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Workers march in the streets of Port-au-Prince June 26, 2017, to ask for an increase in the minimum wage salary in Haiti. The minimum wage salary is 300 gourdes per day ($4.7 USD) and workers are calling for a minimum wage salary of 800 gourdes per day ($12.5 USD). / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL

Co-optation and Resistance

In Haiti, the political and economic climate is decaying by the day: the despicable mess in the institutions of the state contradicting itself continuously and unavoidably indulging in indefensible drifts and miasma; while the so-called “economic recovery” so much advertised has failed to materialize, and the people, in an unimaginable misery, suffer a forced poverty. This situation only badly affects already highly antagonistic social relations.

Batay Ouvriye

Port-Au-Prince, August 2017.

 

To preserve control, the ruling classes, supported by the reactionary state, use a well-known mechanism: deception. Besides the hideous spectacle of recurring festivities, there is also co-optation, as a method of choice. Thus the main anniversary dates of popular resistance are transformed into class collaboration expressions. That’s it! And the commemorations of March 8th and May First (MayDay), instead of being symbols of resistance of female workers burned alive on the job or the courageous struggle of workers for the 8-hour workday, we see stupidly marches of proletarian women mixing up with privileged and smiling petty-bourgeois women, if not, the big bourgeoisie in their Sunday best, for a reactionary “feminism.” Or, furthermore, the display in agricultural fairs of agri-industrial capital or alienated and dominated craftsmen, awarding “job well done” of docile workers and agricultural products.

As the years go by, however, the people are not gullible much less the workers. In Batay Ouvriye, our task consists of reinforcing this rejection to participate with the bullies, to reject then the co-optation, to bring to light the historical truth, and, from there, launch a mobilization, that is liberating. It is not by chance that the first calls of the workers are heard in general in the moments of resurgence of social struggles. It is as well in 2017.

New impositions and increase in the price of gas/ Awareness, organization and first mobilizations…

In the context of the growing stranglehold of the appalling poverty around us and the conscious rejection of the deception of the ruling classes, following March 8th, the representatives of the state did nothing other than getting new taxes from us, and worse, to increase gas prices! How? Extracting taxes out of our “miserly” wages? Increase gas prices, for transportation, goods, medicine not to mention rising inflation taking away from our leases, tuition, clothing…? Thus, from a terrifying workday, workers from the CODEVI Free Trade Zone, in the Northeast of the country, got on board for a big mobilization in protest. We must immediately transcend the spontaneous aspect of this demonstration. The level of awareness attained through the facts given by the rejection of the March 8th ruling class deception, allowed us to advance a knot to a mobilization conscientiously carried out, organized and planned. The role of the main Batay Ouvriye militants at that moment had been crucial. Organize several meetings of various factories and, also the entire free trade zone; motivate the section leaders; make contact with the comrades of the Caracol free trade zone in the Northeast, and mobilize them just the same; organize meetings of PLASIT-BO (Platform of Textile Factory Unions-Batay Ouvriye), where our comrades in Port-Au-Prince also participated; but also go to the media, all the media, joining our principal allies in the peasantry and university, popular neighborhoods, or progressive organizations; in the cities and rural areas; nationally and internationally; and, especially, convince directly the workers, in daily meetings after work, in the factories, with flyers, newsletters, communication on social media…basing on the total incapacity of the state to provide services to the population, a first slogan: “No services, no taxes!” The fight was launched.

Wages and a systematic freezing of a salary adjustment

One of the articles in the Haitian Labor Code, Article 137, stipulates that a wage adjustment must occur whenever the annual inflation rate reaches 10%. However, under the absolute domination the subcontractor bourgeoisie imposes on us, this article is not respected. It so happens that for the past 5 to 6 years, the adjustment never occurred, despite rising inflation rate of 100%! 5 to 6 years, but more recently, up to 11 years! This allowed us to see the adjustment deficit incurred by the working class as a whole, but also the toiling masses in general.

