Update on Haitian Minimum Wage Struggles

occupation 3The Preval administration proposed a gradual adjustment of the minimum wage that will start at 125 Gourdes. This proposal is illegal by the Haitian law which requires essentially a living wage, since it doesn’t take into account inflation. It is stated clearly in the – still reactionary- Labor Code that the adjustment must be based on inflation. This proposal intends to violate it from the get go.

Inflation is not random though, it is the direct product of the Haitian ruling classes’ policies combined with global Capital’s policies: neo-liberalism and structural adjustment. The struggle around the minimum wage is being defined clearly, due to the nature of that struggle, as an anti-exploitation struggle. It is also an anti-imperialist struggle since it confronts the exploitation of the multi-national corporations, i.e. neo-liberalism.

The Haitian working class are only seen as sources of wealth and production, not as people who also have needs and consume. Haitian workers don’t need handouts from the capitalists, they need a real wage increase. In fact in support of the 125 gourdes, the capitalists and state are proposing side measures, such as decent cafeterias, free transportation, etc. These are not new arguments to back up why workers should get less than they are due. These support measures are already guaranteed in the Labor Code, and they have never implemented them.

Although the 200 gourdes law has already been passed by the legislature, the government is stalling around the present 70 gourdes minimum wage to buy time to demobilize the struggle. The buying time tactics are coupled with acts of repression and intimidation. All this is being done in the interest of the 8 sweatshop owners. All this proves to us the real meaning of democracy under capitalism: When some semblance of democracy occurs even within the Parliament, and society (not just the workers) rally for the implementation small improvements within still substandard living,
the ruling classes circle their wagons, and try to buy time, spread misinformation and confusion, and brutally repress real democracy from occurring. This type of so-called “democracy” is only democracy among the ruling classes who effectively have a dictatorship over all other classes, as long as no mass [ workers] resistance stands in its way.

These are the same people , the peddlers of illusions, who were promoting a democratic state, the need to have democratic principles, democratic rights, etc., but when the popular classes stand for their own interests, the ruling classes claim it will be a catastrophe if any concessions are granted. Complete bourgeois dominance is the fabric of the crisis.

An example of Repression

Workers were fired at a sweatshop owned by Baker, An ex-presidential candidate, who is a promoter of a new social contract and a leading member of the group 184*. Upon being fired, the workers requested severance pay , based on the Labor Code. When they demanded their legal right and protested, they were severely beaten by CIMO. One worker spent 8 days in jail.

July 9, Deputy Steven Benoit, the initiator of the 200 minimum wage adjustment in parliament, went back to an Industrial Park on one of his visits to solidify support for his proposal among the workers. In a factory owned by Richard Coles in SONAPI#38, one of the richest families in Haiti, gave Tales Augustin a 15 day suspension just because he spoke to the deputy, and let other workers talk to him also.

In the city of Wanament, in the free trade zone, Yanik Etienne a Batay Ouvriye member was pointed out on the radio as one of the “trouble makers” (this can mean physical danger in Haiti) simply because she was at the forefront of the worker’s struggle.

At SONAPI factory #47 also owned by Richard Coles, Alfred Renaud was severely beaten, and a tank of compressed gas was released in his face. He was left for dead. Some of the accounts in the press also claimed he was dead. The struggle for the minimum wage in Haiti is a working class struggle. It exposes capitalism and the real nature of their so-called “democracy”.

* Group 184 is a political group of militant right wing forces aligned with the ruling classes of Haiti. They have been instrumental in various coups and repressions throughout recent Haitian history.