May 22, 2017
This article is translated from the May 9 issue of Combat Ouvrier (Workers Fight), the paper of comrades in Guadeloupe and Martinique, two islands that are French overseas departments in the Caribbean.
On May 1st, textile workers demanded a wage increase to more than $11 a day (800 gourdes, the Haitian currency).
In the capital city of Port-au-Prince, nearly 500 people defied the police by marching from Sonapi Park in the industrial zone to the president's residence at the Field of Mars. The majority were workers from the textile companies, supported by students.
Four trade unions were present, as were the comrades of OTR, the Revolutionary Workers Organization, demonstrating with the slogan of raising the minimum wage. The demonstrators chanted, “800 gourdes minimum per day,” and, “Slow down the pace of work!” Their signs exposed the high cost of living and the lack of health insurance, for which deductions are always made by the bosses without services to workers ever being paid for.
The Haitian government, serving the bosses, renamed May 1 “the Festival of Agriculture.” The government organized an agricultural fair at the Field of Mars to fool working people and divert them onto a different path than struggle. But worrying that the protesters might disrupt the fair, the new president Jovenel sent police to arrest the demonstrators anyway. On the road the marchers encountered the police and their armored vehicles. They faced off for over an hour. The workers sang, “When we are hurt on a machine, we never see the police.” The workers explained to the police that they also are children of poor neighborhoods and that they should not obey the orders of the bosses. In the end the police did not shoot. They followed the march and blocked it 200 yards from the Field of Mars.
Union speakers demanded the pay raise to 800 gourdes a day. The speaker from OTR explained why this wage should be paid in dollars. The bosses get sales revenue in dollars but pay the workers in gourdes, which is a currency that loses value. A wage paid in dollars would not lose value.
No president will make this adjustment. Only pressure exerted by mobilized, angry workers will force the bosses to make it.
The morning of May 1, President Jovenel wanted to calm this anger in advance by decreeing a raise of 50 gourdes per day. This would only raise the pay from $4 a day now to $5 a day. The workers replied, “That’s miles away from 800 gourdes ($11)!” and they are still mobilized in the industrial zone.