[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Wed, 13 May 98 18:17:07 CDT
From: Haiti Progres <haiticom@blythe.org>
Organization: Haiti Progres
Subject: This Week in Haiti 16:7 5/6/98
Article: 34728
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.17416.19980515181525@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

May Day: Worker protests and government hypocrisy

Haiti Progres, This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 16, no. 7, 13-19 September 1995

May 1st -- International Workers Day -- is known in Haiti as the Day of Agriculture and Work and is celebrated every year with official pronouncements and fanfare, no matter how anti-worker and anti-peasant the government's policies are.

This year was no exception. President Rene Preval, in league with the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL), is trying to structurally adjust Haiti's economy to suit the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and Washington by, among other things, selling off state enterprises, laying off state workers, and lowering tariffs to zero on agricultural and other imports. They claim that these policies will bring Haiti another $1 billion in loans and increase private investment and jobs, fostering development and a better life for all.

This was the message that Preval sought to deliver in Jacmel, where the government organized a May 1 extravaganza to commemorate the town's 300th anniversary and herald its supposed rebirth as a tourist mecca. On this occasion, I bow very low before the strength of the workers of [Haiti's] Southeast, Preval said. In the spirit of initiative, they have developed agriculture, the artisinal trade and cultural activities which have all contributed to progres in this region.

Ironically, never has the region been in such economically bad shape. There was very little fruit and produce in this year's agricultural exhibits because Jacmel has been so severely hammered by drought and neoliberalism's invisible hand. Many people have become mixed up in drug trafficking, as Jacmel has become a favorite destination of Colombian go fast drug-courier boats over the past year.

Aware of the local population's contempt, Preval resorted to his tactic of choice: promises. Rehabilitation of buildings, road construction, port renewal, improvements to the water system and electricity grid, programs to support artisans, and, of course, the so-called agrarian reform will all begin over the next five months, Preval vowed.

But the Haitian people have heard enough promises. U.S. + Preval + OPL + the Macoutes and Terror, All land should belong to the peasants, Down with a government which defends big-landowners and the greedy bourgeoisie, and IMF/World Bank the slogans, signed by the Popular Assembly of the Southeast Department (APDSD), which covered the walls of Jacmel on May 1, despite the efforts of government whitewash teams to remove them. The APDSD militants also soap-boxed and distributed large numbers of flyers to receptive crowds which turned out to listen to over a dozen bands hired by the government to play for the May 1 spectacle, which cost 10 million gourdes [US$588,235].

Meanwhile, in Gonaives, Catholic Worker Action (AKO) and Catholic Worker Youth (JOK) held a mass, march, and rally to commemorate May Day. The government spent 10 million gourdes in Jacmel to make demagogy, while farmers don't even have tools to work the land, complained Father Vicker in the mass which kicked-off the day of protest. The government is careening like a car without lights, brakes, or a horn, which is about to crash because of the IMF/World Bank death plan.

In Cap Haitien, hundreds of hotel, coffee, and textile workers marched through the streets under the banner of Batay Ouvriye [Workers' Struggle] demanding a daily minimum wage of 75 gourdes [US$4.41], instead of the present 36 gourdes [US$2.18], as well as running water and toilets in the workplace.

In the Mont Rouge district, the Local Popular Assembly of Mont Rouge (APLMR) held a large rally where peasants spoke out about their problems with a local big landowner, Max Ferrer Leconte. For example, on April 30, Cap Haitien police destroyed the houses of several peasants which were built on state land which Leconte claims to own.

Also in the North, the Local Popular Assembly of Limbe (APLL) held a conference/debate on the economic problems of the country, showing two Haitian film classics Bitter Cane and Haiti: Killing the Dream.

May 1 arrived with several Haitian unions locked in difficult labor battles. Three teachers unions -- UNNOH, CONEH, and GIEL -- held a successful nationwide warning strike on April 30. The unions signed two agreements with the government for better wages and working conditions in February and May 1997, which the government has flaunted (see Haiti Progres, Vol. 14, No. 49, Feb. 26, 1997). If the country's leaders don't do something serious to live up to the agreements, we will move into the second phase of our strike on Tuesday, May 12, declared UNNOH's Josue Merilien.