For about two decades, one of our main levers of mobilization in the struggle against this repugnant State is to force it to recognize this inhumane treatment and to force it to put in place a commission responsible for a periodic adjustment. In 2009, following a wave of memorable mobilizations of the working class masses, the latter conceded. The institutional principle was accepted: The Supreme Salary Council (CSS) was set up. Composed of three representatives of each, the bourgeoisie, the government and the workers, it was supposed to address the question annually. Too bad for us! To believe that in bourgeois dictatorship as rough and apparent, as is the case in Haiti, the workers could, institutionally as a matter of fact, impose their will. In reality, with the blind devotion the state representatives have for the ruling bourgeoisie, the CSS leans always on the side of the rulers, downplaying every time the logical necessary adjustment (which can be calculated). Worse, following hard struggles which in the face of the institutional freezing, happened in 2013, the CSS simply never met, avoiding, and thus blocking all adjustment.

The mobilizations of 2017

Four years! Anew. Thanks then to the awareness gained on March 8th and the first mobilizations in CODEVI, May First of this year 2017 was remarkable. Not because of the number of participants, but rather the presence of those comrades, more conscious and combative, who, on this day, working-class it is, faced off, in an organized manner, the attempt to co-opt that day and mobilized to bring forward the demands that won the heart of the working class: the wage, its main life source, blocked.

May, June, July… the militancy of the leaders of Batay Ouvriye and that of the different factory sections were again fundamental. Flyers, direct awareness raising, meetings, calls for organization, debates, contradictions raised, discussed, resolved… happened throughout the factories.

From CODEVI to Caracol, under the leadership of the national coordination of PLASIT-BO, including thus the Textile and Apparel Workers Union-Batay Ouvriye in Port-Au-Prince (SOTA-BO), in a united front with two other federations, the CNOHA and GOSTRA-CTSP, for a class mobilization. From 300 Gourdes ($4.69) then, our comrades unanimously demanded 800 Gourdes ($12.50). This, not only because of the more recent freezing of four years; then taking account of the enormous adjustment deficit for decades, and finally the rising cost of living either imposed by the state or inflation.

One had to see! The determination, the engagement, the fury almost of thousands, thousands, and thousands of scorned workers, tiring female workers, because, oftentimes, they lead single-parent households, current practices in Haiti. Leaving bravely the factories in which the antiquated capitalists, really archaic, tried to lock them in, day after day. Running, shouting, yelling in the streets, at the microphones of the television channels or the main radios of the country. Communicating their distressing discontent to the passers-by, traders, craftsmen, street vendors, schoolchildren, students, the unemployed whom they meet in their passage. Leaving the main industrial park, SONAPI, along the key avenue of the external factories, all joining at the great crossroads adjoining the next popular neighborhood, the Bel-Air, guardian of its traditions of historical struggles. There, through narrow streets, fitting for the organic fusion of the masses, the demonstrators shared a fraternal breath while in a territory to conquer, they internalized the seriousness of the action, a uniform mass of class interest, the violence of knowing our cause is just, being aware of being together, fundamental, of our camp, the joy to rise up collectively against oppression: This is LIFE! “We support you, we support you 100%!” “Courage!” “Keep going, Keep going, we will win, certainly!” … kept us company along the passage on united territory. Flags, banners, placards, distribution of flyers meandering through the familiar labyrinths and bringing the orientation, the direction of the independent and mobilized working class. Some of our written interventions even mentioned the urgency of an alliance within the People’s Camp, from the conscious working class leadership, facing the main class enemy through this clear-cut struggle: the bourgeoisie.

The chief destination for our voices was the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, where a particularly hostile watchman shut down all communication by a spontaneous and thunderous arrogance. But also in parliament, where debates were to take place around the issue. None of these entities took us seriously. At the least, the opposing agenda dictated by their masters, the bourgeoisie, did not give them the leisure to understand even a little bit of the popular logic much less that of the workers. However, caught up in the presence of public opinion, national and international – denunciations poured in on every side, in a quantity assimilated to a stigma-they had to once again procrastinate and each time assure us of their “consideration,” “their interest in helping us,” their “patriotism” (sic)… Deceit in mazes, none of their guarantees proved real. In parliament, with a few exceptions (the participation of which, nevertheless, provides a certain contribution), the rest of these functionaries in the service of capital had no doubt: investments had to be protected at all costs. Point blank!

