By MARTY GOODMAN
Beginning on May 19, thousands of textile sweatshop workers in Haiti walked off the job or laid down inside their textile assembly plants to protest their starvation wages. The workers are demanding a raise from $4.67 per day to $12.47 per day, a raise not tied to increased production quotas for workers. Many bosses do not pay the minimum wage. Workers are also demanding meal, transportation, and housing subsidies, which consume much of the worker’s miserable income.
The recent wave of protest subsided by May 29, with marches estimated at up to 18,000, but the struggle is far from over.
Militants say the workers’ upsurge has been partly spontaneous and partly organized by PLASIT–BO, a coalition of the independent textile unions throughout Haiti that are affiliated with Batay Ouvriye, including SOTA-BO in Port Au Prince; SOKOWA in Ouanaminthe; and SOAGH in Caracol. Some 40 union organizers have been fired in the course of the upsurge.
Georges Sassine, president of the Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH), despite the daily firing of union organizers, called strikers “outlaws.” The ADIH was forced to suspend business on May 19, 20, and 22.
Workers struck in the Haitian capital of Port au Prince, including at the big SONAPI industrial park. Thousands of workers marched into the capital on May 19 from Carrefour, a town a few miles away. Textile workers also walked off the job in the northern towns of Ouanaminthe and Caracol.
There are about 40,000 workers in textile assembly plants, run by international apparel companies and their outsourced partners in Haiti. Many plants in Ouanaminthe are owned by Dominican capitalists, whose anti-Haitian racism is notorious.
Working-class anger was brought to a boiling point by a new 13% government tax on all workers, supposedly to pay for basic social services—services not received by the masses and often simply pocketed by corrupt officials. The new tax on workers was on top of a hike in gasoline taxes, imposed by the current U.S./World Bank puppet, Haitian President Jovenel Moise. The gas tax increase was a deal between the government and corrupt unions.
The gas tax ripple effect, besides its immediate impact on small taxi and passenger vehicles called tap-taps, will be on all workers and Haiti’s vast unemployed, which stands at 40.6% (2010 estimate), 50% for women. Many jobs are informal, only marginally better than unemployment. Added to that is a punishing inflation rate of 12.4% (2016 est.) on consumer prices.
About 54% live in poverty. Roughly 2.5 million Haitians, out of a population of 11 million, live in extreme poverty (below $1.25 per day), mostly in rural areas.
In response to protests, the Haitian police fired gas, shot rubber bullets, and sprayed protesters with water containing a rash-inducing chemical. Of the rubber bullet victims, at least one woman was severely injured, knocked down when struck in the head.
Cops blocked the doors at one factory to not let workers leave work and join the protests. At the Sewing International factory, many workers stopped work to join the demonstration, but were locked inside by management. Eventually, they were able to join the march.
The Haitian cops are backed by a U.S./UN occupation force called MINUSTAH, which has not interfered directly in the recent protests—so far. The imperialist occupation began under Bill Clinton in 1994, with the support of “socialist” Congressman Bernie Sanders, and was renewed under George W. Bush in 2004. It is there to implement the austerity policies of the U.S.-dominated World Bank and crush possible revolution.
U.S. imperialism has been central to the present crisis. Memos obtained by Wikileaks revealed that the U.S. State Department during the years 2003 to 2010 worked with Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Levi’s to block an increase in the minimum wage in the hemisphere’s poorest nation. Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, pressured the Haitian government to block raising the minimum wage from $1.75 a day to $5 a day, a demand of mass mobilizations. The bosses wanted $3 a day and got it, thanks to Hillary Clinton.
Article 137 of the Haitian Labor Code, passed under the Baby Doc Duvalier dictatorship, calls for an adjustment to the minimum salary every time the cost of living index registers an increase of more than 10%, often much higher. No Haitian government, be it a dictatorship or the elected capitalist government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has implemented the Labor Code.
Termination of the TPS?
On May 22, some 58,000 Haitians who fled to the U.S. after the 2010 earthquake, received a six-month extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), granted for natural disasters or war. The Trump administration had threatened cancellation of TPS for Haitians. The reversal came after Haitian advocates organized protests and received favorable newspaper editorials and statements from politicians.
