Co-operatives in the service of casualisation
C.R. - Now let’s talk about the co-operatives movement. A Venezuelan friend said that the government’s co-operatives movement, in the last analysis, amounts to a sort of institutionalisation of labour precarity and black market work. He mentioned the recent (2007) strike by dustmen in part of Caracas, during which the strikers asked for Barreto, mayor of Caracas, to intervene - he who quotes Foucault and invited Toni Negri over. The mayor told them that he could do nothing, since they had accepted the transformation of the old company into a co-operative. Which meant that there was no collective bargaining, since the workers were considered to be associates of the co-operative on the same level as the administrators!
M. - Of course, we have a totally different idea of co-operatives. For us, a co-operative is an initiative which comes from below. For the Chavistas, on the contrary, enterprises in what they now call the “social economy sector” must operate in the form of state-aided co-operatives. Every day people start organising co-operatives - people who are totally foreign to the spirit and practice of co-operativism… because it is the quickest way of getting contracts and state credit! In many industries the law obliges the state to give priority of tenders to “co-operatives” above private enterprises. So many malign people have started creating co-operatives in order to win contracts with government bodies. That as the case with the public roads enterprise you mentioned. A private enterprise was thus transformed inter a co-operative to win the tender, and at a stroke the workers lost all their rights and bonuses.
They now have three-month renewable contracts, such that the “co-operativist” (in reality, the new name for the boss!) has no duties towards them. Thanks to this lie, after a few months it could be said that there were 200,000 co-operatives… All this in order to make propaganda showing that society has changed. But it is all artificial, created by decree.
I. - I would add that, after the oil workers’ strike, the government learned that it had to control the world of work. First it explained that the state would create a new form of organisation based on solidarity and where all workers would benefit from the same privileges. The co-operatives! At a stroke the government broke the services contracts it had with private companies (particularly for cleaning), which by law had to pay workers ‘social bonuses’. The workers were laid off and forced to seek temporary work with these co-operatives now dealing with the state. They lost the bonuses and rights which they had previously (in theory at least) had. Moreover, many of these co-operatives disappeared as soon as they were created. So we are witnessing, as your friend is right to emphasise, the casualisation of work.
the revolution delayed: a decade of hugo chávez