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16429: Bellegarde-Smith: Workers' Struggles in Haiti (fwd)

From: P D Bellegarde-Smith <pbs@csd.uwm.edu>

Extract from Solidarite - A Newsletter of the Batay Ouvriye Haiti Solidarity
Network - New York, Number One, August 2003

Workers' Struggles in Haiti
The Minimum Wage (70 Gourdes), 3 Lots for Sharecroppers…

Workers struggles are surging on various fronts, away from head-line news.
Among the many struggles, there is the question of wages and exploitation.
During recent months, the Haitian bourgeoisie has maneuvered to lower real wages of
workers in order to gain a comparative advantage as compared to other
countries in Central America. Thus the constant devaluation of the gourde, the
Haitian currency. This leads not only to a decrease in workers real wages but also
constitutes a net transfer of wealth from the working class to the bourgeoisie.
It is just highway robbery.

In the same context, the government, the bourgeoisie and the corrupt central
federations of labor unions have colluded to fix the minimum wage at 70
gourdes, which is worth much less today than the 36 gourdes previous minimum wage
when it was enacted in 1995. Confronted with this situation, workers have waged
numerous struggles. Some bosses at first refused to pay the new minimum wage.
Others took more than 2 months before they were forced to comply. And others
yet are still refusing to pay the 70 gourdes daily wage. This is an ongoing
struggle. We must fight for even more and Batay Ouvriye is committed to this

In the rural areas, farm workers have also fought to raise their wages. In a
few areas some important gains have been made. Wages in some areas have gone
from 20 to 36 to 70 gourdes per day, while in others still they went from 50 to
100 gourdes daily. This continuing struggle needs to be generalized
throughout the country.

The struggles of sharecroppers have also yielded some important gains
recently. The rural labor code stipulates that crops should be divided into 3 equal
lots; 1 lot for the landowner, 1 lot for the sharecropper, and the remaining
lot to provide for tools, seeds and to maintain the land. But landowners
traditionally had forces sharecroppers to give up the third lot and had simply
divided the crops into 2 lots, sometimes even 1/4 to 3/4. In various localities
successful struggles have been waged to force landowners to respect the rural
labor code and comply with the 3 lot separation of crops. Again, this is a
struggle which needs to be generalized throughout the country and which we must take
even further.

During the first half of the year, there have been numerous struggles.
Numerous demonstrations, pickets have been held in Archaie, Lagonave, Port-de-Paix,
Jean-Rabel, Saint-Michel, Mol St. Nicolas, Bombardopolis… The question of
wages and of the 3 lots was of great significance in these struggles, among other
issues. There were a number of violent confrontations. The general tendency is
for the contradictions to become more exacerbated and for confrontations to
be more acute. There again the struggles go on, in different ways on, on
various levels.

Nowadays, in the rural areas, there are 4 major campaigns of importance,
beside the issues of wages and exploitation: justice, education, healthcare and
birth certificates. All these struggles demand continuous support from
progressives, from those who believe in the justice of workers struggles and from those
who believe that only workers struggles can liberate the country from the
morass which it is now in. The struggles continue, and the solidarity must also
be reinforced!

Batay Ouvriye, July 2003

(HSG note: The current rate of exchange is approximately 41 to one US dollar.
The rate of exchange is now much more relevant in terms of purchasing power
as a consequence of the neo-liberal economic 'reforms' insisted on by the
International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and applied by the government, during
the 1990s. These 'reforms' have in effect removed the last vestiges of state
protection for domestic production, and have made the country dependent on
imports, particularly food imports.)

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Solidarity with the Haitian people's struggle for justice, participatory
democracy and equitable development, since 1992.