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Date: Wed, 23 Oct 1996 11:03:25 -0700 (PDT)
From: Robert Corbett <bcorbett@netcom.com>
Subject: Labor, outsiders, etc.
To: Bob Corbett <bcorbett@netcom.com>
Message-ID: <Pine.3.89.9610231139.A19767-0100000@netcom>

Date: Wed, 23 Oct 1996 07:02:22 -0400 (EDT)
From: Tom F Driver <tfd3@columbia.edu>

Labor, outsiders, etc.

By Tom F. Driver <tfd3@columbia.edu>
23 October 1996


I've just read your long, apparently agonized posting about Haitian labor and outside influence. As always, your concerns are well placed, but in this piece it seems to me you confuse issues terribly. Your zeal to avoid undue or unwanted outside influence on Haiti has led you to suppose that the outside meddling is coming mostly from those who OPPOSE the exploitation of Haitian labor rather than from those who are doing and facillitating it. Consider these points:

1. In 1991, Aristide and his then Prime Minister proposed raising the minimum wage. The US spent $26 million to defeat that move in the legislature. Today the US and the various agencies it controls still oppose any rise in wages.

2. For every factory job that opens up in Port-au-Prince, it is estimated that 10 persons move from the countryside looking for that job, each of the 10 having family and others to support. Hence, under present conditions factory employment is worsening the lot of 90% of the Haitian poor, because it puts capital in the wrong place. Many Haitians know this, including Aristide and Preval, but they can do nothing about it while being leaned on by the US.

3. None of the voices that I've heard, including those of labor in Haiti and the US, wants Disney and other manufacturers to LEAVE Haiti. They just want them to pay a decent wage. The National Labor Committee, which has done most to expose the labor conditions, is conducting a campaign against Disney's labor practices world wide, to try to block any move they might make just to move their jobs around without improving anything for workers.

4. It would be fine to object to outside influence in Haiti if the playing field were level. But of course it is not. US power and control over Haiti is vast because of the vastness of its economic and military power, and its proximity. (Even the NY Times has begun to say so.) Our attention ought to go toward trying to level the playing field. This can only happen by improving the Haiti policies of the the US and its business community.

5. Nationalism is not an adequate response to the suffering caused by modern economies. This is what the labor movement learned in the 19th century and what the women's movement has re-discovered recently. The cry that "outsiders" shouldn't speak up about human rights abuses in country X, Y, or Z because "they don't understand our culture" is beginning to sound very hollow. The reason is that is usually drowns out the voices of the victims of abuses: mostly the poor, who are mostly women the world over. I'm not saying there are no grey areas, just that there aren't nearly as many as the big guys would like us to think.

6. We've got to get over the notion that being a Haitian is utterly different from being something else. That's no way to respect Haiti's history, language, culture, religion, humanity or national identity. When I go to Haiti, I hear cries for justice quite as loudly as I hear cries for food, shelter, and clothing. In fact, what I hear is recognition of how closely economics and justice are related. It's a message many Haitians seem to want outsiders to hear, and concerning which most Americans are slow learners.

-- Tom Driver