On May Day, the union of the national lottery workers issued an open letter to Preval condemning the government's failure to pay their wages for one year. President, we are ashamed to see that it is your government which is mistreating workers like this, the letter said. While a lot of money is being spent in Jacmel to celebrate Workers' Day on May 1, the national lottery workers of Haiti are going through hell because they have not been paid in 12 months.

Meanwhile the Confederation of Haitian Workers (CTH), affiliated to the Christian Democratic international CLAT, the National Federation of People Who Work in Factories (FENATIS) and several smaller unions held a day of reflection at the CTH headquarters in downtown Port-au-Prince. Since most Haitians are jobless, we cannot really call today a celebration of work, said one unionist.

Haiti is subjugated to foreign powers, Edouard Backer Jr. of the National Popular Assembly (APN) declared in May 1 statement. We export only $90 million worth of goods, while we import $665 million. Faced with trade and budget deficits, the authorities would rather borrow money, which the workers have to pay back, from the IMF, World Bank, and USAID, just like Jean-Claude Duvalier, [General Henri] Namphy, and [General Prosper] Avril did, which today is the cause of great damage to the economy.

The APN statement also condemned the IMF-dictated layoff of 7,500 state employees and the increased taxation of workers, peasants, and small merchants to pay the interest on the debt incurred by Duvalier and the military dictatorships.

The Preval-OPL government does not listen to the demands of school teachers, doctors, nurses, municipal employees, state employees, or students who are asking for improvement of public services and better work conditions, the APN continued. The government response is false promises, buy-off and delaying tactics, union busting, and intimidation to muzzle the socio- professional sector.


Hotel Beck is one of the oldest and most beautiful hotels in Cap Haitien, sitting in several lush acres on a hill-top in the swank Belair neighborhood. Nonetheless, the hotel has become a living hell for the workers who labor there day and night, seven days a week, without any legal status.

Kurt Beck, the hotel owner, has workers do everything from working on his plantation which grows mangoes for export, constructing and repairing houses, and doing laundry, cooking and restaurant and room service. For about 40 years, Beck never had any problem with the workers because there was never any organized protest.

But in May 1997, the Union of Hotel Beck Workers (STOB) was legally recognized by the Ministry of Social Affairs. The workers decided to form the union to fight against their low and often late wages, arbitrary firings, humiliations, poor work conditions, and lack of social security.

STOB demanded a daily wage hike from 36 gourdes [US$2.18] to 75 gourdes [US$4.41] and a shortening of the work week to 6 days, with double-pay on Sunday. The workers also want the work day limited to 8 hours with time and a half for overtime, bonuses, sick leave, maternity leave, yearly vacations, pensions for workers over 55 years old or with 20 years of service, promotions on the basis of competence and seniority, identification badges for hotel employees, and water and toilets for workers (whose bathroom presently is the woods around the hotel).

In response, Beck reduced employees' work-days each week while increasing the work-load. For example, the quantity of clothes, towels, and sheets with the laundresses used to do in 4 days, now the hotel wants in only 2 days. Furthermore, there were many firings.

A strike by workers in September 1997 shut down the hotel and the Social Affairs Ministry's regional office began arbitration. But then on Nov. 26, 1997, the Social Affairs Ministry withdrew from mediating the case, saying the matter would be handled by the courts and the Justice Ministry.

The STOB brought a suit against the management of Hotel Beck, which came to trial on Jan. 27, 1998. The workers' organization Batay Ouvriye held a press conference that day and stated: The Justice Ministry has applied political pressure to derail the legal recourse which the workers were pursuing with the office of Social Affairs. [Justice Minister] Max Antoine himself personally came to give his solidarity to Kurt Beck in the hotel in the month of October 1997.

The court's verdict of the STOB suit on Jan. 28, 1998 was against the workers, which comes as no surprise, given the Justice Ministry's support of Beck. But the workers are not intimidated and have appealed the verdict.