Given the Haitian and foreign bosses’ offensive to try to intimidate to Batay Ouvriye in its fight without truce, particularly in the interest of the workers suffering from the tremendous exploitation of the Haitian dominant classes and imperialists under the label of «private sector» or “foreign investors», we find it necessary to clarify certain points, in order to respond to certain allegations and disinformation to the effect that Batay Ouvriye would be:
• An illegal organization;
• Against free trade zones;
• Against work, in other words, that by its spirit of combat, it would actually be seeking to “close factories”.
«A HIMALAYA OF CADAVERS… for… A PUERTO-RICO STYLE FUTURE!»
To all our detractors, we will begin by responding that Batay Ouvriye is a combative and independent movement born of the poorest and most exploited workers’ struggles and those of the popular masses in general. For Batay Ouvriye, one of the constants in the popular movement’s struggle is the deviation of its true fights by the dominant classes, with the objective of trampling over them, all the while seeking to take their direction. The history of the Haitian labor movement has demonstrated the necessity for the dominated classes to preserve their independence if they want to defend their own interests. This is why the representatives of the bourgeoisie, campaign to prevent Batay Ouvriye, an effectively independent organization, from developing organic relationships with the workers.
The bosses, through their own organizations (Ass. of Haitian Industrialists / Chamber of Commerce / Center for the Free Enterprise and Democracy…), clearly take political positions in various circumstances, while claiming to defend their economic rights in this. Yet they not only prohibit unions from defending workers’ political rights, but furthermore they contest the very existence of workers’ independent organizations, although in paper and words, they pretend to accept it. It is in this context that the bosses, on one hand, accuse Batay Ouvriye of being illegal and, on the other, allege that this organization defends political positions. The bosses know very well the relationships between the economic and political. The truth is that they wish to give the workers and their autonomous organizations their own directives. Management accepts to collaborate with leaders of union centrals to carry out politics - such as to fight against a government - but prohibit workers from doing politics in an independent way.
May all our detractors know that our May First Batay Ouvriye Union Federation is duly registered at the Ministry of Social Affairs and of Labor, with the number STA4-00760, since the year 2001. Registration renewed on October 1st, 2003, expiring in 2005. This, to respond to the first false allegation about our supposed illegality.
Our May First Batay Ouvriye Union Federation claims itself to be a continuation of the first Union Federation of Haiti (“Union Intersyndicale Haitienne”, UIH), as well as of the great Chicago 1886 labor struggles. Let us recall that in Chicago, (Illinois, U.S.A.), the workers had risen in mass against the unlimited number of hours the bosses were demanding in exchange for wages of misery. The Union Federation of Haiti was dismantled by François Duvalier who, from its first moments, promised Haiti …a Puerto-Rico style of future and that all protest, all demands, all mobilizations against the foreign investments he planned to draw, would result in… “a Himalaya of cadavers!»
The Himalaya of cadavers indeed took place. The “Puerto-Rico like future” is in course.
Let us recall that the undertaking of this project first began with the terrible repression of the 60’s that struck the worker, peasant and student movements. This repression later ended in the elimination of the native pigs which were the poor peasants’ savings bank, and the continuous destruction of the national production (sugar, rice, clothing crafts, coffee…). This total dismantlement had a hidden motive: on one hand, to destroy the national production alternative and, on the other, to accelerate the rural work forces’ freeing in order to transform it into labor in the cities, particularly in the industrial assembly sector. In this way, destroyed and, hence, the most devaluated possible, this cheap labor represents that which the bourgeois and their various reactionary governments call their “comparative advantage” with respect to other countries. It is this atrocious reality of economic and human devaluation, of desperation and perpetual fleeing, that the bourgeoisie and the successive reactionary governments heading the rotting Haitian State triumphantly call their “development project”, «their employment creation project»… essentially based on this “comparative advantage” of which the capitalist industry will have the lions’ share.
FOR OR AGAINST THE FREE TRADE ZONES?
Contrary to the dominant classes and their representatives, contrary to the foreign investors and their governments, free trade zones, extreme moment of this aforementioned process, thus do not represent for us an effective development project in the workers’ interest, nor that of the country.
Already, ever since the construction of the first factories and industrial park, the exploitation and domination of the Haitian workers revealed themselves highly detrimental and scandalous: this cheap labor’s “comparative advantage” demanding the most reduced nominal and real wages, a permanent anti-union repression and, finally, a generalized poverty amongst the population at large, in order to reduce it, at any moment, to accept the slightest wage of misery.
The free trade zones represent the worst of this systematized hell of capitalist exploitation and of denomination. Indeed, these enclaves, first, contribute to the acceleration of the local production and environment’s destruction, thus blocking any national development. Furthermore, they reduce the State’s control to a pure illusion, given the inability of intervention of the responsible organisms (Ministry of the Interior, Labor Bureau, Customs, Police…), in the most complete contempt of the constantly tramped rights of the workers in these jail spaces. Finally, the free trade zones, given their completely free and open legislation, can but favor illicit traffics of all sorts.
It is for all those reasons that, from the beginning, we have condemned this sort of development project that in no way can protect the workers rights, nor represent an appropriate orientation for an endogenous, sovereign, durable and prosperous development, in the benefit of the Haitian nation.
