Haitian Workers Campaign against Slave Labour Conditions
Batay Ouvriye, Haiti, May 2012
The May Day activities took place as planned.
In Cap Haïtien, around 500 workers, from a number of factories and workplaces, as well as various allied organizations, marched through the City from Bannann to Vertières. They bore a message of mobilization and struggle, the slogans of their banners, placards and speeches proclaimed: “DOWN WITH THE OCCUPATION!”, “MAY DAY IS WORKERS’ FIGHTBACK DAY!”, “YES TO WORK, NO TO SLAVERY!”
In the Lower Central Plateau, a Batay Ouvriye march left our premises in “Kenp” to march through the nearby town of Lascahobas. Placards, posters, slogans and meetings helped to develop the understanding of all those spectating and participating. The Haitian-Dominican Workers’ Union, which unites workers on both sides of the border, played a large part in this event.
In the North West, Anse Rouge, to be precise, there was also a mobilization, resulting from an alliance of agricultural workers (day laborers) and small peasants (smallholders and share-croppers). Around 300 marched together throughout the area, something which is highly significant, as the area is currently the scene of extensive conflict between laborers and large landowners (“Grandon”) who want to expropriate them from the land they have always lived on. In this struggle, the most backward and reactionary “Grandon” have, naturally, been supported by petty corrupt state officials, supine parliamentarians and bought local magistrates. Our ‘democratic’ members of parliament (whose corrupt practices are being exposed for all to see) are engaged in an attempt to fundamentally restructure the country. The reality of what they are trying to do, alongside representatives of the trans-national companies, is to dispossess small peasants of the best lands in the country and hand it to the trans-nationals, with the aim of employing the ‘freed’ agricultural workers (i.e. those who have had their means of making a living taken away from them) at starvation wages, in the same way as they do those of the cities. The project that the imperialists want to impose, with the approval of the bought parliamentarians and carried out, using strong arm methods and lies, by the illegitimate executive is: “Free Trade Zones” on the one hand, and “Agro-industry” on the other. History will be the judge of those bloodthirsty plotters who have chosen to turn their back on genuine development in favor of a project that will be the end of us all. History will also be the judge of all those who supported and collaborated with them.
In Port au Prince, the demonstration alongside various allied organizations took place as planned. However, the number of workers participating was barely 10% of those expected. What the bosses had done was to offer their workers 500 Gourdes (!), more than three times the daily wage, to go into work on that day. Worse still, when we arrived at the gates of the SONAPI (industrial park), they had been locked. Attempts to get the workers inside to join the march were unsuccessful. On top of this, the police were putting pressure on us to leave the area. The May Day march was therefore made up of workers who had had the courage of their convictions and activists from progressive organizations. One thing we noted was that, because of those who decide what passes for news, there were only a handful of journalists present. Nonetheless, the march went ahead.
Along with our banners, placards, slogans and speeches, we symbolically retraced the route of the ‘Fight for 200 Gourdes’. Next, we passed through the Delmas 2 working class area, where the local population stood two deep applauding our slogans and taking some of our leaflets, without however joining the demonstration as we invited them to. The lesson is that, despite the understanding and support for the truths we were expressing, popular mobilization has not yet begun. Much work remains to be done in bringing together different sections of workers and other categories of the popular masses in defense of their genuine historical interests.
Downtown it was very rushed, which was a result of the demonstrators’ tiredness, but also of the limited general political consciousness where agitation and propaganda among small traders had been neglected.
In front of the Parliament, everybody was shouting slogans against the vicious, reactionary Anakasis draft legislation. The bourgeoisie has chosen a tame parliamentarian to push through vicious legislation whereby night work would be at the same rate as day work, on the pretext of “creating work for more people”. We denounce this nasty, spineless project as a crime against the Haitian people!
Our general demands are:
- Respect for workers’ right to organize as they wish;
- Stop arbitrary sackings – as they are fundamentally anti union;
- Respect for the law on the minimum wage;
- Readjust the latter with a perspective of creating a minimum of social justice, whereby those earning it can live!
- Rejection of the Anakasis law which calls for night work to be paid at the same rate as day work, in breach of the Labor Code, which states it should be paid 50% more;
- Demand that the authorities in place distance themselves from the neo-liberal project that has been wrecking the country since the ‘80s and which is daily forcing us further into a bottomless hole.
Prior to the May Day demonstrations, Batay Ouvriye had organized two days (28 and 29 April) of reflection on how re-energize Interunion May 1st– Batay Ouvriye (ESPM-BO). With workers present from Cap Haïtien, Ouanaminthe and Port au Prince, alongside agricultural workers’ unions from Archaie, the Lower Central Plateau, the Artibonite and the North West, this was an initial step forward.
It is the struggle, carried out with a perspective of self-organization, that will provide the answers as to how the working class should organize and how to mobilize the people.
[translated from Haitian by Andy Taylor]