations.
In the past year, National Guard and other government security forces have arrested dozens of public sector workers for protesting illegally. Many of the arrested protesters have been oil and power workers.
However, does the fact that Chavez owns the FUTPV and Fetraelec leaderships, and that he now has laws on the books criminalizing all labor protests, mean that he also owns the workers who belong to these unions?
FUTPV reportedly has over 100,000 members including between 80,000 and 90,000 Pdvsa employees carried on various “nominas,” and workers still employed in the much-diminished private oil sector. Fetraelec has over 35,000 members.
A few days ago, oil workers in Anzoategui blockaded access to Pdvsa’s Puerto La Cruz refinery to protest the government’s refusal to sign a new collective contract since the previous one expired in January 2009.
The protesters work at the refinery, and their leaders criticized Rangel and the new FUTPV leadership for doing nothing to advance a new contract over 40 days after his election. “We want answers from Rafael Ramirez (and)…from Pdvsa,” said Jose Bodas, secretary general of the FUTPV in Anzoategui.
There have been other scattered small protests in the oil and power sector in recent months, including hunger strikes, blockading access to some installations in western and eastern Venezuela, etc. It’s likely that there will be more local protests by FUTPV and Fetraelec members in coming weeks/month.
Rangel and Navas have no choice expect to obey Chavez’s instructions, if they want to survive in their jobs and perhaps even stay out of jail. But this will cause fissures between the national authorities at FUTPV and Fetraelec – particularly Rangel and Navas – and regional/local union leaders. Internal divisions in FUTPV and Fetraelec will suit Chavez nicely; his way is to divide and rule.
But can President Chavez sustain his suppression of unhappy oil and power workers through verbal intimation, threats of arrest, detentions and prosecutions, etc? Venezuela’s oil and workers are unhappy for economic reasons. They want more money, and fairly so.