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Message-Id: <199703141231.HAA20392@listserv.brown.edu>
Sender: o-imap@chumbly.math.missouri.edu
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 97 12:03:52 CST
From: "Workers World" <ww@wwpublish.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Haiti unions under the gun
Article: 7252

Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Mar. 13, 1997 issue of Workers World newspaper

Haitian Unions under the Gun

By G. Dunkel, Workers World,
13 March 1997

The labor movement in Haiti is under sharp attack. For imperialism, particularly U.S. imperialism, to continue controlling Haiti's economy, it's necessary to remove labor as an effective force resisting the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Take Teleco, for example. It is a state-owned company that turns a profit of $60 million a year, even though its equipment is obsolete and worn-out.

MCI and AT&T make big profits from providing the service that Teleco can't provide with its current equipment.

Ray Laforest says SOETEL, the Teleco union, is under official attack because "they are the country's last defense against the policies of privatization imposed by the IMF and foreign powers, particularly the U.S. government."

Laforest, a Haitian, is a union organizer for AFSCME District Council 1707 in New York. He just returned from a labor unionists' trip to Haiti organized by the Haiti Support Network.

It's not lack of skill or even lack of funds that keeps Teleco from modernizing, Laforest says. It has even had the new boards it would need for over a year. But the government ministry involved has kept the boards under lock and key until they can break the union and sell Teleco to MCI or AT&T, which hope to pull in a quarter of a billion dollars a year in profits.

Electricite d'Haiti--EDH--is another major arena of union struggle in Haiti. Last November, management called in the cops to break up a workers' meeting that was protesting attacks on their union, FESTRED.

Cops fired live ammunition in the air, beat workers and arrested a number of workers both then and later. Even more union activists have been fired since.

The EDH union has been thrown out of its offices, which are on company property. But it is still keeping up the struggle. Emmanuel-Jean Francois of FESTRED spoke at a news conference with the U.S. unionists' delegation in Port-au- Prince. He said the union is opposed to the neo-liberal privatization plan because it will deprive the people of jobs.

Angel Dominguez, director of the Workers' Rights Center in Miami, a project of UNITE, was also part of the delegation. Summing up his week interviewing workers in Haiti about their conditions, he focused on three issues: "First, higher wages. The Haitian workers are making nothing; they can't survive making that kind of money.

"The other issue is dignity and respect at the work site. And the third thing is the right to organize a union."

Haitian workers, mainly women, who sew for Disney and WalMart, make 28 cents an hour--$2.50 a day. They have to bring their own water to wash and drink. They have no benefits, not even if they are injured on the job.

The delegation interviewed a number of these workers, who are fighting to form a union, even at the risk of their jobs.

There is a campaign in the United States to demand justice for Disney workers in Haiti. Its next action is set for March 8--International Women's Day--in front of the Disney Store in New York, at 55th Street and Fifth Avenue, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The Haiti Support Network will hold meetings in New York and Miami to report on the unionists' trip to Haiti and to show the videotape they made. More information is available at (212) 633-6646.