Workers Shot, Reporter Killed in Fight for Increased Wages

Note:  A big thanks to those who lent their solidarity to the workers and peasants of Batay Ouvriye during RRN’s emergency Summer/Fall 2021 fundraiser! Thanks to you we surpassed our $10,000 goal. Your support played a role in helping these workers through a very difficult time, so that they could organize this current campaign for 1,500 gourdes.

Thursday, February 24, 2022
Port Au Prince, Haiti

Since February 9th, Haitian garment workers have been striking and taking the streets of the capital Port Au Prince to demand an increased minimum wage of 1,500 gourdes per day ($14.41 USD) from 500 gourdes per day ($4.80 USD).

Since the start of these mobilizations, workers and their broad base of supporters have been met with tear gas and police repression. But yesterday, February 23rd, the repression reached a new intensity with one reporter shot and killed, reports of two other people injured and sent to hospital, and a worker who took two bullets to the leg is also in hospital. Several people were grazed by bullets and tear gas canisters launched at workers and protestors.

REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol
REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

The strike action and march on Wednesday, February 23rd was a response to the government’s insulting offer of 685 gourdes per day ($6.50 USD). For perspective, one egg costs about 50 gourdes. One banana costs about 25 gourdes. A plate of spaghetti from a lunch vendor costs about 100 gourdes. Transportation to and from work costs about 200 gourdes per day. Meanwhile inflation and the costs of all goods continue to rise, decreasing the value of the Haitain gourde and making it impossible for workers to pay rent, feed themselves, their families, or send their children to school. What are workers supposed to do with 685 gourdes? It’s a slap in the face.

By law, the minimum wage is supposed to be adjusted annually for inflation. It has not been adjusted in three years. In the press conference video above on Tuesday, February 22nd, Telemark Pierre of the union SOTA-BO, explains that the workers do not accept the government’s offer, and that the workers will continue to mobilize.

Pierre also exposed factory owners’ level of theft and exploitation in speaking to the press. The brands produced in Haiti, like Gildan, Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, UnderArmour, Gap, and Walmart pay Haitian factory owners like Clifford Apaid, Charles Baker, and Alain Villard in US dollars. The owners pay workers in Haitian gourdes, meaning they instantly pocket a profit in this exchange. On top of this, Haitian workers receive the lowest wage in the western hemisphere, allowing factory owners to make millions of dollars in profits. The brands make billions. The money is there for a meager 1500 gourdes per day (less than $15 USD PER DAY, not per hour).

Factory owner Clifford Apaid is one of the 10 richest people in Haiti. He comes from one of Haiti’s most powerful families, dominates the factory owner lobbying group, the Association of Haitian Industries (ADIH), and also holds a level of power over the interim prime minister, Ariel Henry. Despite the immense level of his personal (about $350 million USD) and family wealth, he leads the effort of factory owners to resist wage adjustments and increases, along with consistently repressing workers’ legal right to organize.

In the above video, the woman yells to the police:

“What we, the workers, are demanding is just! You should not be teargassing us. These are your mothers out here! You can’t do that! The only reason you are able to stand here today as a police officer is because you had a mother who worked in a factory! These are your mothers!!”

The workers hold broad support from neighborhood associations, human rights organizations, progressive political organizations, economists, street merchants and vendors, and even some politicians. Thousands of people have filled the street as workers or supporters of their demands. This is significant, as there have not been mobilizations of this scale in Port Au Prince since the assassination of former president Jovenel Moise and the increased power and violence of street gangs who control much of the city.

These workers have contributed to a shift from fear to fighting back. Many people, besides the workers, have been in the streets to make sure that the mobilizations can continue, contributing to blockading streets, sending tear gas canisters back to the police, protecting each other from arrests and police attacks.

This struggle is one we can all relate to. Across the US, workers and laborers are going on strike and organizing for better wages and working conditions. Around the world the people are struggling to keep up with costs of living as corporations see record profits. We can learn from the example of Haitian workers’ unrelenting struggle to organize and fight against domination and exploitation. When we are all organized, international solidarity truly comes to life!

February 17th, 2021 REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol
February 17th, 2022 REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

The RRN has received reports that the strike and march attempted for today, February 24th, was dispersed before it could start. Police surrounded the Sonapi Industrial Park, the regular starting point of marches, firing gun shots into the crowd. But, the struggle is not done…  because their fight is just, and their demand is a dire necessity. Some workers have been fired for their union activity. More firings are expected. Paychecks will be short because of the time off of work.

If you can lend solidarity in the form of a donation for workers struggling to both eat and keep the fight going, it is much appreciated. The RRN works with the trade unions affiliated with the independent Haitian workers movement, Batay Ouvriye (BO). SOTA-BO is the union in Port Au Prince that has been at the forefront of this current mobilization. Your donation will be sent directly to Haiti to support these union members.

Click here to DONATE.

PS:  Thank you again if you gave during the Summer/Fall 2021 fundraiser to help Haitian workers and peasants with Batay Ouvriye continue organizing! Your donations provided important funds to help workers meet costs of living and for meetings to continue happening among workers and peasants. Can you spread the word to friends, family, coworkers, classmates to tell them what’s going on and ask them to lend their support?

Thank you for your Solidarity!

Kenbe Fem/Stay Strong
Batay L’ap Kontinye/The Struggle Continues
Mesi anpil/Thank you very much!


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