May 1, 2020 – This International Workers Day the streets of Port Au Prince, Haiti will remain relatively quiet. Instead of thousands of textile workers filling the streets with loudspeakers, speeches and songs of protest and demands, they will gather in small, socially distanced groups to discuss a new development in their struggle – COVID19.
These workers face an impossible decision – die from staying home with no way to eat and pay rent. Or, go to work to risk your life for exploitation wages.
After declaring a state of emergency on March 19 which shut down industrial parks, the Haitian government alongside the Haitian Association of Industrialists (ADIH) announced in mid-April that factories would reopen to produce cloth masks and medical garments.
There is no real healthcare system or infrastructure in Haiti. Hospitals barely exist. Social distancing is not possible when the only forms of transit are crowded tap-taps and motorcycle taxis.
Wages are still not enough at around $5 USD per day. Harassment, union-busting, impossible quotas and illegal firings remain the norm. While government officials and factory owners continue to stay home, workers are told it’s safe enough for them to get back to producing goods for export and consumption in countries like the US and Canada.
WORKERS MAKE SOCIETY, PANDEMIC OR NOT
US workers in the meatpacking industry face a similar situation as Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to keep workers producing cheap meat, even as they fall sick to the virus and adequate testing is not in place.
It’s almost like [the plant’s owners] don’t care about us,” the worker said. “Just keep production going, keep the money coming in, whatever they can do to just keep going, that’s how I feel. … And I know I’m not the only one who’s actually scared.
Workers around the world are being compelled to risk their lives to keep society fed and functioning. But this is always the case, whether there is a pandemic or not, as stated by Haitian workers’ movement, Batay Ouvriye (Workers Struggle):
We must go on with our demands. We must go to work in an organized way. And, we must be ready to leave if the capitalists and the government put our lives beneath their will to accumulate profits… Whether going to work in optimal or in pandemic conditions, the continuation of society has become the international responsibility of our class of workers worldwide, as our labor aligns with the interests of humanity.
Today for International Workers Day, Batay Ouvriye workers and organizers continue their struggle. They are meeting in small, social distanced groups, to discuss their May Day leaflet, to struggle around the path forward, and to circulate these ideas among their neighbors, co-workers, families, and friends. The momentum of organization and resistance continues. It just takes another form.
They continue to struggle with factory owners and the government for safety precautions, wages, and protection from retaliation when workers feel their health and safety is at risk.
As these workers continue to fight exploitation and also produce face masks that we will likely consume here in the US, let’s lend them our solidarity. Please make a donation to support their struggle.
Since April and before, many of the textile workers with Batay Ouvriye have been out of work due to both illegal firings and factory closures. They need financial support to keep the fight going.
We are all facing unknowns and precarious situations, but many of us still retain a level of stability completely foreign to Haitian workers even in normal times.
Donations in every amount are important and are sent directly to Haiti to help cover costs like:
- Costs of printing leaflets (Click here to read the full leaflet that was circulated throughout April)
We support Batay Ouvriye because they are independent and autonomous from political parties and non-governmental organizations. They are building a genuine people’s movement where textile workers, poor peasants and neighborhood groups decide the path forward… something needed the world over.
Give what you can this May Day. Make a donation. Then start thinking and talking about ways to get organized yourself, because our struggles are interconnected.
Thank you so much.
Batay L’ap Kontinye/The Struggle Continues.
Solidarity Forever <3
Get in touch if you have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org