Haiti. The proletarians of the textile industry confront the bosses, the State and their henchmen
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 15; Winter 2018)
Haiti occupies one half of a Caribbean island that comes out of media anonymity only when a “natural” disaster – earthquake or hurricane – again pummels this small country that is among the poorest on the planet.
Unsurprisingly, the journalists’ silence is almost total when the proletarians mobilize to confront the bosses, the state and their henchmen.
This is what happened in 2017, a year marked by an important wave of strikes and agitation against poverty wages in Haitian factories, especially in the textile industry which employs 40,000 workers, mostly women.
STARVATION WAGES AND SAVAGE EXPLOITATION
Salaries in Haitian factories (360 Gourdes, $ 5.50 a day) are the lowest in the Americas. This daily wage officially corresponds to that of an eight-hour work day, but in reality, textile workers are paid by the job lot. To earn this pittance they have to work twelve hours or more and are paid less than 50 cents an hour. Moreover, the bosses do not respect the minimum wage and the majority of the workers have a salary that does not exceed two-thirds of the legal minimum. Haitian unions demand that the minimum wage be more than doubled to 800 Gourdes or about $ 12.50 per day, which would officially be $ 1.57 per hour. When we know that according to a report of the American union AFL-CIO (1), it would take an employee earning $ 23 per day to feed themselves and two children, we see that this demand is not excessive!
Moreover, these wages are amputated by inflation which affects the price of transport and basic needs.
These starvation wages combine with an extremely ferocious factory despotism. In industrial areas, proletarians are victims of the omnipotence of employers and the bludgeonings (literally and figuratively) of their goons who insult, humiliate, mistreat. Workers were fired on the spot for not bending their heads when they entered their factory, a real capitalist prison. In addition, proletarian women are doubly victims of these thugs who sexually harass and sometimes rape them.
OCCUPATION AND IMPERIALIST PILLAGE
Haiti is the caricature of a country subject to imperialism: if it is formally independent, it is the imperialist powers – and in the first place the United States – who reign supreme. This is the case in the textile industry. Most industrialists are Haitian or South Korean but they are closely dependent on US “multinationals” of which they are only subcontractors.
The Haitian proletarians produce for major American brands of underwear for men or women, jeans, work- or sportswear... Wretched wages are a boon for US vultures: salary costs for the manufacturing and packaging of two hundred shirts are covered by the selling price of one shirt..
The US government is doing everything it can to prevent an increase in wages that would increase production costs. A cable released by WikiLeaks in 2011 showed that the US Obama administration has maneuvered to prevent raising the minimum wage to $5 a day (2).
The imperialists also intervene directly against the proletarians with their henchmen – the troops of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) (3) – who reinforce the Haitian police.
THE REVIVAL OF WORKERS’ COMBATIVITY
Despite this difficult context – factory despotism and neocolonial occupation – Haitian workers have struggled.
From May to July 2016, the industrial zone of Port-au-Prince experienced a labor mobilization against low wages, slavery working conditions and the organized racket that is the increase in the cost of living. This movement has spread to other areas such as Sonapi Park, totaling about fifty companies. Confronted with the mobilization, the double game of the bourgeois was complete: the government played it “nice” by granting a salary increase of 25%, the bosses played it “mean” by refusing to apply this decision.
In May 2017, this challenge was confirmed and amplified. The proletarians went on strike in Sonapi Park to demand a salary of 800 gourdes, almost a tripling. They marched towards the symbol of bourgeois power that is the presidential palace, and blocked the airport.
The strike spread to other factories, particularly those located in the East, on the border with the Dominican Republic.
THE BOURGEOIS RESPONSE: SLANDER, RUBBER BULLETS AND TEAR GAS
The bourgeois retort has been multifaceted. The bosses, grouped in the Association of Industries of Haiti (AIDH), launched a wave of slander accusing “ringleaders” of forcing the workers to leave the factory. To slander was added the repression of the employers: lockout and firing of the strikers.
The cops also launched a big repressive wave with beatings, tear gas and rubber bullets. When the workers returned to their workstations and folded their arms to demonstrate their refusal to work, the riot police intervened and carried out beatings particularly against striking women. Many strikers were arrested and many fled from the cops as they feared for their lives.
