Ha, ha…the poor Wall Street Journal. When it comes to Venezuela, it doesn’t know which part of its britches to soil first. Should it slam unions, the usual conservative suspect for every economic thing that goes wrong anywhere? Or should it slam Hugo Chavez? Or–oh, this is good–should it slam him for making unions so dangerously uppity in Venezuela?
The president’s own policy spurred the growth of powerful unions. Now the policy appears to have spiraled out of control. State-owned companies, including some recently nationalized by Mr. Chavez, are groaning under the pressure of union demands. Higher wages are feeding inflation and discouraging business investment.
“There’s no equilibrium between management and the unions. I’m afraid they now have all the power,” said Eduardo Gómez, head of Conindustria, a business group that usually opposes the president.
See the dilemma? Suddenly, Conindustria (which is a cousin of Fedecamaras) finds itself supposedly in the same boat as Chavecito. And yet, it’s not:
The last time the state intervened to resolve a strike, it also sided with the workers. It ended up seizing the company, steel maker Sidor, after management refused to give in to the union’s demands.
José Rodríguez, a leader of the steelworkers’ union, called the nationalization “a great success.” He said, “We always thought that the company should be in state hands.”
Some unions are now using the threat of government expropriation as a card in talks with the management of private companies. “That’s a nightmare for any company,” said Conindustria’s Mr. Gómez.
Horrors! It turns out that the state and the unions aren’t at each other’s throats after all, and Conindustria is NOT out to sea in the same small dinghy with big bad Chavecito while the sharks of the unions circle! Instead, the unions put pressure on for nationalization…and the state, embodied by Chavecito, LISTENED TO THEM!
In other words: the private sector is in that dinghy all by itself, out to sea with no land in sight. Democracy and the will of the working class prevailed at Sidor. Oh, the horror. The HORROR!
Now here’s another dilemma for the WSJ: What is this whole thing saying about the virtues of the private sector, supposedly the sun and the air as far as the economy is concerned?
Private-sector growth has slowed to a near standstill, despite a huge influx of oil revenue in Venezuela. The private sector contracted 0.5% in the first half of the year, while the public sector expanded 22%.
The government has been calling on businesses to boost investment but doesn’t recognize that “companies are choking” because of the union unrest, said Robert Bottome, head of Caracas-based economic publication Veneconomia.
What? You mean they don’t have boundless energy and innovation after all there in the godly, Christ-like private sector? They can’t just grow by themselves, as they claim they can? A little unimportant thing, like, oh, say, THEIR WORKERS, is “choking” them by simply not lying down and taking shitty wages and poor working conditions, the way they used to in the Good Old Days of Unfettered Capitalism (TM)? The days when Foreign Investment was pushed as a panacea for jobs and growth are well and truly over? And the glorious private sector is NOT the answer to everything? Oh mercy me! The public sector has expanded, call the Waaaambulance!
But wait, the funniest bit is yet to come…
At Sidor, labor protests have persisted even after the government took control of the company, with some workers making demands the government says it can’t meet. Operations at the steel mill have been disrupted because of the disputes, which involve outsourced workers who want to join the company’s payroll.
“Do they want to bankrupt the company?” Mr. Chávez asked recently, referring to Sidor. “Some unions just don’t understand.”
His response has been to try to centralize the unions mushrooming throughout the country under an umbrella organization close to the government. The man for this task is Labor Minister Roberto Hernández, a veteran communist leader. “The working class cannot play its decisive role in the revolution if it’s not united under the same flag,” Mr. Hernández said recently, addressing striking workers at the GM plant.
Well, wouldja look at that. An umbrella organization of revolutionary trade unions–run not by the “communist” Chavez, but an ACTUAL, capital-C Communist from the Venezuelan Communist Party, the PCV! And even funnier, the WSJ can’t sneer at this whole idea because it’s the only thing (maybe) keeping those uppity unionists in line.
The fact that it’s keeping them in line with Chavecito and his revolution is surely the funniest part of all. The only thing we need now is for the WSJ to admit that socialism really IS good for capitalism!