Former Coke Workers in Venezuela on Protest

The audio for the BBC report is unavailable on NPR.org due to an agreement with the BBC.

More than 10,000 former workers of Coca-Cola's subsidiary in Venezuela are blockading bottling plants in the country. They say a Mexican-based Coke subsidiary owes them a large amount of money in unpaid social benefits.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

More than 10,000 former Coca-Cola workers in Venezuela are blocking the country's bottling plants and depots. They say a Mexican-based subsidiary owes them a large of money in social benefits. Coca Cola representatives in Mexico say this blockade is illegal. And we have more from the BBC's Greg Morsbach.

(Soundbite of chanting)

CROWD: Olé! Olé! Olé! Olé! Olé! Olé!

GREG MORSBACH: At this Coca-Cola plant in Caracas, around 500 former workers are blocking the exits and entrances. The lorries, which normally supply the shops, kiosks, and restaurants with drinks, are being prevented from leaving the factory. The protestors are demanding that millions of dollars in unpaid social benefits, such as pensions and severance payments, be paid immediately to them by Coca-Cola FEMSA, a Mexican-based subsidiary of Coke. But Coca-Cola FEMSA says this will put more than 7,000 jobs at risk here in Venezuela.

Mr. NIXON LOPEZ(ph) (Workers' Leader) (Speaking Foreign Language)

MORSBACH: This blockade is just the prelude to Coca-Cola being nationalized and turned over to the Venezuelan state, Nixon Lopez, the workers' leader told the BBC. We're showing the world, he added, that no multi-national company can just come here to humiliate Venezuelan employees. Mr. Lopez and his comrades have been backed by a special commission in parliament. The committee, consisting of leftist MPs, is looking at taking control of the firm if it refuses to hand out the missing payments.

This isn't the first time lawmakers loyal to President Hugo Chavez have threatened to take over the assets of big international companies here. President Chavez has himself spoken of seizing Venezuela's biggest phone company in a similar case to the Coca-Cola dispute.

INSKEEP: That's the BBC's Greg Morsbach.

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