This did not succeed in defeating the struggling workers who refused to give up.
THE BOSSES AND THE GOVERNMENT STEP BACK
At the end of May, the unions demonstrated massively and the bosses decided – under pressure – to compromise. The bosses of the AIDH said to the workers that the government was responsible for the refusal to increase the base salary. The president passed the hot potato to a class-collaborationist organization, the Council for Higher Salaries (CSS), whose members he designates. From a scoundrel, to a scoundrel and a half!
In the end, the president had to step back and on Thursday, July 27 officially proclaim the minimum wage be raised to 370 gourdes by adding 15 gourdes to the CSS proposal of 355 gourdes.
A PROLETARIAN SOLUTION FOR HAITI
This victory is undoubtedly very limited, but it shows that the Haitian proletariat has the capacity to make the bourgeois give in. However – and as elsewhere –this proletariat needs to reconstitute its class party.
The proletarian masses could oppose neither preparation nor organization when confronted with the preparation of the bosses and cops who defended democratic power and bourgeois property. Those who are conscious will have to draw this burning lesson. The proletarians can expect only the most unrestrained repression when they try to resist oppression and exploitation, which even worsens in times of crisis. The proletarians cannot rely on the bourgeois politicians and the organs of the bourgeois state, nor on the reformist political and union forces, verbally in the service of the workers, but in reality always ready to collaborate with the bourgeoisie.
As well as in the struggle for their immediate economic and social interests, the workers can only rely on their direct action and their independent class organization, they must organize their class self-defense during social confrontations with the forces of bourgeois repression.
Even if it is not an immediate prospect, the economic and social subsoil works in the direction indicated by Marxism: the communist revolution. To prepare for it, the proletariat has no other choice than to return to the class struggle, to the fight against the forces of social conservation, in responding, blow for blow, organization with organization, by international solidarity against the alliance between the bourgeoisies, by violent struggle against bourgeois violence.
And the revolutionary communists have the unavoidable task, if they do not want to renounce victory in the class struggle, to form the class party indispensable to the defense of the historical interests of the proletariat, to intervene in all struggles for the immediate interests of the proletariat in order to make them the “school of war of communism” against the national and foreign capitalists and the bourgeois state.
November, 1st 2017
(1) Report on the minimum wage in the textile sector (May 2014): https:// www. solidaritycenter.org/ wp-content/uploads/ 2014/11/ Haiti.Living -Wage-Study -FINAL -updated.3 -11-15.pdf.
The conclusion was that «Minimum wage violations in the Haitian apparel industry are widespread and egregious. The WRC’s research found that factories in Port-au-Prince fail to pay workers a third of their legally mandated wages. Average wages are even lower at the new Caracol factory complex despite the fact that the project was heavily subsidized with earthquake recovery funds from the United States government as a means of providing Haitians with a path out of poverty ».
(2) «WikiLeaks Haiti: “Let Them Live on $3 a Day”.The US Embassy aided Levi’s, Hanes contractors in their fight against an increase in Haiti’s minimum wage». https://www.thenation.com/article/wikileaks-haiti-let-them-live-3-day/
(3) The task of the Minustah mission was the “stabilization” of the country and the reestablishment of “the State of Law”, that is to say the stabilization of the established order and the defense of the bourgeois State, particularly by strengthening the police. It met the needs of the imperialisms and the local bourgeoisie, not the needs of the population and the proletarians in particular who saw the police repress them! Besides it has been established that the cholera epidemic that has hit the country with more than 9,000 deaths and 600,000 sick, has been caused by a contingent of UN soldiers. Finally, the blue helmets, acting as real occupation troops, were responsible for numbers of sexual crimes (as was also the case with NGO organizations)... involving thousands of soldiers, Minustah troops were commanded by various Brazilian generals. It was replaced in October by Minujusth with reduced numbers but retaining 7 of 11 police units of the Minustah. At the same time, the United Nations has nothing planned for the fight against cholera for which it is responsible: what interests the imperialists is the maintenance of the order not the health of the masses!
International Communist Party