The bosses' power to do as they please within production units, with the assurance that the law will never enforced against them and that they benefit of the greatest degree of impunity is without doubt one of the most notable marks of the working classes' daily struggles at the democratic level. Indeed, this is certainly the dominant feature of the innumerable arbitrary firings, bloody quota rises, anti-union repression mesures and other such exactions.
In and of itself, such evidence is enough to draw the working classes' attention towards the government offices supposedly in charge of dealing with this sort of problem, specifically the Labor Office of the Ministry of Social Affairs. Yet here again are publicly displayed delaying tactics, scheming, casualness with the tycoons... concretely: the defense of bosses' tyranny. To which the present natural weakness of these institutions, particularly that of the very same Department of Social Affairs, is added, all in all boiling down to a reinforcement of this very clear bias. The global dimension of the problem thus comes into focus. And when, as it happened recently,this Ministry's employees go on strike to protest again this institutional weakness, the Office comes out but weaker yet, even absent, to the triumph of the bourgeoisie.
Worse: in the rare cases in which workers succeed in imposing their own interests at the Ministry of Social Affairs, the problem escalates towards another level - that of the application of the decision taken. The Labor Office declares to be no cop. So, our struggles reach a dead end: confronted with the Ministy of Justice, the police... at end, with other ministries yet,consequently, we are faced with the gouvernment in itself.
The bosses' dictatorship over the working class as well as the State institutions is thus rendered patent by the present conjuncture. Witness, the tool in which this essences coagulates : the duvalierist Labor Code, an unquestionable straight jacket constricting in a formidable manner the working classes'real capacity to protect their rights, organize, mobilize.
This block confronting the laborers must consequently be fought from the onstart of its legislation,the Labor Law - which points toward the Congress and widens even more the block. Opposed to us, executive and legislative powers. Which draws into light the fact that by no means does this situation reflect a mere conjunctural effect - instead, it reveals a true nature - that of the State.
Corporate interests, Ministry of Social Works, Justice, Police, Parliament… bourgeoisie, State: quickly, clearly, the working classes' struggles direct it towards this pure and simple evidence - that what, in fact, is in question, is a block struggle against the integrity of the domination apparatus, against the RULING CLASSES.
On November 18th and 19th of 1995, BATAY OUVRIYE brought together various groups of workers from Chancerelles Manufacture, Sagesse Building Materials, Seamfast Manufacturing and Carlos Handicraft to debate over the difficulties they were confronting on a regular basis within the production units they worked at, as well as the main organizational problems facing the working class in Haiti today.
From this debate, six main lines of struggle emerged, which continue to be essential in the course of our present action. They are:
1. THE FIGHT AGAINST ANTI-LABOR REPRESSION
Despite its many forms, retaliations against workers' very first steps toward organization always has the same end.
At Chancerelles Manufacture, as soon as the union had finished legalizing its paperwork, a wave of "compression" did away with the majority of the Executive Committee's members.
At Seamfast Manufacturing where anti-union spying is rampant, firing is so usual that it was impossible for workers to even put together a legal organization.
At Classic Apparel, on top of the usual firings, the management ingenuously came with a scheme for splitting the factory in two, in order to disorient union initiative.
At Worldtex, the entire union was dismounted by firing.
In the north of the country, of three unions existing - Novella Coffee Export, Laroche Ciment Blocks and Hotel Beck - the two latter had the integrality of their executive boards fired (although the Hotel Beck Labor Union was able, more or less, to hold through and put together another one); and the first has never stopped blocking the innumerous attacks launched by the factory direction, ever since the very first days of its existence.
2. STRUGGLE FOR WAGE ADJUSTMENT
Even though the legal minimum wage went from 15 to 36 gourdes ($US 1 to US$ 2,40) in 1995, more than 50 establishments producing for the north-american market in Haiti were able to get around these mere crumbs for more than a year, thanks to the illegal tarif system they impose upon the workers. At Quality Garmets and at Charles Handal's (two H.H. Cutler producers) for example, a large percentage of workers continued for a long time To work hard for salaries as low as $0.12/hour. Two years later, through many arduous struggles, we were able to redress the situation and force most of these factories to pay the minimum salary. Yet Quality Garment, for example, continued to pay no more than $1.67 to most workers, 73 cents less than the legal minimum and to systematically refuse to pay the 50% more stipulated by the law for overtime work. (NB: *** This text is dated. In 2003, the minimum was at last raised to 70 gourdes. Nevertheless, the situation of owners dragging their feet to pay it continues, although the real salary, given inflation and the national currency’s devaluation, is much less than that which it used to be.)
3. LABOR BUREAU DENUNCIATION / WORK TRIBUNAL
Under the prexet of chronic shortages of all sorts of means (amongst which vehicles necessary to inspect factories that are part of their duty, paper and envelopes to convoke management, typewrites and even ribbons…!!!), these offices of the Ministry of Social Affairs and that of Justice only confirm that these democratic struggles of the working class will have to be carried out under both economic and political angles. The endemic corruption and clear and patent subservience to the big bosses are their major characteristics and when a political whim leads to the nomination of alternative employees, they are quickly obliged to flee workers pressure, going so far as to hide!
4. LEGISLATIVE REFORMS
The present Work Code is still that which had been drafted by Jean-Claude Duvalier’s ministers, a repressive instrument in the hands of the bosses. For instance, there exists no real protection for unionization, an impressive punitive arsenal concerning strikes, the obligation to read and write in order to be part of a union committee (in a country where half of the population is illiterate), a number of sanctions whose bearing is as invalid for the bosses as they are devastating for the workers, etc...…
5. FIGHT AGAINST LAYOFFS, WORK SHORTAGE AND SQUALID CONDITIONS
Almost all of the factories undergo important fluctuations in the production which not only account for the lowering of our wages, but also as a justification to curb the working classes’ organization and the expression of our rightful demands. This is a classical boss strategy: under guise of a “business slump”, the number of work days is reduced, as workers notice their salaries progressively reducing, until, at end, they are purely and simply compressed… in view of a new of beginning of the company, with new workers.
However, the nature of industrial work forbids pursuing several activities at once, which is why in the midst of the slump, the worker is forced to hang on to the one (s)he has, in a situation of total dependency.
This reality adds to a ferociously discriminatory social structure in which the bourgeoisie readily denies us our very humanity. In the factories: neither fresh water, nor showers, completely inadequate ventilation and constantly dirty toilets, textile dust, lack of protection against toxic materials, etc… etc… No cafeterias: we eat right in the streets, in the midst of ferocious dust and sun. The sexual harassment of bosses and administrators is notorious.
6. FIGHT AGAINST REPRESSION IN THE FACTORIES
The factory prison-like universe is at its paroxysm: the slightest seconds late are mercilessly punished (whereas the so-called “production slacks” are for us cause of entire days lost, sitting at the plants doorstep waiting the bosses “generosity” to deign to let us know the date of the next work arrival).