The Cosa Nostrification of Construction Workers' Unions


metro630kg-09José Torres, head of the Valencia Subway workers’ union (seen on the photograph) died yesterday of his injuries after been shot outside of his house two weeks ago.

Two weeks before his shooting, he publicly denounced the slow pace of progress on the Subway, due to insufficient personnel to finish the long-delayed project on time.

That wasn’t the only attempt against an union leader last month. Manuel Díaz, head of Venalum’s union in Guayana was wounded after being shot twice on his vehicle. Another worker in Caracas who was involved with an union was killed inside the UCV’s premises.

Last year 77 murders related with labor unions’ affairs happened in Venezuela, almost three times as many as in 2011, according to a report from NGO Venezuelan Observatory of Social Unrest (OVCS). The large majority of these kind of cases remain unsolved.

87% of those deaths are connected to the construction sector, which is more and more a glorified cover for organized crime. Certain unions simply threaten contractors to assign working posts to their people and infighting between rival groups usually ends in violence.

A problem which started twelve years ago with a worker’s death in the small town of Coloncito (Tachira State) has become something that has spread all across Venezuela.

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  1. The tough part of this story is that it’s really two stories in one…

    First you have a real problem with organized crime in the construction industry unions. That’s not so much a labour rights issue as it’s a law enforcement issue. It’s gangland stuff, pure and simple, and a lot of the bodies that pile up are just a product of that.

    In parallel you have a labour rights issues, where various labour movement guys who are inconvenient to powerful people end up getting killed.

    The trouble is that there’s no easy way to tell if any one killing belongs to one category or the other, or a little bit to both. There’s an obvious incentives for killers of the second category to try to make their crimes look like they belong to the first. And since CICPC is about as much use as an ashtray on a motorcycle, we mostly never find out…

      • Yes i mean construction. Sometimes when fixing your home front wall or doing minor repairs at your house a sindicato appears. They always base their claims in clausula de enganche which means you have to employ 75% union worker. Legally this only applies if you belong to one of the signatories chambers of the contrato colectivo de la construccion . This is like this because Chavez never convert this contrato colectivo into normativa laboral (normativa laboral means it applies to you even if you are not signatory). Usually if you want to work with your own people you pay what they call “cuota sindical” which is some kind of bribe. If you don’t comply they usually steal things, damage encofrado (scaffold) or beat your workers pretty badly. They usually wait in hardware store if you buy cement or sand they follow you to see if you have a construction going on. Also contrato colectivo de la construccion is estimated to markup the price of a worker salary by 420%.

  2. ‘He wasn’t the only Venezuelan union leader to survive an attempt against his life last month’…..

    Um, he didn’t survive.

  3. Union labor contracts establish that up to 90% of all the vacancies must be filled with workers “nominated” by the union leaders. “Commission” for getting the job is between one and three month salaries. Anyone remembers Chicago mobs?

  4. The pran-ification of Venezuela’s labour movement means that an important mechanism for self-defence against the state is discredited. Solidarnosz was able to play a leading role in the defeat of Polish communism because it could unify all sectors under a moral leadership.

  5. Interesting. The murders of Colombian labor union members was a big issue in ratifying the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Colombia. There were deaths at the hands of paramilitaries, but there were also situations that were over internal feuds and power disputes. But regardless, they were used to make the point that Colombia was a dangerous place to be in a Union. What if you applied that same criteria to Venezuela? Maybe Venezuela is the most dangerous place to be a Union member in South America


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