This past Thursday, millions of Venezuelans remained home from work in order to participate in a mass strike intended to show displeasure with the regime of President Nicolás Maduro.
Government workers were mandated to come in despite the strike, so government-run facilities still continued to operate. However, the strike affected other parts of civil society, with the bus system of Caracas (the nation’s capital) grinding to a complete halt.
This strike is seen as backlash for President Maduro’s move to create a constituent assembly on July 30th, which will be used to change the Constitution. President Maduro has claimed that the changes are necessary for national stability, but the opposition claims it will undermine the power of the opposition-held congress.
The country’s largest business group, the Fedecamaras, had previously led the nation’s largest strikes back in 2002 and 2003. This time, they played a much more cautious role as they did not fully commit to a strike, and instead told members that they would not be punished for not coming in to work.
The last strike of this size was seen under the administration of Maduro’s mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez. The strikes are a sign of ever-growing discontent, signs that Chavez survived and even used as a catalyst to strengthen his position. It remains to be seen if Maduro will be able to do the same.
The current strike is just another sign of pressure on the Maduro regime as it grows more authoritarian during one of the nation’s worst recessions in history. The recession is attributed to low oil prices, the export of which accounts for more the 50% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The rampant inflation (up nearly 800% last year) and lack of access to basic goods, such as toilet paper and baby food have driven mass migration out of the country, as well as the rise of a massive black market.
The worsening economic conditions has led to a variety of increasingly violent protests among citizens looking for a regime change. In fact, more than 100 people have died since the protests intensified in April.
Meanwhile, the protest on Thursday resulted in three deaths and, at least, 300 arrests as protesters blockaded major roads within the capital and other major cities. This led to clashes between water cannon and tear-gas-wielding police with protesters firing fireworks and rocks in return.
The opposition claims that nearly 85% of the country took part in the strike, but for many in pro-government areas, life went on as usual. President Maduro himself remained unfazed by the protest, saying, “Work has triumphed, love, life, and hope; work has triumphed. They [the Venezuelan opposition] who have never worked, let them carry on not working, we are moving forward, comrades.”
The Labour Minister, Nestor Ovalles, also spoke out on the strike, discussing the repercussions for those private businesses that participated. “We’ll be closely watching, any disruption that violates the working class’ right to work,” Ovalles said, “Businesses that join the strike will be punished.”
With that said, it is unclear whether another strike will be planned, or if the strike has changed the government’s position on the assembly.