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José Ramon Rivero: “In Venezuela, we are going against the tide of neo-liberalism”

Translated Friday 10 August 2007, by Patrick Bolland

Latin America: An interview with the Venezuelan labour minister, José Ramon Rivero, who describes the reform of working hours in Venezuela, recalling also the tensions between the Government and the Venezuelan Employers’ Confederation (Fedecamaras).

Huma: The working-time reform should start in 2010: six hours a day or 36 hours a week. In what way is this a “socialist proposal”, which is how you have refered to it?

José Ramon Rivero: In these times when capitalist governments are dismantling the historic gains won by the workers, reforming working time is obviously off-limits, out-of-order. In Venezuela, we are going against the tide of neo-liberalism. While the advocates of neo-liberalism plan to privatize social security, we are offering guarantees that this will remain public, universal and based on solidarity. They are advocating fragmentation of the role of the State, which, they say, should outsource its functions. As for us, we believe that to answer the numerous problems that we will be facing, the State has to be solid, strong, united, with clear policies. So this is a socialist programme with its origins in the labour movement. This proposal had also been supported by the professional and bourgeois sectors of the society, but they have gradually abandoned it after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since then, social rights have been lost.

Huma: Won’t this proposal also lead to higher levels of unemployment and encourage the informal economy?

José Ramon Rivero: The latest statistics indicate an unemployment level of 8.8%. The reform will above all change work practices. Companies will have to change their labour practices. We also hope that workers will benefit from their free time, by regenerating culture and art, through more university studies, sports, more family activities.

Huma: You see wage policy as one of the most important aspects of the government …

José Ramon Rivero: The minimum wage is now about $286 a month. It has gone up regularly over the last eight years, above the average inflation rate. Except the years of the coup d’Etat and the sabotaging of the petrol industry by the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) (in 2002 and 2003 respectively - editor’s note). This indicator is critical, since the minimum salary also determines pension payments. Every time the minimum wage goes up, we index pensions by the same amount. When President Chavez formed his first government in 1998, there were 356,000 pensioners (in a population of 26 million – editor’s note). Today there are 1,740,000. We were able to adopt this pension policy through the social security programme, which, in 1998, was about to be privatized.

Huma: How does the mixed economy function in Venezuela – with the private sector, the public sector, but also the cooperative sector?

José Ramon Rivero: Allow me to say that this has not been easy. The principle representative of the private sector, the Employers’ Confederation (Fedecamaras) has in the last few years conspired to overturn the government. Through a real and direct social dialogue, the government and the managers of cooperatives are looking for ways of establishing productive structures to solve the problems. Some sectors, such as car assembly plants, have direct links to the government, for lack of intermediaries. We have taken over 1,114 companies that closed down or were facing serious difficulties, with an overall budget for this of $520 million. Up to today, we have distributed half of this amount. Transnational corporations have also been nationalized. Others have been taken over because they had ceased production. GNP has increased by 7% over the last few years. We have now experienced 14 consecutive trimesters of growth. I want to insist that, in terms of growth, it is the private sector that has grown most. It’s unfortunate that the Fedecamaras doesn’t just represent employers but also operates as a political party.

Huma: At the International Labour Organisation, you have attacked the IMF’s responsibility in fomenting Latin American crises. Is this a confirmation that that Venezuela will be withdrawing from the IMF and move ahead with creating the so-called “Bank of the South” (Banco del Sur)?

José Ramon Rivero: The IMF’s policies and neo-liberal “economic packages” are at the root of impoverishment of new sectors of the population, of selling off nearly all state corporations in some Latin American countries … The least we can do is to denounce this mistaken policy. These institutions are in a critical phase. This “Bank of the South” will support States that promote political sovereignty. The bank is based on economic integration pacts, placing more emphasis on solidarity than profitability. Complementarity and multipolarity are essential to be able to counter the notion that there is one and only one hegemonic block, led by Washington, that believes it can make and unmake the world according to its own wishes.

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