Three weeks of motivation, work stoppage, inside the factory itself, or in the streets, mobilization, demonstration, starving defense of the logic of their rights, of important sacrifices (the comrades did not receive any salary during length of the struggle)… And the institutions of the State saying nothing, and the CSS which stands still, under the pretext of ‘end of mandate’… Tragic sign of the end of an epic.

Repression in all its forms!

Throughout this struggle, the bourgeois tried to defend their position: “… It is not possible to have the minimum wage adjustment, otherwise, this industry will go bankrupt!” … After four years of net profits without any loss! Above the Labor Code! It’s normal: those bloodthirsty capitalists have no morals and the sacrosanct ‘competitiveness’ does not admit any discrepancy. Faced with the falsehood of theirs, we opposed to them our arguments, of a family basket, for the criminal adjustment deficit, of rising inflation, of the gaping hole opening before us… Nothing works. But being unable to cope with the increasing intensity of the powerful mobilization, the logic of our arguments, which opposed their lies and the rain of reproaches made to them from the whole world, they had recourse to what is of the very nature of their dictatorship: Repression.

This took various forms. Since the May First mobilization, to begin with, the police had blocked the march of the comrades, preventing it from reaching the central square, the Champs de Mars, where there was, deception at work, an agro-industrial fair! Later, during the second week of frontal struggle in the month of June, the police blocked every march. On the outskirts of the factories, gangs of policemen armed to the teeth bombarded gatherings with tear gas, then beaten people with truncheons including pregnant women, then rubber bullets and real bullets, the wounded scattered, arbitrary arrests, pursuits to the homes of our comrades, then disoriented. The reactionary fury spread into the streets with a vengeance. The denunciations on our part or other concerned progressives did nothing: It was necessary to stop, destroy this dangerous ascent of more and more motivated workers, and more and more conscious.

This police, recruited, armed and trained by the imperialist representatives of the Minustah to defend strictly the capitalist interests in these conquered lands, was only doing its job. Better, when the workers, unable to leave the factories, opted to cross their arms and suspend work, these traitors to the nation entered the premises to try to force the workers to work. No need to describe the hustle and bustle that ensued. It’s important, however, to denounce the multiple instances of beatings in situ, the arrests, where the humiliation of the human being has become common: half-naked women came out of the factories, their clothes were ripped out, howling their hatred and despair… Day after day, these confrontations repeated. Day after day, our comrades gathered together to confront them. The entire atmosphere of the subcontracting territory was on fire.

But the repression was also expressed in another way, more intense in the long term: the revocations. In fact, once work resumed, most of the conscious and committed comrades could not return to their place in the factory: systematic discrimination was taking place, wherever these main fighters were traced. Without any consistent legal justification, the bourgeois relied on their political dictatorship to decide on a supplementary repression in terms of capital-labor relations.

More pragmatic this time but no less cruel: the sentence of the executive. Starting by naming a skewed CSS (that’s contrary to established practice of each entity proposing its representatives), the government executed a set of maneuvers where, following a ridiculous adjustment of the CSS, 335 Gourdes ($5.23), instead of the 800 Gourdes ($12.50) demanded by the workers!!, the executive resigned itself to adding 15 gourdes, which, after so many fierce battles, now governs, to a strict minimum, the new relations of exploitation.

The Fatigue

It would have been necessary to rise up again, to break all barriers, to oppose, to explode! But fatigue of the households, the weeping of their sons, the night, the hollow stomach overcame the bravery, the cries, the rage … The bourgeois, these beasts lurking, predators of blood in a country without a way out, attacked again: sanctions, higher tariffs, increased general domination, screaming… Given the unconditional support of a mystifying State at their orders, like rats, they gnaw. The press gives them good grace, treating them like men, these beasts who are in reality the executioners of the human species that is trying to renew itself worldwide, and, closer to us, of a nation that is still trying to find itself.

But every day is a new day. In this sense, fortunately, the battle has only just begun!