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FREE ZONES: THE CASE OF HAITI

Batay Ouvriye's Contribution to the Futrazona Congress,

Dominican Republic

February 1998

In the name of all the Haitian wage laborers and particularly those of BATAY OUVRIYE who delegated to this international meeting, we salute all the fellow workers present here. We also salute all those friends who bring their SOLIDARITY to the working classes' struggle at the world level.

In a recent past, various meetings were held in various countries to touch those themes which are central to this meeting. For us in Batay Ouvriye, this type of event is very important. To the extent of our means, we do whatever we can to bring our direct contribution. At the same time, we believe the wage laborers who participate within them should always keep in mind two important points. The first is their independence, starting from the real interests of the working class. This is something that we, wage-laborers, should always preserve. The second is the need to be aware of its consequence, that we use these meetings to establish contacts between wage laborers of various countries, on the basis of a very clear stand: Our struggle, the struggle of the working class, will always be an international struggle. We, proletarians of all countries, must always UNITE. This motto must always be ours.

But at the same time, without a true international organization based on our own interests and carrying within it the struggle against all types of deviations and opportunism, it will not be possible for us to defend and accomplish our class interests.

We must understand that in the times we are living on the world level, a Latin-American and Caribbean meeting on Free Zones and the situation of workers in these areas has a special interest. First, it confers us a larger space of analysis and allows us to denounce a concrete form taken by imperialism's development which allows it to maximize capital's yield. The world bourgeoisie not only exports its capital toward dominated countries to develop forms of production it has trouble developing at home, but it furthermore creates conditions to obtain an enormous yield. All of this in our countries culminates in what we call Free Zones. We all know these are zones where all sorts of advantages are to be found for imperialist capital's optimal functioning. Clearly, this is a demonstration, a proof of the imperialist countries' domination on countries such as our own. But above all it demonstrates thee imperialist bourgeoisie's domination on the working class, concretely. In this context, we insist on the importance of this meeting, the importance of learning about workers' conditions worldwide, the importance of defining a common strategy and forms for putting it in practice.

To continue, we are going to develop the following three points: free zones in Haiti, wage-laborers' conditions of life and work and finally a few proposals concerning strategies of struggle. Of course, developing these points demands a certain time. But we are going to be brief and succinct, given our time allotment.


THE FREE ZONE PROBLEM IN HAITI

As we said earlier, Free Zones are part of the imperialist strategy to develop the domination of their capital and maximize their profits. If we agree that in this process' development, production is always key, we can readily understand the importance acquired by these free zones' presence in dominated countries. In Haiti, since several decades, particularly the 60's, imperialists have been exporting their capital not through mines or agriculture, but through ventures or fractions of ventures in the assembly industries (for example, electronics, clothing or baseball industries). All of this production is then sent back to the imperialist countries. In this sense, they speak of subcontracting or re-exportation. In general, such industries are typical of free zones, that which we call maquiladoras and which benefit of duty exemptions. But to advance in this process, the capitalists need a legal framework. And this is where we find the State's role and that of lackey governments who develop laws for the establishment of free zones.

In the framework of the imperialist plan for Haiti and with the complicity of the local bourgeoisie, starting from the Jean-Claude Duvalier government in 1979, the capitalists tried to impose a law on free zones. Starting from this period, they considered the possibility of developing these free zones in coastal regions such as Fort-Liberté, Cap-Haitian and Gonaïves. They felt this was the necessary orientation for the country's economic development. But even though a legal framework had been set up toward these ends, free zones in a strict sense did not develop in Haiti. Several reasons explain this.

