By: IWW Haiti Mission – Delegation Blog The following are reports from the IWW delegation to Haiti, currently being hosted by the Confederation of Haitian Workers (CTH). Visit the website above to read more.
April 29, 2008
This morning we went to a press conference related to the unjustified arrest of Levy Mileot, president of the hospital union. Afterwards we stopped by the CTH office where there was a conference held by the Assocation des Employes Victimes de la Teleco, over 5000 of whom have been laid off since 2004 when the privatization of TELECO began. They were left with only a 12 month severance package and are demanding an extension to 36 months based on the precedent set by the public concrete and flour companies which were also privatized. There are accompanying demands such as medical coverage, money for children’s schooling, microcredit loans, professional training, and elimination of workers’ debts. They are planning a protest on May 1st in conjunction with civil society to which our delegation has pledged its support as a tactic to pressure the Haitian government (and the North American neo-colonialists) from reversing the privatization of the public sector. We next met with representatives from the EDH (Electicite d Haiti) the state electrical company, in particular Hary St. Felix, General Secretary of the Federation of Workers Unions of the EDH. The EDH is the next target for privatization following the neo-liberal model. Hary stressed the idea of pushing for a 3 year severance package for the soon to be laid off workers. He proceeded to explain the working of the electrical union and how the production of power took place in three different stages: Production, transportation, and commercialization. The problem in this process is practical– how can you furnish the necessary service. In fact 75% of Haitians lack electricity as witnessed in Hinche and even in PAP where there are 3 hours or less of power a day. The EDH would like to have sustainable energy created (solar, wind, hydro) but the state is not interested in exploring these alternatives. There are 2500 EDH employees, each of which support roughly 10 dependents. In October 2007, before the food crisis, the union did a study that concluded that the salary needed to bring a family of 4 up to the poverty line is $450 a month. This only includes 2 meals a day, and does not include the cost of schooling and health care, both of which are now private. However, the average salary of an EDH worker is only $80 a month. Keep in mind there are only 200,000 formal sector jobs so if 2,500 EDH workers are laid off it effects over 25,000 individuals. The EDH is involved in both production and delivery. There is also a private firm that only produces electricity and refuses for the moment to involve itself in delivery and collection of payment from individual customers because there is such a problem with theft. Apparently, of all the electricity that is consumed in the country the EDH receives payment for only 50% of it because people at all levels of society are illegally tapping into the electrical lines. Of course this only includes those who have access to the electrical infrastructure in the countryside and the shanty towns where there is no infrastructure there is no “theft.” The EDH has asked for proper funding to improve its bill collection and infrastructure improvement, but this has fallen on deaf ears. To date the government’s argument for privatization has been that the public sector operates at a loss, however the evidence suggest that this is due to underfunding. The union believes that this is a deliberate strategy to justify handing over potentially profitable public sector industries to corporations. In contrast, Venezuela and Hydro Quebec have proposed a cooperative agreement which would see to the construction of several power plants around the country. Venezuela in particular will be constructing 3 power plants, one in Gonaives, one in Cap Haitien and one in Port-au-Prince. They are being built in the spirit of cooperation and not competition; the Venezuelans will provide their own technicians to get things up and running, but they will be training Hatians to replace them, thereby providing Haiti with electrical sovereignty. In addition, Venezuela provides Haiti with 14,000 barrels of oil a day, 60% of the cost is paid now while the remaining 40% must be invested in state infrastructure and repaid in 25 years time. According to the EDH union representatives, President Chavez of Venezuela does not promise aid, he gives it as opposed to the United States, Canada and Europe who only promise but never give. Our personal experience confirms this as we have seen the tangible aid from Venezuela as opposed to the constant and intimidating U.N. military patrols. Furthermore, a medical university that Cuba helped establish in Tabarre has since been closed and is now occupied by the U.N. and is used as a military base. Currently the EDH is striking in order to get the promised 35% raise in salaries to deal with the increased cost of living. This was promised in March but has yet to be realized. While taking a break from our meetings we heard singing in the adjacent room. We went to listen and saw that it was the union representatives, Hary Saint-Felix and Pierre Nadal, singing solidarity songs, which described how the union fights not just for the betterment of its members but also for the betterment of the whole country. They said that songs demonstrate that union members walk not with the heads down but with their heads held high, they don’t walk alone, but with each other. By betterment they are referring to socio-economic and political conditions as well as to working class culture. Song is a concrete expression of solidarity because we sing together a common understanding and goal. Our cameraman Nathaniel returned the favour, leading in the singing of “Solidarity Forever.”
