Employees of oil companies in Venezuela have protested against an ultimatum by President Hugo Chávez's government to embrace the socialist revolution or face the sack.
Hundreds of workers picketed a refinery yesterday and said they would mobilise next week to challenge the politicisation of the state oil company, PDVSA.
The unrest followed a government warning this week that employees would be suspected of subversion unless they joined pro-Chávez trade unions and community groups.
The minister said the nationalised oil industry, which drives Venezuela's economy, must advance the president's radical agenda. "The oligarchy has to fear us, because we hate the oligarchy.
PDVSA will be here at the forefront of the revolution under the leadership of Commander Chávez." Oligarchy is government shorthand for opponents.
The minister, who doubles up as head of the oil company and is a close ally of the president, added that he would not negotiate a collective labour
contract "with any enemy of Chávez".
Union leaders condemned the comments as an attack on workers' political rights and said they would march in protest.
The oil industry has been at the heart of Venezuela's transformation under Chávez since he defeated a strike by PDVSA workers in 2002-03. Thousands of employees were sacked and replaced with government supporters, who swelled the payroll to 80,000.
To bypass inefficient ministries, Chávez entrusted the company with an operating income of $126bn (£77bn), with multiple tasks such as adult education, food distribution and bicycle manufacturing.
But production has slumped by a quarter and after prices tumbled from last year's peak and the company, once an Opec powerhouse, has struggled to pay creditors and employees who were absorbed by PDVSA after recent state takeovers of private oil contractors.
It's worth noting that Venezuela's oil production is expected to drop another 9% this year. Since Hugo Chavez taking office, the South America country's oil production has gone from 3.2 mbpd (during the late nineties, when oil was dirt cheap), to 2.4 mbpd in 2008.