Recently leaked Department of Homeland Security (DHS) e-mails reveal racist efforts to demonize Haitians as criminals and welfare cheats to justify termination of TPS. The extension granted by the DHS falls short of the usual 18-month extension. DHS Secretary John F. Kelly’s announcement stressed that this is likely the last extension and that TPS holders should “attain travel documents” for a return to Haiti. Haitian TPS will be reviewed again in January 2018. The announcement said conditions in Haiti had greatly improved—a boldfaced lie!
The DHS’ assertions were challenged by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). The 2010 earthquake killed as many as 200,000 people and destroyed much of its infrastructure. A post- earthquake cholera epidemic killed over 9500 Haitians and sickened over 800,000 people after the UN’s Nepalese contingent contemptuously dumped human wastes into a river used by Haitians for drinking and bathing.
The UN stonewalled blame for the epidemic until August 2016, despite scientific studies proving UN culpability (see SA Sept. 2016). Moreover, last October, the most powerful hurricane in 52 years, hurricane Matthew, wiped out crops, and livestock, and was the cause of a food and potable water shortage in Haiti’s southwest.
The DHS statement also stated: “96% of people displaced by the earthquake and living in internally displaced person camps have left those camps … 98% of these camps have closed.”
Lie! Many were reclassified as “permanent housing,” because residents added to their makeshift shanties. In addition, many were driven away by landlords. Nevertheless, an estimated 50,000 still live in unsanitary, unsafe tent cities—seven years after the earthquake!
Expulsions by Dominican Republic
Meanwhile, the racist Dominican government has continued its practice of expelling migrant Haitian workers and Dominicans of Haitian origin. Many have fled the Dominican Republic out of fear of expulsion or racist attacks. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an organization linked to the UN since 2016, about 111,400 people, or 92,000 households, have crossed the Haitian-Dominican border since July 2015.
Georges Marc Desmangles of the Zile Foundation, a binational organization working on the Haitian-Dominican relationship, states that returnee Haitian migrants who remained for many months to cross the Haitian border from Anse to Pitres, “were accused of bringing the cholera epidemic.”
“Migrants from the bateys (plantation work camps) have been severely affected. Thus, they are afraid of being caught up and repatriated under inhuman conditions at any time. It is the same for workers in construction and hotels.”
Dominican cops will seize your identity papers and then tear them apart before your eyes, said Isidro Bellique Delmas, a member of the Reconoci.do movement, an independent national civic network composed mainly of Dominicans of Haitian origin who promote human rights. Delmas, 28, was able to find his documents of identity only after at least eight years of struggle.
Some 1000 Dominican troops will join 1500 soldiers regularly stationed along the border, it was announced May 3. Border “security” was enhanced by U.S. advisors. Dominican spokespersons have cited US deportations as an example to follow.
In 2013, the Dominican government targeted Dominicans of Haitian descent with a racist court decision, known as “La Sentencia 168/13,” an immigration ruling that stripped citizenship rights from more than 200,000 individuals whose families had migrated to the DR since 1929. So far, the government has deported tens of thousands to Haiti, even though many are not Haitian citizens. Many have never even been to Haiti or speak Haitian “Kreyol.” More than 100,000 have crossed into Haiti as the result of the threat of deportation and/or mob violence.
Human Rights Watch called upon Dominican authorities “to halt expulsions of denationalized Dominicans, to promptly restore their citizenship, and to respect their right to a nationality.” Amnesty International also called for an end to deportations.
For decades, Haitians were brought to the DR by corrupt politicians on both sides of the Haiti/DR border to work in sugar cane fields under conditions called “modern day slavery.” Today, Dominican-Haitians also work in the service sectors, where they face discrimination. The Dominican government, a staunch anti-communist U.S. ally, has historically promoted “anti-Haitianism.” Everything Haitian—whether skin color, culture, or religion—is degraded.
U.S. policy is to blame for the misery of the Haitian masses. Their conditions cry out for international solidarity.
(See RapidResponseNetwork on Facebook for updates on the fight to increase the minimum wage in Haiti.)