July 28, 2008

Hugo Chávez, Union Buster

Quico says: You gotta hand it to Chávez. We're almost a decade into this whole mess and somehow he still manages to surprise, to amaze even.

Yesterday's little outburst on the perverse power of State TV unions was one for the ages. The whole thing will have your jaw firmly pinned to the floor, but I especially enjoyed the bit 2:45 minutes into the clip:

Chávez (talking about VTV cameramen, in high outrage mode): "Check it out, they get eight hours' pay for each overtime hour worked! And if you want to change that, they raise a stink! Some of them make threats! That means, for every hour they work on a Sunday they get paid for eight! Because that's signed into what they call the...whatchamacallit?" (sp: lo que llaman...¿cómo es?)

Voice off-camera: "Collective bargaining agreement."

Chávez: "The collective bargaining agreement...on the government's dime!"
The whatchamacallit? The whatchamacallit?!?!?!

As I watched the clip, I got this heady sense of having struck a deep, rich vein of rant-fodder. It's just so richly textured, this one. It reveals so much. There are so many levels of fucked-upedness crammed in so compactly into this tirade. It's so, so meta.

To begin with, there's something almost oedipal about it. Here we have Chávez. Ranting. Against. VTV cameramen!!!

There is probably nobody else in the country Chávez owes more to than VTV cameramen. These are the people most conspicuously, most immediately responsible for making possible his whole government-via-cathode-ray shtick. In fact, when you watch the video, you're only able to watch it because one of the targets of the rant was still pointing a camera at the guy. There's something psychoanalytically radioactive about singling them out for an utterly weird tongue -lashing: he should be washing their feet!

Then there's the sheer narcissism. It's hard to shake the feeling that what really bugs Chávez is that people should demand to get paid extra to point a camera at him. He seems to think that's a privilege, not a job, that people should be lining up to offer to do that for free.

The whole tone of the tirade treats collective bargaining as a kind of ruse, a cheap trick, an unlikely excuse that those crafty cameramen had up their sleeve to bamboozle the poor, golden-hearted Marxist revolutionary government out of some cash. But wasn't the revolution supposed to be about improving working people's lives!? What the hell kind of communist is he!?

I especially like the use of the passive voice in the phrase "eso está firmado" ("that is signed") - a construction that handily draws attention away from the fact that the contract didn't just magically sign itself, that if it's signed it's because there are signatories, that a collective bargaining agreement is exactly that, an agreement between two parts, both of whose signatures are needed before it can go into effect.

Who signed the current VTV contract on behalf of the state? Hell if I know, but after 10 years in power, the chances are very high it was someone acting under Chávez's authority and on his behalf. What he's accusing the cameramen of, the degeneracy he slams them for, consists of expecting him to keep his word!

Probably the thing that winds me up most here is just the sniveling, cowardly choice of targets. Chávez might have taken this up with the union, with his minister, with whomever negotiated the contract, with the people who are actually responsible. But he doesn't. Instead, he prefers to humiliate the couple of flunkies who happened to be on the job that day, innocent bystanders in a verbal drive-by shooting. What a pathetic, bullying thing to do.

And then, it's impossible to miss the weird selectiveness of Chávez's concern for the wellbeing of the national treasury, as though it's overtime pay at VTV that's stretching the revolution's finances.

Is Chávez going to drive a similarly hard bargain with the Russians to ensure that the guys who build his tanks and submarines don't end up drawing lots of overtime pay on Venezuela's dime? Does he bully Raúl Castro when he sits down to negotiate those oil supply deals to try to get a better deal for the Venezuelan treasury? How about the workers building the Manabí refinery in Ecuador, will he insist they work for no pay so that costs don't become "unsustainable"?

How many of Cilia Flores's relatives on the National Assembly payroll is he going to buttonhole to get them to give up their overtime? When is he going to demand that Wilmer Ruperti volunteer his time as he ships PDVSA's oil? Or that Victor Vargas trade government bonds on a not-for-profit basis?

It's stomach turning, honestly. I hope this gets some play in the press. The SNTP (National Press Workers Union) needs to step up to the plate here, take a stand for itself and for its members. And oppo políticos should realize what a blunder Chávez's new pet cause - volunteer overtime - really is, and capitalize on it, politically speaking.

Last year, Nicolas Sarkozy got elected president of France on a promise to allow people to "work more so you can earn more." In France, the pitch came across as politically courageous: imagine, asking voters to work harder!

But Chávez has one-upped him, his new vision is "work more so you can earn less". Anything else he calls degenerate and pledges to fight.

It's a testament to just how out of touch the Fat Man in the Palace has gotten. Only someone very, very far removed from the day-to-day struggle to make ends meet that most Venezuelan families face could ever think this would play in Parapara. Normal Venezuelans want a government that honors their economic aspirations and works to help them realize them, not a government that randomly abuses them for wanting a better life.

This is some low-hanging fruit we're talking about here, people.