March 14, 2022
- As Haitian garment workers continue to fight for their rights, we in the US can learn from their example of independent organization.
- What follows is an update on the recent strikes in Haiti for increased wages, and a call to build independent organization here in the US.
In the last days of February 2022, Haitian garment workers were brutally repressed for taking the streets to demand an increased minimum wage of 1,500 Gourdes per day ($14.81 USD). On February 23rd, one reporter was shot and killed, with two others shot and several injured. You can read more about that update here.
In the days that followed this atrocity, workers continued their mobilization effort. On Thursday, February 24th, workers gathered in their usual location outside the Sonapi Industrial Park on Airport Road in Port Au Prince. As they waited for their sound truck to arrive, police opened fire on the assembled workers and their supporters, forcing them to disperse. Angered and undeterred, the workers gathered again outside the park the following day, Friday, February 25th. This time, they were attacked inside the industrial park with teargas when they attempted to gather more workers to join them. In response workers took the streets outside the park, burning tires and blocking the road.
These days of mobilization were in response to the government’s insulting wage adjustment of 685 gourdes per day ($6.50 USD), far from the workers’ demand of 1,500 gourdes ($14.81 USD). In their announcement on February 21st, the government also said they would offer lunch and transportation subsidies for workers. (Transportation to and from work costs about 200 gourdes per day.) But, no details or timeline about how or when these programs would be implemented.
The government also stayed quiet on the issue of production wages. In addition to the legal minimum wage set by the state, factory owners set a production wage based on a quota system. If workers reach their quota, they receive an additional wage above the minimum wage, sort of like a bonus… except even with this “bonus” their wages do not meet the costs of living. While this production wage is set by the private manufacturers, the government is supposed to also put forward a fair and legal suggestion of what this wage should be based on costs of living, inflation, etc. The government’s silence on this issue allows factory owners to continue their normal practice of setting quotas impossibly high, so that they never have to increase workers’ pay.
Additionally, workers who participated in the strike and mobilization continue to be illegally fired and harassed at work. If the unions are not present to push back, union workers become eliminated and blacklisted from work in the industrial parks.
Given this context, SOTA-BO in coalition with four other unions is shifting gears from the streets to dealing with firings, fighting factory owners on the production wage, and pressuring the government to follow through on their mention of subsidies. The unions told the prime minister, Ariel Henry, that he has until May to come up with a formal plan and to start implementing the promised meal and transportation subsidies.
CALL TO ORGANIZE!
While this situation is extreme in its brutality and clear-cut exploitation, the struggle of Haitian garment workers is universal… and most often, universally obscured. For example, in the constant and widespread coverage of the war in Ukraine, no attention has been paid to how this war affects Ukranian miners who have been in a battle to address their unlivable wages and incredibly dangerous working conditions.
As our feeds are flooded with news of monumental wars, climate crises, racism and xenophobia, one fundamental reality remains the same – the need for food and goods that are produced and distributed by workers and laborers who are always being compelled to work more for less. And, just as the workers in Haiti and Ukraine are fighting back, so are laborers and workers across the US. People are refusing low wages, forming new unions, and striking at factories and plants across the country.
At the same time, we are in a moment where the interests of profit have saturated every social and political issue, including labor. SEIU tried to block Puerto Rican teachers from doing what’s best for their interests. The AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center has collaborated with the US government to wage war on dominated countries and to limit the demands of workers in countries outside the US. If we want to shift to organizing for what’s best for workers, children, communities and the planet, then we need organizations that remain independent from profit motives.
This is why the RRN supports SOTA-BO and the other organizations affiliated with the Haitian workers movement Batay Ouvriye (BO). Different from many of the unions in the US and other imperialist countries, Batay Ouvriye has maintained its independence from political parties, nonprofits and union bureaucracies that try to cap the demands and struggles of workers. Without these constraints there is the possibility for laborers and workers to coordinate their efforts, to lend solidarity based on their common interests as the people who actually make society possible.
The RRN encourages all efforts towards organization, better wages and working conditions. The network actively supports those who are organizing independently with rank and file workers leading decisions about their struggles and interests. And, we want to support more independent efforts!
- If you have been thinking about getting organized in your workplace and you want to talk about what it means and looks like to do that independently, then get in touch!
- If you’re already organized and dealing with union bureaucracy and limitations, let’s talk about that too!
- Are you angry, frustrated and want to talk more about what it means to organize? Get in touch.
RRN is not an organization, but as a network we will work to put you in touch with folks already organizing independently.
Let’s get organized! Let’s build international solidarity!
Batay l’ap kontinye/The Struggle Continues