Investment in free zones needs local middlemen. In the case of Haiti, this was hindered by the bourgeoisie's weakness. The imperialists were faced with a compradore (import-export - commercial) bourgeoisie which was trying to transform itself into an industrial bourgeoisie. These capitalists maintained a greatly conservative and blackmail spirit. At the same time, the industries which were arriving in Haiti lacked stability and, especially, starting from1976, appeared that which the ruling classes and imperialism were to call liberalization. This was a process of political overture articulated with new forms of repression. This process was accompanied by the development of popular democratic struggles. The existence of these struggles undermined the ruling classes' stability, contributing to the deepening of the ruling classes' political crisis which would develop into a general crisis. All of this explains that until 1986, the ruling classes weren't able to do anything at all to implement real free zones. Despite this, however, a hybrid situation developed. This was the so-called industrial parks in the peripheral zones of Port-au-Prince which have also contributed to the widening of the metropolitan zones. Subcontracting or re-exportation imperialist industries would install themselves within these parks or in neighboring places, thus forming the industrial zones. These types of industry are found in the SONAPI industrial parc, in the SHODECOSA private park and near these two parks are other concentrations on certain specific roads near the main avenue which leads to the airport, as well as on the National Road #1 where both of these parks are located. The bourgeoisie tried to develop a decentralization process but failed.

Are these industries the same as those we usually find in free zones? In a certain sense, we could say yes, even if there do exist certain secondary differences. Actually, they don't have their own ports and they don't totally control their operation zones either. The State controls these areas and they depend on national legislation, such as the Labor Code. All of these should be important differences. But at the same time, they benefit from all sorts of duty exemptions, just like the free zones. The dictatorship the ruling classes exert on the workers, as well as the role played by the Department of Social Affairs and the Labor Tribunal (both on the bourgeois' and the imperialists' side), explain that there are no real differences with free zones. And in these places, the workers' problems are the same as those found in free zones.

We need to understand why the ruling classes haven't been able to develop free zones in the country. As we said, there are structural causes which are linked to the Haitian bourgeoisie's capacity, the assembly industry's specificity in relationship with the country's capacity. There are also political causes of a structural or momentary nature. These causes would, in their development, create a political crisis and put in evidence the bourgeoisie's and imperialism's incapacity to adapt.

But we should also say that two sorts of struggles have been of great importance as well: the progressive movement opposed to any sort of free zone development, in Haiti as well as in emigration centers, had a certain impact. Besides this, the working-class, which opposed itself to the repression on a daily basis, attained important conquests starting from 1976, during the democratic popular struggles' development. The resistance which developed when confronted to the exploitation of new industries took forms which often gave food for thought to the bourgeois.

In 1986, the crisis developed more yet. Both types of struggles deepened. Particularly, the working classes' impetus was great. Difficulties grew for the ruling classes. Thus, they could not develop the Free Zones. But, continuing to be stubborn, they persevered in the defense of their interests and, with the help of repression, corruption and the utilization of Lavalas opportunists, the bourgeoisie is now in a phase in which it is attempting to introduce a new law in Parliament. But the political crisis is so severe that it blocks all votes from happening.

As we already mentioned, we cannot speak of workers working in free zones, but we can speak of workers working in assembly industries (maquiladoras). Within these industries, we find a situation analogous to that which can generally be observed in free zones. The situation in Haiti is the same existing in other countries for workers in maquilas. For this reason, we'll limit ourselves to a brief description here.

Our practice at Batay Ouvriye has allowed us to learn about the situation of workers from Madagascar, Indonesia, China or various countries of Central America. Generally speaking, there exist no great variations between these countries and Haiti. And, succinctly, we can safely say that the situation is generally atrocious in all maquilas.

In Haiti, the salary payed is one of misery with which it is impossible for us to eat, pay transportation, see a doctor, buy medicine or educate our children. Furthermore, one must take into account the poor quality of that which we eat and the disastrous conditions in which we eat: on the side of the street, directly under the sun and in the dust, since there are no cafeterias for us. When we receive our famine salaries, we realize how great the exploitation we are submitted to is. In the factories where we work, the supervisors insult the workers, with absolutely no respect. They sexually harass the women workers and, at the least refusal, one is simply fired. Many of the industries don't have potable water and when it exists, it isn't even cool, whereas the heat is unbearable and there is no adequate ventilation. The air, moreover, is dusty. There are no clean toilets. In some cases, there aren't even modern toilets. But, above all, labor rights are in no way respected. The slightest inclination to organize is repressed in the most merciless manner. The only owner answer is firing, even though the Labor Code contains legal stipulations which guarantee and protect these rights. Legally, we have the right to organize but in fact we have to pursue and pursue the struggle to seize this right.

