The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Haiti:
Workers’ Voices Are Heard

Aug 31, 2009

A correspondent from Haiti wrote this article, which appeared in the August 28 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

On August 4, some 12,000 to 15,000 workers of the industrial zone of the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, took over the streets of the capital to protest the endless negotiations over increasing the daily minimum wage to 200 gourds, equivalent to $5. The minimum wage in effect since 2003 is $1.75. These workers come from Sonapi Park, an industrial zone of subcontractors working mainly for U.S. companies.

This demonstration coincided with a debate in Parliament concerning this new minimum wage of 200 gourds. After Parliament voted on the law, the bosses of the subcontracting companies unleashed a barrage of loud complaints, crying “catastrophe.” The president of Haiti, René Préval, proposed a minimum wage of 125 gourds instead ($3.13 a day). The deputies had to state whether or not they agreed.

Waving tree branches, thousands of workers left Sonapi Park shouting their slogan “200 gourds right now.” They brought along comrades from other factories scattered on the route, arriving in front of the Parliament. The police claimed rocks were thrown. They violently dispersed the demonstrations with blows from clubs, tear gas, etc.

The workers didn’t give up. The next day, thousands of protesters took over the streets. Several hundred protesters made it all the way to the center of the capital, denouncing their extreme exploitation by the bosses.

On August 10, the police arrested two students who had come to Sonapi Park in support of the protesters. A large number were so shocked by this police action that they took two hours to go on foot to the police station where the two students were held. Protesters shouted, “Free the students and vote the 200 gourds.” A human wave surrounded the police station. The police chief was afraid, so he called out specialized units to disperse the crowd by shooting tear gas.

The next day, thousands of workers massed near Sonapi Park and poured out on the roads in the direction of the National Palace.

The way these demonstrations played out illustrated the lack of organization in the working class. But these demonstrations allowed the workers to experience the enormous potential that exists in their common actions. In only a few days, these workers of the industrial zone freed themselves of the fear of losing their jobs. They had an experience which undoubtedly will serve them well in the future. They’ll remember the image of frightened bosses, when the workers’ procession came to call out their comrades still at work. They’ll remember the joy of some women workers, torn from the claws of their bosses, bursting out with sobs of joy as they left the factories to go join their comrades in the streets.

Although this brief mobilization frightened the bosses and their servants in the government, it won’t be enough to force them to retreat.

But Haitian workers may now understand that better working and living conditions don’t depend on the words of members of parliament, politicians and economists. It depends rather on their own capacity to organize to impose their demands on the bosses and their servants.

One more word: the two students arrested in Sonapi Park were released on August 18. The same day, the Chamber of Deputies – the majority of whom, according to a deputy from Cap-Haïtien, received bribes from the president and the bosses – voted for the 125 gourds – not the 200 gourds demanded.