The Strike at Venezuela's Sidor
Since last Thursday, 6,000 workers at Siderúrgica del Orinoco (Sidor) have been on the 300th strike in the company’s history. This time they are striking indefinitely for payment of 15% of net profits. With 92 hours clocked up so far, the stoppage is costing the company $3 million a day, according to calculations by Maritza Izaguirre, the steel company’s executive president.
The workers’ claims have to do with the Employee Participation Program, implemented six years ago. This program granted the workers a 20% shareholding in the company, to be administered by Bandes, which comes under the Finance Ministry.
According to Sidor’s president there is some confusion over the amount that the company should distribute from the end-of-year profits. The Venezuelan State (CVG-Bandes) holds 40 percent of the Amazonia Consortium (Hylsamex, Techint, Usiminas, and Sivensa), 20 percent of which belongs to the workers.” Sidor already made extraordinary payments to public sector shareholders in December and March. The workers are entitled to part of the profits under the program and their collective employment contract. However, it is the government that is in charge of distributing those profits through Bandes, not the company. Sidor is waiting for the decision by the Labor Inspectorate on the company’s request, filed on Friday, for it to declare the strike illegal on the grounds that the timeframes for calling it were not complied with.
The workers themselves are also questioning the legality of the strike. Some are of the opinion that the whole thing is an exercise in “political proselytism” on the part of Ramón Machuca, candidate to governor of Bolívar State and also president of Sutiss, the local trade union that is heading up the strike. Machuca justifies the measure, maintaining that the claim is completely legal and that the company wants to pit the trade union against central government by alleging that it is the State that holds the shares.
Meanwhile, the gates of Sidor remain closed at a time when the company was just getting back on its feet thanks to a recovery in steel prices on the international markets. It is not only the company that is being adversely affected; its partners are also suffering –the State among them- since they are not receiving any income, as are the workers, who are not getting paid. Once again, everyone will suffer losses that looked as though they were a thing of the past.
It is possible that Ramón Machuca will go down in history as the only man in this “process” who managed to bring the government, the private sector, and the workers to a standstill all at the same time.
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