One of the meeting we (the brigadistas) attended was on workers control on city maintenance. Normally, those who are acquainted with labour struggle in Venezuela tend to associate workers control with expropriation/occupation of abandoned private enterprises. However, for this brigade, we manage to see workers control in a different setting – workers control in government run services.
Corporacion de Servicios is maintenance division of Caracas area (I am not defining the geographical scope as it is complicated). It has 5 circuits (meaning 5 regions) and circuits has collectives. Each collective appoints a delegate where issues are raised to the delegates. 3000 workers work in this corporation and their participation in enterprise decision-making process is very high. Nearly every worker participate in the decision-making process (administration, budgeting etc.)
In this meeting, we received heavy emphasis study on Venezuelan Labour Law 2012. The fundamental element of the law is the product of mass consultations of the working class in Venezuela. It was born out a necessity that workers were degenerating over the decades. Moreover, the law included the concepts of workers councils. The Labour Law stipulated that workers needs to guarantee of production (critical now as Venezuela is coping severe shortages) and services while workers are encouraged to fight for better wage and working conditions. The Law brought the incorporation of health rights and social security payments for workers. More importantly, Venezuela has a created a right of 3 meals a day for its workers. This implemented through state supermarkets (MERCAL) and food tickets which allows greater access to food.
Furthermore, the law improved benefits for pre- and post-natal leave. The laws grants rights to breastfeeding (which is more encouraged in Venezuela nowadays) and getting bosses to assist payments for nursery. The law reduced the weekly working hours from 48 to 40 hours and this constitutes as part of right to recreation. By doing so, Venezuelan people receives extra time to recuperate and invest in restoring public spaces or participating volunteering services.
To read more about Labour Law, go to this link
Back to the Corporation we met, workers representatives stated that they are pleased with high participation and consultation among workers. Spaces of administration control has been extended to nearly all the employees. More importantly, they feel free, high motivation and energy before and during worker. From these changes workers are experiencing, workers are actively engaged in community service. In this community service, workers actively transfer knowledge to the locals (i.e. restoration of buildings) whereby in future, communities would be in independent in city maintenance. This will in turn reduce the burden of the Corporation in longer term as communities are becoming capable managers of their own affairs. Looking into future, Corporation is now extending to services areas such as water services. The Labour Law has banned subcontracting and this meant enhanced working conditions, increased access to government benefits and opening new doors of career progression for previously subcontracted workers. The Corporation has brought all the expertise in house such as carpentry, iron base for water tanks to break dependency from the capitalist market
I asked two major questions to the workers reps:
1) In respect to many rights and privileges awarded to workers, one wonders the sustainability of these workers control enterprises.
Answer: Workers are aware of the financial costs behind these benefits. They stated that now Venezuela asserted full control on oil reserves, more money is able to be directed for these benefits. More importantly, Venezuela vigorously fought off tax evasion and hence more revenues were able to enter to state coffers. However, the workers are fully aware the limited life-span of oil monies and taxation revenues (since the Corporation is government owned entity). Hence, they are looking ways to invest the money they receive to make them more sustainable.
2) Challenges they face:
Answer: Keeping high the spirit of working class. Elected leaders (the delegates) generally vote on key decisions based on true reflections of the represented. Plus, another subtle challenge is keep the conscience high to maintain continuous production.