Today the minimum wage is thirty-six gourdes. But most of the industries don't respect this miserly emolument. A few pay forty or fifty gourdes but these values are worth less than the fifteen gourdes of a few years ago. In most cases, we work for a production quota which we cannot attain. The H.H. Cuttler or Walt Disney industries, for example, pay us less than one gourde to sew four clothes which may sell for eighty, ninety or one hundred US dollars. And one should realize we are thirteen working at it. That conveys an eloquent idea of the degree of exploitation we are living in Haiti.

The bosses massively fire so as not to pay compensation. Factory despotism is permanent and very strong. The State, through its institutions, particularly the Department of Social Works and the Labor Tribunal is clearly on the bosses' side, defending exclusively their interests.

And, while we know that this is not different from what is happening in the other countries of the region, we raise our voices again to denounce this horrible and unjust situation which is infernal, degrading and revolting for us, workers.

For BATAY OUVRIYE, the struggle within the maquilas is of first importance. But we also believe that in each country, the working class must situate such struggles within its overarching fight to unify the totality and allow it to play its historical role. For this, we need for the working class organization to have a correct and strong line to attain this objective.


The struggle must allow us to concretely and consistently face imperialist domination. We should not limit ourselves uniquely to the forms this domination takes in free zones. Posing the problem of imperialist domination implies clearly posing the working classes' struggle in its generality at the worldwide level, confronting the international bourgeoisie and thus making this struggle a clearly anti-capitalist one.

Certainly, we must fight to limit the exploitation on a daily basis, to improve our conditions of life and work (problems of transportation, health, food, clothing, wage raises, etc . . . ). But it is equally important to recognize the limits of these struggles. Starting from them, the working class must articulate them with our fight to eliminate, destroy capitalism. We, who are aware of all of this, work arduously to bring our contribution to the democratic level and, taking into account the bosses' illegal position and the support of state repression, we articulate in this process legal and clandestine struggles, as well as legal and clandestine organizations. The working class of certain Latin-American countries has had experiences which correspond to this orientation. As an example, we can cite the case of Haiti, as well as practices which have developed in Guatemala and Nicaragua.

We must work for the reconstruction of the working classes' fighting organizations at the regional and international level. At the same time, we must support and extend all processes of REAL SOLIDARITY with the working classes' struggles, wherever they take place. There exists today a solidarity movement which is developing in various imperialist countries with the maquila workers. We must have the the objective of fortifying it, maintaining it, starting from the genuine interests of the working class. This is the case of the Disney and Nike struggles in the United States and Europe. Our duty is to unify this movement, while hindering individuals or groups from using our struggles toward other ends or from accomplishing their own interests at our expense. At the same time, these struggles must nourish themselves, base themselves starting from the dominated countries. At this level, we have our own responsibilities.

In our case, we, wage-laborers of the dominated countries, must face the problem of re-localization. In order to obtain more profits, the maquilas leave a country to go to another, trying to obtain the lowest salaries and other advantages. We must unite in a struggle which is truly based on our worldwide wage-laborer class interests, without particularism.

In the case of Haiti which does not have free zones in the strict sense, we must pursue the struggle against their introduction. The popular masses will have to mobilize to carry through this resistance. This process will be more difficult than one might think at first, given the consequences of the opportunists' failure, in particular that of the Lavalas government (in the North-West, for example, the population previously opposed to the establishment of such enclaves is beginning to be favorable to them).

But, since we are aware of the terrible consequences these zones have for the working class and popular masses in general, there is no other way than to oppose ourselves with due firmness. Toward this end, it is imperative that we all assume our responsibilities. At BATAY OUVRIYE, we are trying to assume our own. And we believe this is also the duty of each worker, each progressive.

FORWARD WORKING CLASSES' STRUGGLE!

FORWARD UNITY AMONGST WORKERS OF THE WORLD!

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