Dispute Over Venezuelan Oil Union Elections Rages On

In the midst of factional infighting and an ongoing
dispute over a collective contract, elections for the United Federation of
Venezuelan Oil Workers (FUTPV), which were set for August 12th, have
now been postponed to September 2nd, the FUTPV Electoral Commission
has confirmed.
By Kiraz Janicke - Venezuelanalysis.com
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Caracas,
August 10th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - In the midst of factional
infighting and an ongoing dispute over a collective contract, elections for the
United Federation of Venezuelan Oil Workers (FUTPV), which were set for August
12th, have now been postponed to September 2nd, the FUTPV
Electoral Commission has confirmed.

The
FUTPV was formed in April 2007 as an attempt to merge the four main federations
in the oil industry - Fedepetrol, Fetrahidrocarburos, Sinutrapetrol, and the
Oil Workers Front of Zulia - which together represent 185 individual unions.

At
the time, the former labour minister, Jose Ramon Rivero selected a provisional
leadership, headed by three national coordinators, Oswaldo Caibett, Freddy
Alvarado and Wills Rangel. This provisional leadership negotiated the 2007-2009
oil workers collective contract, which expired on January 21st this
year.

However,
elections for the united federation have continuously been postponed as competing
union factions have repeatedly lodged appeals, disputing who is and isn't
eligible to vote.

The
dispute has become especially bitter after comments made by Oil Minister Rafael
Ramirez in July when he said he would not negotiate a collective contract with
"enemies of the revolution."

The
minister also endorsed a proposal by one of the platforms running in the
elections - the Socialist Workers Vanguard (VOS, also known as Platform 8, at
that time led by Argenis Olivares) to negotiate a collective contract with
delegates directly elected via workplace assemblies.

The
comments were widely rejected by union leaders as interference in union
affairs, and condemned by some as an attempt to bypass the union. In the midst
of the uproar, the oil minister declared that he would only negotiate a
contract with the new leadership after the elections.

The
fallout from the dispute has provoked a process of splits and realignments
among union factions, reducing the number of platforms running in the elections
from 18 to 9 at last count.

On
August 1st an accord was reached between three platforms and VOS
registered a new platform, Platform 7. Platform
7 is now headed by Wills Rangel, who is currently one of the three coordinators of
the national provisional leadership. The merger also involves Platform 4,
formerly headed by Daniel Alvarez, who is aligned with Marcela Maspero's
Collective of Workers in Revolution national union current.

Rangel formerly headed Platform 9, which is largely composed of the
incumbent provisional leadership and involves both supporters and opponents of
President Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian revolution. 

"All
the aspiring candidates that support the Bolivarian Revolution were called on
to unite, which resulted in the creation of Platform 7," said Rangel as he
registered his platform with the FUTPV electoral commission, according to an
August 10 report in El Nacional.

"This
union brings us closer to victory in the federation elections, now the
Socialist Workers Vanguard represents 80% of oil workers," Rangel added.

Rangel
has also moved to distance VOS from claims by other factions that it is aligned
with PDVSA management. "We are not a bosses platform, we are a socialist
platform. And although we talk with Ramirez, because he is the head of PDVSA,
the platform is not run by the minister," he told El Mundo on August 7th.

Rangel
reiterated that the oil minister should not meddle in union affairs, which other
pro-Chavez union leaders Carlos Labrador (Platform 3) and José Zacarías
(Platform 10) also demanded in a press conference on August 5th. Both
Labrador and Zacarías called for Ramirez to resign as oil minister.

Despite the fact that the elections have not been held, Rangel again raised the
issue of the collective contract. "In the name of the Socialist Workers Vanguard
we demand that PDVSA begin the discussion... We want to separate the political
campaign for the Federation [elections] from the collective contract," he said,
according to El Mundo.

Rangel
argued that it was possible for the provisional leadership of the FUTPV,
together with the participation of rank and file workers, to begin this
process. "The issue must move forward, we cannot stay stagnant, it is for the
benefit of the workers," he said.

Meanwhile,
it has been reported that a final decision on a challenge to the electoral list
presented by Olivares would be announced on August 12th. According
to Ramirez, PDVSA employs 80,000 workers, but only approximately half the
workforce is unionized. Currently, 39,700 union members are eligible to vote.

"Despite
the threat that they are going challenge [the electoral list] through the
Electoral Chamber of the Supreme Court, they cannot stop this because the oil
workers have a strong determination, for better or worse, that the elections
are carried out," said Orlando Chirino, from the United Revolutionary Autonomous
Class Current (C-CURA). Chirino is also a member of the Electoral Commission,
which supports Platform 1 headed by José Bodas.

Early
this year, C-CURA formed a national union coalition with rightwing unions aligned
with the largely discredited Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), which
collaborated in the December 2002 - January 2003 bosses shutdown of the oil
industry in an attempt to topple the democratically elected president, Hugo
Chavez. Chirino heads the new coalition, called "Labour Solidarity".

In
its election campaign, Platform 1 has largely left aside issues such as
worker's participation and focused on bread and butter issues, claiming it will
deliver "the best collective contract in the history of the oil industry."

A
further disagreement has emerged between Rangel and the candidate Rafael
Barrios over the number 7 for their platforms. Rangel said that with the all
the mergers and realignments the numbers had changed around and VOS had
switched from Platform 8 to Platform 7 and registered on August 1st.

However,
Barrios claimed the number 7 had always belonged to his platform. "If they have
a record that they registered with that number on August 1st, then
why when I went to register on August 4th did members of the
committee not tell me anything, and I registered normally?" he asked.

A
final complication is the money required by the FUTPV Electoral Commission to
carry out the elections. According to its president, José Sánchez, PDVSA has
not handed over all of the workers contributions to the union, which are
automatically deducted from union members pay. A payment was made last week,
but it is not complete, Sánchez said.

Despite all these problems, Sánchez said he was confident the elections
would go ahead on September 2nd, Entorno Inteligente reported
today.

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