Clorox directors left in the dead of night, leaving massive debts and chucking hundreds of workers on the scrapheap. But the staff at its Venezuela plants are made of sterner stuff, writes PAUL DOBSON
The 780 Venezuelan employees of Clorox — a US cleaning products firm — staged a workers’ takeover of the company’s assets after the owners abandoned production and left for the US, leading to a closure and a lay-off of their entire workforce.
The workers, with support from the state, promised to reactivate and expand production.
“The owners of Clorox abandoned the country, their functions and legal responsibilities,” stated President Maduro. “We won’t abandon any worker… (the) socialist formula (is) firm abandoned, firm taken by the working class.”
During an inspection of the factories with the workers’ assemblies, Vice-President Jorge Arreaza explained that “this factory was abandoned in a bosses’ walkout, violating the rights of their workers and collaborating with the economic war (against Venezuela) by leaving the people without cleaning products… now, it has been liberated by its workers.”
He explained how the workers “were working normally until last Friday. When they arrived on Monday the gates were closed and afterwards they received a voicemail message on their phones from Oscar Ledezma,the president of the company, which said “we’re leaving Venezuela, we will deposit your pay off fee in the bank.”
On September 22 the workers’ assembly “sent a petition to the Labour Ministry and a reactivation of the plant by the owners was ordered — it was ignored, as they had already left Venezuela… so here we are, temporarily occupying the factory, fulfilling our role in these historic moments,” stated Arreaza on September 25.
Article 149 of the Venezuelan Labour Law legalises an “occupation and continuation of activities” in the cases of “illegal closure” when there is a “request from the workforce” for the “protection of the social process of work, the workers and their families.”
Luis Pinango, a representative of the workers, explained: “If this government had a capitalist vision, then today more than 780 workers would be without any hope of recovering our jobs.”
Clorox has been active in Venezuela since 1990. In a communication from California it reported that business in Venezuela “isn’t workable anymore,” highlighting inflation levels, retail price controls and “constant operational losses.”
Despite leaving behind massive debts to suppliers, workers and in social security payments, and leaving 780 men and women without jobs, the firm falsely assured the public that “we are working to support them through this transition.”
Clorox had received $21 million in heavily subsidised foreign currency since 2004 for the importation of raw materials and $1.75m, just this year, which allowed for low operational costs and retention of profit margins despite regulated prices of the sale of products.
Workers have now promised to return production levels to the 9,000-crate capacity of the plants, denouncing the owners who had kept production at 3,500 crates.
“These workers are committed to assuming the responsibility of running the company according to the needs of the country,” explained Labour Minister Jesus Martinez. “They aren’t debating a pay rise nor a collective contract… to deepen this revolution the workers must assume their historical responsibilities… what we are expecting from the working class is an attitude such as that taken (at Clorox).”
Workers explained that the owners had fled with production manuals, account details, supplier details and employment records, hindering the reactivation of production.
“We have the task of starting to reconstruct information,” explained the special temporary board of administration, which is made up of representatives of the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry for Industry, the Ministry of Labour, the President of Fair Prices and representatives of the workers from both factories and the Clorox administrative HQ in Caracas.
“We hope to reach full production in the next few weeks,” Arreaza said, flanked by workforce.
The workers added that “the government is with us, we say to the people, and the entire world, who buy our products — they will be back on the shelves.”