Thursday, May 19, 2005

Oily People are workers too - NOT 

In my post of a couple of days ago you may have noticed that on the Power Point slides in addition to their being a logo for "Gente de Petroleo" (aka, Oily People) there is another logo for Unapetrol.

Unapetrol was a union for white collar workers at the state oil company PDVSA. However, Unapetrol isn't your average everyday union. It was made up of and run largely for upper level management and executives of PDVSA. They formed a union not because of poor pay or working conditions (a number of them made hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly)but because they wanted to be free to run PDVSA as their own little company without having to worry about the owners, the people of Venezuela and the Venezuelan government, firing them. In fact, they didn't even attempt to form this union until the time of their failed coup against Chavez of April 11, 2002.

Unapetrol, along with the Oily People (they are really the same executives which is why the Power Point presentation has both logos)then led a strike in December 2002 that largely shut down oil production for over a month and cost Venezuela billion of dollars. This damage sent the economy into a free fall with over a 20% decline in GDP.

During this "strike", which had political not collective bargaining objectives and was therefore not legal, these employees were fired. They were fired both for job abandonment and the large scale vandalism carried out by them against PDVSA installations such as damaging control systems, breaking pipes and valves, and deleting computer files and programs.

The strike failed because most oil workers actually staid at their jobs and many others voluntarily came back out of retirement to help restart production. Once it was apparent that the strike was failing the Oily People immediately started clamoring for their jobs back. Of course, the government has refused to re-hire them not only because of the tremendous damage they caused but also because December was not the first time they had gone on strike. They had tried to shut down production before on several occasion including immediately prior to the April 11 coup.

But these Oily People/Unapetrol types don't give up easily. They are still trying to get reinstated. To do that they are actually petitioning the International Labor Organization to hear their case. Lets take a look at some of what they say:

We support and demand a "strict and forcefull action" against the current Venezuelan government for the following reasons:

Massive, illegal, and unjustified firing of more than 20,000 workers in PDVSA for participating in a strike or national civic strike in December 2002.

Unjustified firing??? What are these people smoking? They think they can go on an indefinite strike to overthrow a democratically elected government and nothing should happen to them? Unreal. Anyways, this won't go far as the ILO expects unions to focus on collective bargaining issues and be apolitical - not the case here.

Violation of special procedures for firing disabled workers, pregnant women, and union leaders.

This was a clever strategy by Oily People - claim you weren't really on strike but were out sick (I'm sure they can get a doctors note), disabled, or suddenly realized you were pregnant and had to stay home. Actually, the most common excuse they used was that they were on vacation ( for two months?!?!) and didn't even know there was a strike. In any event the strike began at the beginning of December and the firings didn't begin until mid-January. Everyone had ample warning and ample opportunity to return to work before anyone was fired.

Mass illegal evictions of workers from their homes.

This is a good one. In the country club atmosphere that prevailed in PDSVA prior to the strike not only were these managers paid very good salaries (many of them over $50,000 in a poor country) but they were given other goodies such as free housing and special schools for their children. And after going on strike they actually thought they'd be able to keep these great freebies? Well, I guess you can't blame them for trying.

Violation of the right to unionize.

This is rather dubious on two counts. First this union included everyone from managers all the way up to the top executives of PDSVA - that's right including the President, CFO, etc. Has anyone ever heard of the executives of a company forming a union so they can't be replaced by the shareholders no matter how bad their performance is? Can you imagine the executives of Exxon/Mobil forming a union? Bizarre. Secondly, the senior executives didn't even attempt to form this "union" until after they had already been fired from the company. I think to form a union you are supposed to actually have a job. Fortunately for them, in the wake of the April 11th coup Chavez was in a magnanimous mood as he tried to reconicle the country and he gave them their jobs back which they kept until their strike in December. Chavez won't make that mistake again.

Violation of the freedom of work at companies other than PDVSA.

The Oily People claim they have been blacklisted and other oil contractors won't hire them. The government denies it. In any event, most companies frown on executives going on strike and destroying company property and are therefore probably reluctant to hire them.

Its not looking good for the Oily People getting their jobs back. The country and PDVSA have both moved on and our doing well without them. And even the Oily People don't seem to believe in their cause any more - when I checked how many people signed the petition it was only about 7,000 - a lot less than the number of them that were fired.


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