April 27- April 28, 2008
Yesterday we took the day off and went to the beach with Paul and Jeanette. On the way we drove briefly through Cite Soleil, the Port Au Prince slum from which Aristide drew significant support. We witnessed shanty towns with corrugated metal roofs slapped up on top of garbage dumps along toxic streams. On the outskirts was the Duvalier prison, Dimanche, which was destroyed after the dictators’ fall. From the slum we saw the apartments Aristide began to build for the poor, some were completed but the project was never finished due to the 2004 coup. Proceeding toward the beach we crossed PAP’s largest market, which is being replaced by permanent structures funded by Venezuela, an example of real international solidarity. Contrast this to the UN which is basically an occupying power driving through PAP in armored personal carriers brandishing guns. We witnessed other dramatic contrasts, on one side sat the slums, while on the other the National Theater and embassies, including the old US embassy, replaced just last week by a fortress near the airport. Thus the architecture tends to confirm the statistic that 85% of Haiti’s wealth controlled by 6% of the population (ironically the richest billionaire in Latin America is Haitian, and Haiti has the most billionaires in the Caribbean). Leaving the market area we saw a few of the remaining Creole pigs drinking and eating in the sewer. Creole pigs were forcibly eradicated in 1982 and replaced by pigs imported from Iowa, dubbed by peasants “prince a quatre pieds” (four footed princess) as they required a higher standard of living than most Haitians, needing clean drinking water unavailable to 80% of the population, vaccinations, special imported feed provided by US agribusiness, and special roofed pigpens. The beach was lovely, though catered mostly to upper class Haitian youth, costing more than most Haitians live on in a day. It was quite a contrast being the only white people on the beach. The water was lovely, warm, and refreshing. Today we visited PAP’s docks, where the CTH has a presence with the Syndicat de Employes de Lautorite Portuiare Nationale (SEAPN- National Dock Workers’ Port Authority Union). We had a meeting with the union’s president and 7 committee members. We learned that the docks have 1800 employees, 1275 are union members, 1300 of which are about to be laid-off. According to those we interviewed the SEAPN is “apolitical,” doing social instead of ideological work. The union’s main focus is working with the employees, making sure they keep their jobs and that their rights are defended. They stressed they have a “new union philosophy,” to work in collaboration with the Port’s director to obtain a better severance package for the workers. Their focus is to “modernize through diplomacy to present the problems of workers to management.” Unfortunately, there is now a crisis between the union management and the government; the State has decided to lay off 1300 workers and the union, not opposing the layoffs, is focusing on obtaining a 2 year severance package with 6 months health care beyond that. They also talked about professional training to manage the money they receive and initiate “income generating activities through new economic initiatives” (through the informal sector?). This reveals a tension between the CTH and the SEAPN as the CTH remains opposed to this kind of privatization and is trying to organize national and international opposition to the move, which is one example of how badly they require our solidarity. There is no opposition to the layoffs in the Haitian government in fact the port director and “civil servant”, Jean Evans Charles, a hatchet man, after 2 hours of pontificating stated “we are capitalists, we have to make money in a competitive system, and the best way to do this is to privatize.” What will the layoffs be based on — seniority, age, family? — we did not get a clear picture. When asked about the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (guaranteed to all people, the right to work, education, food, clothing, shelter, and to live a life of quality in a democracy), Charles repeated the Reaganite doctrine of trickle down economics. Interestingly, no one from the SEAPN was listening to his spiel, instead they talked on their cell phones, engaged in non-verbal communication with us, and one even fell asleep. As we left the port some Haitians shouted at us “CIA, CIA fuck off,” alluding to US cooperation with the port’s privatization. We proceeded to the Parquet, a local courthouse, where hospital workers who had not been paid for 7 months were standing in solidarity with the president of their union who had been arrested after an altercation between some union workers and the hospital’s director. The union president, Levy Mileot, was not even present at the incident. In a crowd surveyed by plainclothesmen who carried M16s and shotguns we learned that on March 15 a 35% increase in hospital worker pay had been approved but has yet to be implemented. We interviewed several members of the hospital workers union who denounced not only corruption in the health care industry, but also launched into attacks on bureaucracy, clientelism, systemic violence and corruption, and anti-unionism. By 4:30 the judge had not shown up for the hearing. Shortly thereafter Mileot was whisked away amid the outcry of the 30 or so there in solidarity.