Management points out that since Batay Ouvriye is against the establishment of free trade zones, why does it seek to be present beside the workers there? To this we answer that wherever Haitian workers are exploited, it is of our duty and utmost right, within the framework of the Capital-work relation, to seek to ensure the respect of workers rights. And, being one of their organizations of defense, no boss can reject the presence of the delegates of the May First Batay Ouvriye Union Federation in negotiations, nor any other union activity concerning its members and representatives. The affiliated union organization is free to decide of this, without having to suffer any interference from the employers. The ILO convention’s stipulations on union freedom and the protection of union rights, No. 87 of 1948, must be respected by management, with absolutely no condition nor discrimination.
Grupo M, the Dominican owner of the Codevi company exploiting the Ouanaminthe free trade zone is notorious for its brutal, arbitrary and illegal actions against the workers of its various factories in the neighboring country. Witness, numerous national as international reports (in this respect, one may consult the CISL, ALGI reports… mentioned on Batay Ouvriye’s website - http://www.batayouvriye.org). It is these same owners of Grupo M who called the Dominican army onto Haitian soil, and later the so-called “rebel army” parked in Ouanaminthe after Aristide’s departure, with the purpose of repressing the Haitian workers arbitrarily and illegally dismissed from the factory.
We should note that the Haitian State so far has not pronounced itself on this matter. Another proof (if still needed) of its incapacity to intervene within this enclave completely controlled by Grupo M, which has a tentacular vision of the Haitian Northeast, for its profit.
In front of this state of things, is it not normal for the members of the Codevi Workers’ Union, the SOCOWA, participating in the negotiations with the company management, to request the presence of delegates of their comrades of the May First Batay Ouvriye Union Federation? The refusal of Codevi / Group M to accept this fair and legal request is another form of anti-union discrimination, bearing prejudice to the SOCOWA workers, for reason of its affiliation.
«CREATING WORK…»: A HIGHLY INSUFFICIENT ARGUMENT
To justify not dealing with the May First Batay Ouvriye Union Federation with which the Ouanaminthe free trade zone union is affiliated, Mr. Fernando Capellan and his Haitian allies argue that Batay Ouvriye would be “against work» (sic!). To which we answer, first and simply that in colonial times, the colonists also considered themselves to be “giving work”! But, surely, to slaves, in the infrahuman conditions we know! It is similar conditions, presently disguised, that the factory owners are trying to reestablish in Haiti, while deviating the attention with their false allegations against our independent and combative Union Federation.
The Haitian and Dominican bosses know very well that the future of their factories is ephemeral, that it depends on low production costs that countries like ours are forced to accept in order to receive these foreign investments. Low production costs, which can only be obtained through increasing heights of workers’ exploitation. Why, then, should labor organizations be those to carry the responsibility of this fragility? The bosses know better than anyone that they function within the stranglehold of their famous “comparative advantages” with regard to the bourgeoisies of other countries, all under the complete domination of multinational Capital. Batay Ouvriye’s duty is to explain this to its members and to the Haitian people in general. Certainly, the bosses “give work”, but under what conditions and in what context? Consequently, our fights for the defense of workers rights cannot be assimilated to a project of factory destruction, as our detractors claim. This argument is highly insufficient and, in fact, trivial.
Our practice within the factories does not fit within a framework of “destruction”. Our presence consists in nothing more than defending the workers within the framework of capital/labor relations. The bosses, on the other hand, try to use a certain conception of the “factory”, as a unit, that seeks to dissimulate this relation, and thus better dominate the workers. For our part, our position is clear: in the factory, Batay Ouvriye is on the side of the workers, facing the capitalists. This situation of opposition is a result of capitalism itself. We are not responsible for it. The employers’ schemes are part of their daily, permanent fights against labor. They are fights generally expressed in arbitrary dismissals, harassment, intimidation, low wages, extreme work quotas, factories closing in agreement with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor… to obtain the most complete workers submission. For this reason, management loathes facing combative unions, independent labor organizations. From there, its aversion to us.
Of course, this management is forced to concede some rights to the workers, but it would like for them to stay on paper and never be applied. Batay Ouvriye, on the other hand, demands the respect of labor rights as specified in the current laws, despite their evident limits. And it is also of our utmost right to demand new, more advanced legislation. As one can see, we aren’t searching to close factories or free trade zones. If, for the bosses, respecting workers’ rights equals closing factories to become retailers or entering in all kinds of dealings to increase even more the cost of living, they bear alone the responsibility of their actions.
Similarly disturbing, however, is the government’s silence in front of this growing antagonism. Already, in the assembly industry context, the bosses enjoyed brazen impunity. We denounced its perverse effects on workers lives and the Haitian people’s future in general, in a publication entitled “Bosses’ Impunity: A Key Characteristic of the Current Crisis”, in which we demonstrated how political impunity goes hand in hand with that, economic, of the bosses, both being necessary for the ruling classes’ unlimited freedom, at the workers’ cost. Indeed, already when this document was issued, the government in place feigned not to understand what was being addressed, to be unaware of anything, thus allowing the worsening of the workers’ Dantesque situation. Today, while exactions continue with renewed vigor in Port-au-Prince’s factories, in the first free trade zone of Ouanaminthe, Group M has gone so far as to call the Dominican army onto our soil to beat Haitian workers. Our calls for the current government to intervene and our requests for meetings have been perfectly ignored. Could this be the indication, in the midst of this bicentennial of our far-away independence, of a new act - now, more advanced and definitive - of the permanent plot always hatched in the sweat and blood of the Haitian people?