Chavez government nationalizes Sidor steel

Venezuelan Vice President Ramón Carrizalez closed a last ditch meeting April 9 between officials of Venezuela’s giant Sidor steel plant and representatives of the United Steel Industry Workers Union (SUTISS) with the announcement that Sidor would be re-nationalized.

Sidor, state owned for 33 years and debt ridden, became the property of Techint, an Argentinean-Italian corporation, after sell-off by the Rafael Caldera government in 1997. It employs 4,000 permanent employees and 9,000 non-unionized, outsourced contract workers.

The workers’ struggle gathered steam in January 2007 when President Hugo Chavez proclaimed “nationalization of everything that was privatized.” Since then nationalization has encompassed telecommunications, electricity and oil companies, and recently the cement industry.

SUTISS has demanded nationalization of the Sidor plant along with increased wages and benefits and incorporation of contract workers into the company’s permanent work force. Sidor owners escaped nationalization last year by agreeing to prioritize steel products for Venezuela’s domestic market.

Two months of periodic work stoppages culminated March 14 in violent National Guard repression. Rallies, plant meetings and referenda reached a crescendo April 4 when SUTISS declared another strike and workers marched to a university in Bolivar where President Hugo Chavez was speaking at graduation ceremonies.

Two days later, Chavez denounced the company on national television for violating a law from May 1, 2007, prohibiting the subcontracting of workers and said the company would again be nationalized.

Attention turns now to negotiating terms of ownership. Analysts see a shift from the present 60-20-20 distribution of ownership among company, state and workers, respectively, to an exchange by the state and Techint of the 60/20 percent shares, with workers holding onto their 20 percent portion.

Union negotiations on wages and pensions will continue with government officials.