By Pedro Eusse
General Secretary, United Federation of Workers of Venezuela
The year 2023 will be remembered as the year the Nicolás Maduro government destroyed the minimum wage. With 93 percent of the minimum income based on bonuses rather than actual wages, and the dismantling of collective bargaining agreements, the working class has been plunged into unprecedented misery.
Never have workers and their families been subjected to more precarious conditions of existence. With November’s annualized inflation of 359 percent doubling that of November 2022 (figures from the Venezuelan Central Bank), the national minimum wage has been frozen for 18 months at 130 Bs, already below four dollars a month. This makes the Venezuelan labour force the most devalued in the world.
During these almost 365 days, the National Government consolidated the policy of labour deregulation which was systematically initiated in October 2018. This leaves the majority of workers and their families having to survive with bonuses and food bags. The mechanisms of state control have the purpose of preventing eventual workers’ and popular protests in the face of the social catastrophe to which the government itself has led us with its neoliberal policies, which force the working class to bear the entire weight of the structural crisis and imperialist coercive measures.
Without a wage policy that complies with the Constitution and the Organic Law of Labour, with serious violations of freedom of association and without the possibility of exercising the right to strike, with criminal violations of workplace health and safety regulations which cause more and more fatal work accidents, the working class is subjected to outrageous precariousness, quasi-begging and unprecedented levels of overexploitation.
To make matters worse, the National Budget Law of 2024 imposes priorities that have nothing to do with improving the quality of life of working people. On the contrary, privileges to capital are emphasized and resources are assured for demagogy and electoral manipulation. Once again, the parasitic ruling class will be the great beneficiary in the profound unequal distribution of national income. There are no budgetary provisions to establish decent salaries and pensions, but only to continue granting bonuses – obviously with no impact on social benefits, vacations, profits, Christmas bonuses and other legal and contractual indemnities.
Sharpening of the class struggle
The past year began with months of massive protests by teachers and other primary and basic education workers – demanding, unsuccessfully, the signing of the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement – and is concluding with some scattered labour protests demanding the full payment of year-end bonuses from public employers.
Discontent is widespread and will be expressed early in 2024 with labour protests, considering the serious deterioration of the subsistence-level material conditions of those who depend on a salary or a pension. Really though, nobody in Venezuela lives on a salary or a pension – the majority is forced to perform numerous formal and informal jobs to subsist. The result is deteriorating health, and more time away from family care and the fulfillment of social, cultural and organizational activities which facilitate mass participation in the struggle to change our oppressive reality.
Another present trend is the government’s growing authoritarianism and unilateralism. This is expressed in the criminalization of workers’ struggles, open layoffs and sham dismissals. All of it occurs with official acceptance (especially against militant union leaders and safety representatives), employer and government coercion to subdue the individual and collective will of the workers, and the use of judicial power to legitimize abusive and anti-democratic political decisions.
In this context, we are obliged in the new year to broaden the united struggle of the working class and of all the people, putting aside everything that disunites and dismantles unions and the retirees and pensioners associations. Being an election year, the efforts of the government and the right-wing opposition to manipulate working people, as well as their organizations, will be intensified. That is why, now more than ever, it is essential to strengthen the independence and autonomy of the labour and popular forces that fight to recover our human, social and labour rights and to defeat policies that only serve capital and that debase the working class and the people in general.
Translated from Spanish by PV staff
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