Thursday 10 April 2008

THIS is how you deal with a housing crisis, Helen

A private company got in the way of the Venezuelan government's plans to improve housing - and tried to starve its workers into submission, into the bargain. So it has been simply nationalised. If Michael Cullen had shown this kind of nerve when Toll Holdings were holding the government to ransom about buying back our trains, we would all be better off. It's also important that this decision of the Venezuelan government has not been made with dollar signs (or even bolivar fuerte signs) in mind, but on the basis of what's good for the people of Venezuela - in this case, making sure there's enough steel and concrete to build drastically needed houses. Will our government take similar measures to solve our own crisis of skyrocketing rents and housing shortages? Hardly - everything is geared to protect the profits of private capitalists first. And that's why Labour is not worth voting for, and why we need a new party that will put working people's interests first.
Chavez to nationalize Venezuela's top steelmaker by Ana Isabel Martinez Reuters 9 April 2008 CARACAS - Venezuela will take control of the country's largest steelmaker in the second major takeover of foreign businesses in a week as president Hugo Chavez resumes his socialist drive to nationalize key industries. Just days after Chavez announced the takeover of the cement industry, his government said on Wednesday that steelmaker Ternium Sidor would fall back into state hands, sending the Argentine-controlled company's shares tumbling. Chavez increased state control of swathes of the oil-rich economy in a multi-billion dollar campaign last year, but had spent recent months focusing on day-to-day issues like crime and trash collection after voters rejected his push for wider powers in a December referendum. Venezuela's vice-president Ramon Carrizalez said parent company Ternium would be compensated for the takeover and could even stay on as a minority partner, but accused it of an arrogant attitude toward employees. "In this government, the worker comes first," he said. The leader of the union at the sprawling Ternium Sidor complex about 500 km southwest of Caracas said workers were pleased with the decision, made after months of short strikes in a fierce labor dispute with the company. "We are here celebrating in an assembly the decision that Sidor returns to state hands," leader Nerio Fuentes told Reuters. Ternium's New York-listed shares fell 9 per cent to $35.20. It pleaded with Chavez in a letter to intervene and find a "constructive solution" to the nationalization. Chavez first threatened to take over the steel firm last year, during the takeover of oil projects and telecom companies. He renewed his nationalization campaign last Thursday by ordering the takeover of the country's largest cement companies, which are all foreign run. He has also threatened in the past to nationalize banks and food companies. CHAVEZ'S COMPLAINTS Criticized by supporters for shortages of low cost housing, Chavez complains the steel and cement industries do not put a high enough priority on supplying the domestic market, and he will almost certainly now force them to change. "The takeovers of both cement and steel industries will be used to breathe new life into construction in Venezuela as well, especially in the form of lower tier housing," Lehman Brothers analyst Gianfranco Bertozzi said in a research report. Last year's nationalizations targeted US and European companies, but the latest wave has also included companies from Latin America. Carrizalez said he did not expect the steel nationalization to hurt relations with Argentina, a close ally with whom Venezuela shares debt and trade co-operation deals. Ternium, with a market capitalization of about $7.7 billion, is controlled by Argentine conglomerate Techint. Chavez is a former paratrooper who tried to seize power in a botched coup in 1992. Since winning power at the ballot box in 1998, he has implemented much of his coup-era manifesto to re-nationalize companies privatized by prior governments. Ternium Sidor was privatized in 1997. It produces about 4.5 million tonnes of liquid steel annually and has 5,600 unionized workers, plus more than 4,000 contract employees. It has struggled this year with sporadic strikes and growing worker anger at a drawn-out conflict over pay and conditions which turned ugly in March when a union leader was shot and wounded as workers and police clashed. Ternium's main operations are in Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina. For the fourth quarter of 2007, it reported a net profit of $221 million. Its holdings include steelmakers Siderar in Argentina and recently acquired Grupo Imsa in Mexico. The Venezuelan operation is 60 per cent controlled by Ternium, with the rest belonging to the state, workers and retirees. The cement takeovers, where the government wants a majority stake, include the Venezuelan assets of Mexico's Cemex as well as Switzerland's Holcim and France's Lafarge.

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