May 1, Labour Day: “Work Yes! Slavery No!”


HSG from Port-au-Prince, 01-05-2012
A small crowd of civil society activists and workers assembles outside the huge barriere gates of the SONAPI free trade assembly plant zone near the Port-au-Prince airport. It is May 1st, Labour Day so the crowd sets out down Blvd. Toussaint Louverture, past the ominous watchtowers of a nearby UN base, with our very own motorcycle outriders protecting us from the swerving tap-taps and trucks, to march to the Haitian parliament. The aim? To bring Labour Day and the right to collectively organise, protest and negotiate that it represents to a country where employers still refuse to recognise anything of the sort and where the parliament is considering legislation that would allow night shift work to be paid at the same rate as day work, a direct contravention of the national Labour Code.

The numbers are depleted, Batay Ouvriye’s organisers report, because employers have bribed and coerced workers into staying at their benches inside the SONAPI factories with a day rate of up to 500 Haitian Gourdes, more than three times the minimum wage, which is, in itself, well below the 200 Gourdes a day minimum wage the same employers successfully resisted three years ago. That legislation was protested with a mass march on the same route we follow today.

As we head down Lower Delmas, picking up more marchers in Bel Air, the working class neighbourhood that has suffered so much repression for more than a generation now, we learn just how important international solidarity can be. All but two of the trade union organisers whose dismissal HSG and other international groups vigorously protested last year have been reinstated.

Just to remind such employers that trade unionists are here to stay, we leave our imprint everywhere, flyposting leaflets that have a unique resonance in Haiti: “Travay Wi! Esklavay Non!” [“Work Yes! Slavery No!”]. More than two hours later we arrive at the concrete barricades that seal off the street in front of parliament. Dusty, worn out, thirsty, we are a collective metaphor for the country: scruffy but unbowed. One of our number collapses, fainting from dehydration and sunstroke, but is quickly revived by a posse who carry her into the shade and sprinkle her with cold water. Resilence, resistence, ressurection, revival — the real Haiti brought to you by real Haitians.

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