From firstname.lastname@example.org Sat Nov 6 10:15:07 2004
Date: Sat, 6 Nov 2004 08:41:40 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <email@example.com>
To: Haiti mailing list <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: 23722: (pub) Arthur—Batay Ouvriye at the European Social Forum (fwd)
Haitian workers' activist, Yannick Etienne, was among the more than 20,000 people from nearly 70 countries who participated in the European Social Forum (ESF) in London on 15-17 October. This, the third meeting of Europe's non-governmental organisations, environmentalists, peace campaigners and left wing parties, followed gatherings in previous years in Florence and Paris. Participants heard over 2,500 speakers at over 500 meetings during the three-day event.
Etienne is a prominent activist in the Batay Ouvriye (Workers' Fight) organisation in Haiti, and was in the UK as a guest of the Haiti Support Group and the anti-sweatshop campaigning organisation, No Sweat. During the ESF, she spoke at four meetings.
At one seminar entitled ‘The US militarisation of Latin America and the Caribbean’; on Friday, 15th October, Etienne shared a platform with speakers from Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela. She reminded the audience that Haiti was at present experiencing its third military occupation in less than 90 years. She said US troops intervened, not to keep the peace, but to secure US business and strategic interests. Referring to Haiti's position as a stepping stone for the trafficking of cocaine between South and North America, Etienne said that the US, far from trying to stop the trade, was actually heavily involved in it. The current United Nations force in Haiti is led by Brazilian and Argentinean troops, and some commentators have suggested that these countries' involvement is a progressive development. Etienne disagreed, denouncing them for occupying a sovereign country, and for doing the US's work for it.
Later the same day, she participated in a fiery debate on the struggle
for real democracy in Haiti. Responding to Lavalas Family Party
supporters who said that progressives should condemn the February 2004
coup and call for the re-instatement of President Aristide, Etienne
insisted that Batay Ouvriye's analysis of the situation at the
time remained valid. She recalled the organisation's December 2003
slogan describing the Lavalas Family and the local bourgeoisie's
Group of 184 as
two rotten buttocks in the same torn pair of
trousers. She said that of course the US role in building up the
Group of 184 and former Army opposition was reprehensible, but stated
that those who claimed Aristide was pro-worker did not know what they
were talking about. As an example, she described the violent attack on
organised workers at the Guacimal orange plantation in May 2002 which
was led by local Lavalas Family officials, and which was supported by
the government spokesperson, Mario Dupuy. Two members of Batay Ouvriye
were killed during the attack.
Imagine, she said,
fighting for your rights, and the Minister of Communications goes on
the radio and calls you a ‘terrorist’!
On Saturday, 16th October, Yannick Etienne participated in two
discussions about union organising. At the No Sweat seminar,
Workers' Rights, Human Rights—Taking on Poverty and
Sweatshops, she joined a platform of trade unionists from Britain,
Belgium and France. While some speakers suggested that tripartite
consultations and legislation monitored by the International Labour
Organisation were the appropriate mechanisms for countering the abuse
of workers, others stressed the merits of direct action by workers
themselves, backed by international solidarity.
Rein de Tremmerie representing the Confédération des Syndicats Chrètiens de Belgique (CSC) explained how a well-known company selling women's underwear in her country was pressurised into improving the very bad situation of workers producing its products in Hungary and Indonesia. The company had a good reputation and hence became supportive of the call not to spoil its good image.
For her part, Etienne outlined the year-long struggle for union rights
at the new free trade zone in north-east Haiti where a Dominican
company uses Haitian labour to assemble Levi's jeans. In June,
over 370 workers—members of the newly-formed Sokowa
union—were sacked. An international solidarity campaign is
continuing to press the Levi Strauss company and the World Bank, which
funds the free trade zone, to have the workers re-instated. Etienne
We will continue to fight until all those workers are back at
work, and we will negotiate with the management so that they agree to
recognise workers' rights and union rights. She added,
want to count on your support to win this victory.
At a workshop at the Trade Union Congress centre in Bloomsbury in central London, the Battersea and Wandsworth trade union council (BWTUC) vowed to continue to back the Sokowa union in what is expected to be a long campaign to unionise the free trade zone workers. Up to 20,000 workers are expected to be employed in the Codevi FTZ over the years ahead. Julia Brandreth of the BWTUC said that Yannick Etienne and the Batay Ouvriye-affliliated unions in Haiti were an inspiration to rank and file workers in the UK.
On Sunday 17th October, Etienne joined tens of thousands at a
demonstration and rally to denounce the war against Iraq. The rally
gained emotional strength from the intervention of Rose Gentle, whose
son Gordon—a soldier in the British army—was killed in an
ambush near Basra earlier this year. Rose Gentle was cheered loudly
when she asked Prime Minister Tony Blair to come to Trafalgar Square
to meet the demonstrators. Veteran Labour Party left-winger, Tony
Benn, said at the rally:
The Iraqi war is an act of criminal
aggression which the US launched and Britain supported—it's
illegal and immoral, and it will not succeed.
Among other prominent supporters of the anti-war rally were Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che Geuvara, who was the most celebrated martyr of the Latin American left, Ahmed Ben Bella, leader of the Algerian independence struggle, Richard Boyd Barret from the anti-war movement in Ireland, Sami Evren from the confederation of public sector workers unions in Turkey, and Maria Stylou from the anti-war movement in Greece.
Commenting on a hectic three days in London, Etienne said,
regards the European Social Forum, it's been very interesting to
see so many young people involved in important issues and
On the other hand, Etienne was critical of the lack of involvement on
the part of local working class people, and felt that European
perspectives and issues were not really discussed.
As a person
involved in social struggles, I didn't learn much about what is
going on in Europe. She also noted the contradiction that at the
same time as solidarity activists were campaigning against giant
multinationals and the exploitation of workers, vendors at the ESF
were selling Coca Cola drinks, and t-shirts manufactured by the
anti-union Gildan textile company.
On the eve of her return to Haiti, Yannick Etienne remarked,
enjoyed the trip and I think it was very worthwhile. I feel very good
to have been greeted by dynamic people in the solidarity
campaign—the BWTUC, No Sweat, and the Haiti Support Group.