April 26, 2008
We started the morning by being interviewed by at least 10 members of the local press who questioned us on our objectives. We explained that as citizens of Canada and the US (the two main countries behind the coup and the neoliberal/privatization policies) we felt a moral and democratic obligation to document the living and working conditions created by our governments’ foreign policies, and to bring that information back to our fellow citizens with the hope that this will compel them to mobilize for social justice. Our final stop was in the countryside where we met with peasant groups affiliated with the CTH. Interestingly enough the meeting was held in a building used to raise pigs. At the time it was empty, but again due to a lack of resources it was the only structure available for the meeting. One telling part of the meeting was when the delegation asked them whether they have received any of the international aid our governments claim to be giving to Haiti, the question was met with a resounding and unified NO! The farmers explained that the peasants are the motor of the economy because without food there is no work. They actually sang a song which dramatized this point. Subsequently the attendees elaborated six main points to improve agriculture, which would improve the quality of life for children, women, and men throughout Haiti: 1. Food 2. Health Care 3. Education and job training 4. Decent housing 5. Dignified work 6. Leisure time. One key word summed up how many of these points could be accomplished: IRRIGATE! In short the peasants and peasant organizers displayed a profound political consciousness when they explained that the US and Canada did not want Haiti to be politically or economically independent because the people would use their independence to develop and redistribute the resources of the country for its people.
April 25, 2008
We left Port-au-Prince to visit the countryside, more precisely the Plateau-Central, the poorest region of Haiti. The road that led us there was indicative of the state of the country, as it resembled a mountain riverbed as opposed to a smooth paved highway, much like the life of your average Hatian. En route we passed Peligre Dam designed and built in 1950 to provide electricity to factories in Port-au-Prince, but not for the people of the region. Currently it only provides on average 3 hours of electricity per day, and only to those who can afford it. As we progressed along the so-called road, we witnessed acute poverty in the form of shanty homes built of scrap wood/metal, roaming goats and chickens, sparse vehicles loaded with mangoes, bananas, and people in the room that was left, many of whom were scantily dressed. Most of the people we witnessed along the road were simply waiting in front of their homes. Others were involved in the mango harvest using boney horses and donkeys to transport the produce. We arrived in Hinche, the capital of the Plateau-Central, where we met with regional coordinators of the CTH, none of whom are paid for their union work. They explained the conditions within each sector they represented: Commerce, cooperatives, journalism, construction, youth work, transportation, women’s issues, agricultural workers, professional artisans etc. And then each sector went into great detail as to what their problems were. The overwhleming obstacle was a complete and utter lack of infrastructure, such as means of transportation for their products, financial assistance to propel growth, irrigation, modern tools, local places to meet, schools, drinkable water, electricity, hospitals, social security or services, job training, child care, etc.. For the 55,000 people on the plateau, one of the only recourses is to work in the sugar can fields of the Dominican Republic for starvation wages, under conditions of extreme discrimination. The only other recourse is to go to Port-au-Prince and attempt to join the informal economy. For many women this means prostitution, and for many men this means unemployment, begging or petty crime.
April 24, 2008
We were hosted by Paul “Loulou” Chery, the general secretary of the CTH. We visited the main building of the CTH, INAFOS (the National Institute for Social Training) where they used to train members in foreign languages (Spanish, English and French) as well as cadres that would go to the countryside to help organize for the union. The union has been suffering a low period over the last 5-6 years and the builiding has fallen into disrepair due to a lack of resources. They are in need of $25-30,000 for renovations and also need a steady income of $4-5,000 a month for operational costs. For the moment some of the space is being rented to other organizaions who need limited space.