Sometimes the working class can make an incredible acquisition that no one thought could be made. As it just so happens, such an acquisition has been made in Venezuela. Two small newspapers in Mérida have been taken over by their workers. The unpaid employees have struck back and taken over.
The newspapers Cambio de Siglo and Diario El Vigía grabbed the means of production from the bosses on October 4th. They did this after they had gone without pay for four months. The bosses kept promising they would be paid, but then they just announced bankruptcy and left everyone hanging in the wind.
What do you do when the boss can’t do his job right? You seize the means of production and show them how to do it right. When you do, you make a handmade banner and string it across the second floor work place window saying “Control Obrero” (worker-run).
Near the end of November the two worker controlled publishers began jointly producing weekly combined editions of the papers.
This is a new phenomenon, capitalist media being taken over by the workers. Hugo Peña of the National Workers’ Union said:
“There are no other cases of a group of workers deciding to take control of a media outlet.”
Public statements by the new owners say that they do not want their actions being used by capitalist owned media firms to use their actions as anti-Chavez propaganda. They ask that their rights are maintained and that they receive the back pay and benefits owed to them.
“We took the initiative to make our situation known. We want people to support us as workers and as human beings who have gone through a lot by not being paid, and we deserve to have our rights respected.”
– Copy Editor Kira Fuentes
The workers took over the two papers because of the multiple labour violations by the companies as was evidenced by court documents:
1. They failed to pay into the Social Security system even though they made deductions form the worker’s pay for it.
2. They stopped paying into the workers’ retirement fund.
3. They stopped making payments into the Ley de Política Habitacional, a program that helps worker’s buy homes.
4. They stopped paying “cestatickets” (meal benefits).
5. They stopped paying salaries in June 2010.
In an initial reaction to these abuses of the working class, they went on strike for 12 days in May 2010. The owners responded by shutting down the the businesses and refused to pay its employees. A representative of the owners said that he would pay out 25% of what they were owed if they quit their jobs first. This was an insult to the working class that was met with the decision to seize the means of production.
Immediately works began barricading themselves inside the buildings and demanded ownership of of the businesses. The organized teams so that they could keep the place occupied in shifts.
While occupied in the workplace they built sleeping stations to take turns sleeping and they managed communal kitchens so that they could all eat properly.
The occupation was nine women and seven men, all of them collectively ran the newspaper. They all shared in all the work that needed to be done, from the administration all the way down to the printing. They made decisions and directed the company in a collective manner that marginalized and alienated no one. They decided the budget and gave themselves a small salary in order to keep up operations.
Journalism student from the Bolivarian University of Mérida went to the worker owned enterprise and wrote for them and even went out and sold the papers.
The president of the Mérida State Legislature helped organize legal support for the workers. but no one else has stepped forward to back them up. Even the National Association of Journalists who claimed to be pro Bolivarian Revolution have refrained from making a statement.
The head of the paper Edgar Sáenz has come out asking for the Chavez government to help the situation:
“We are asking the government to step in and solve this problem. We are hoping they will help us economically so we can go on with the production of the paper, secure our work and get the wages owed us.”
The workers have contacted the Ministry of Communications requesting a meeting with them in a hopes of resolving the ongoing situation. It’s all up to the government now as to whether or not they get the help needed to continue a worker’s media collective.
“We are sure we will get the support we need at a national level. If you want to see a real revolution, come here, where the workers have taken over and will not leave until their rights are respected, where workers have taken over a media outlet for the first time here in Venezuela.”
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This is what we are capable of if we throw our power at the bosses. This is what we can accomplish if we just take the means of production away from the exploiters and we use them to benefit our lives and not theirs. this is a big middle finger to all those right wingers who say this is impossible. The people have spoken and they had said unity and not greed.
They have pulled themselves together and united for a better tomorrow. They are sharing not only the work functions, but they are also sharing the domestic labour as well. They cook and clean in benefit of everyone there. People outside the immediate situation stop by to help them and give them support.
This is the power of the people.