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BATAY OUVRIYE NEWSLETTER

No. 1 – July 2005


Today, Batay Ouvriye is placing a NEWSLETTER at everybody’s disposal. We do this in the objective of diffusing news of our own struggles, of our practices in general. But it is especially geared towards informing the peoples’ camp, nationally and internationally, of news that indeed are its own, but furthermore are the fundamental news happening today, at the very basis of Haiti’s problems: the new fundamental evolution of the Haitian social formation.

This newsletter is a first one. Others will follow. To always inform all of us and have us experience our concrete reality. In order for us to continue building OUR OWN CAMP, in the objective of organizing OUR OWN FORCES, throwing OUR OWN WEIGHT into the battle.

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Despite a very difficult conjuncture, Batay Ouvriye’s practices have developed in various departments of the country. This development is unequal. We have advanced in certain regions and regressed in others. In some, the confrontations were extremely tense. We can say we underwent the effects of the situation in various forms.

The deterioration of the general situation politically and economically caused certain members to weaken, which had an effect on our practices. According to the members’ responsibility, these effects had variable impacts. This happened especially on the island of La Gonave, in the Department of the West. In this area which is comprised of two communes, two persons in charge emigrated, leaving the country. This had effects on the continuance of our practices. It is an area in which we had a rather large development. The workers have to take the practices back in hand and allow for the continuation of the practices based on what was already established. Amongst these, several were amongst those concerning the fight against exploitation directly, particularly in the application of the “3-share” sharecropping system. This system implies one share for the workers, one for the land owner and a last for the land itself, namely: seeds, irrigation, insecticides and so on… and even funds to repair tools, as may be necessary. This system is the one which is supposedly legal. In contrary cases, all the expenses for soil amelioration, production optimizing, fall on the sole backs of the workers. This is an extremely harsh exploitation for us, poor peasants working on large landowners’ lands in these conditions. Indeed, in most areas, the big landholders refuse to apply the 3 share system, even if the law dictates it. They say: one share for the land owner, one for the worker, that’s it! This is what they call “demwatye” (“two halves”), which we all know to be applied throughout the country, but that isn’t legal, actually. The Rural Code is quite clear, as is the Constitution, concerning the 3-share system. The latifundists refusal to apply it makes them simply, openly illegal. Since forever, up through today! And as we know they are still heading the power and that this power, in itself, is always against us, for us to make the law be respected, to succeed in having the 3-shares applied, we need to fight very hard. In La Gonave, the poor peasants organized and mobilized and succeeded in making the landowners apply the 3-share system. At the same time, the wage laborers who were making less than 15 gourdes a day (US $0.38!) managed to obtain 50 gourdes and even more in certain areas, but, once again, through tremendous fights. This is because the State and, generally, the government’s direct representatives – especially the present administration – are rotten reactionaries, always against the workers. And whenever they need to act illegally, they do it outright. So, on the island of La Gonave, the struggle continues. La Gonave is a region where workers aren’t considered to be human beings. But progressively the workers have begun to show what they’re worth and what they know. The sudden absence of the persons in charge there caused a long stop and even a certain regression in the level of organization and mobilization there; although other consistent workers are gradually taking things back in hand and wish to begin to be responsible for their lives, thus: their battles.

Another region in which Batay Ouvriye had developed and the fights had reached a confrontational level but that was adversely affected by the general situation combined with our own material difficulties is the North-West. Mobilization had been attained there during the year 2003-2004 on various issues such as land, exploitation, justice and the government’s promise for free birth certificates for all. All of these slowed down. Despite this, in this area too, there are definite gains: there are lands we have occupied and are working. This has been maintained. On the question of exploitation, the 3-share system is applied and the agricultural wages have been raised. Various demonstrations-mobilizations were held on the question of the birth certificates; and in this way a registrar was forced to meet with us and consider how the problem could be solved. In some places, the landlords who had accepted to meet with us with respect to what should be done after their accepting the 3-share system continue to sit down with us to monitor and be able to follow the agreements we had reached. But at the same time, in other places, some still haven’t accepted and, there, we faced direct attacks. The most striking case is in Mare Rouge, near Môle St. Nicolas. There, the landowners mobilized former military agents to attack us. We were able to repel them twice. They put out a threatening leaflet attacking the workers and their organization. With the negative evolution of the former military as a force in the field, they stepped up to a new form of attack. This is how the managed to pay poor peasants of the village and thus mobilized fifty of them to attack a Batay Ouvriye coordination meeting that was being held on December 28th in a place called Baguette. This led to a full out confrontation in which: one of our comrades died on the spot; a second was seriously wounded and despite the medical assistance we provided him (in very difficult conditions, since they were pursuing him), he passed away. After the confrontation, on the landlords demand, the police showed up. As we were evacuating, they attacked two comrades. To avoid ending up in jail which would be very difficult for us since the judicial system is leagued against us, and given the relation of forces, we were obliged to accept to pay what the police demanded us for them to release our comrades. This situation demanded great expenses. We were upheld in this by international solidarity. This assistance was important and we thank once again all those who helped us. Despite all of these difficulties, the coordination has been able to restructure itself and our practices in this area have resumed progressively.

In these different regions, notwithstanding the difficulty of this period, we have managed to make certain steps forward. In our practices amongst the workers, the distinction between agricultural wage laborers and sharecropping farmers was established to a certain extent, that is: each entity functions, reflects, organizes, mobilizes: fights – within itself. While, at the same time, this allows the different elements of the dominated classes to better structure their coordination to fight together for their common demands, against the State, for example, that isn’t doing anything in the region other than stealing taxes and supporting the landlords in their abuses. This form of organization gives better bases to avoid populism and begin a real mass coordination. In this, we were able to construct various platforms of struggle and initiate mobilization on the priority axes. On the basis of the extension of the extension we achieved, the major task before us is the construction of a general instance to allow us to better advance in our far-reaching struggles and to have a national impact corresponding to what the moment demands.

In the department of the Center, we have also advanced. Starting from the various struggles, in the framework of these struggles, we attained a very large extension and we have the same sort of gains we mentioned above. Practices are progressing in the communes of Savanettes, Lascahobas, Belladère, Mirebalais… Further, in the LOWER ARTIBONITE, implantation in struggles occurred too in Lachapelles, Verrette, Petite Rivière… However, our practices in St Marc were reduced and need to be launched anew. This is equally valid for Gonaïves where the confusion of the anti-Aristide struggle was negative for the advancement of workers’ and popular masses’ demands in general. This is also the case for Saint Michel de l’Attalaye. In the West, our practices, on the contrary, consolidated and, in this, continued to develop in a solid, combative and consequential orientation. Thus, in Arcahaie, in Cabaret, in Cazale… In the SOUTH and NIPPES, the workers progressed and encountered in their struggles for their demands, although internal migration is very strong in these areas. The locality which has advanced most in these practices is Aquin because many workers have migrated there.

In the NORTH-WEST, the free trade zone struggles continue. Today, negotiations for a collective work convention have begun, a bipartite committee is functioning while the democratic relation and the assembly remain fundamental to heighten the consciousness of all discussions occurring in the offices and, especially, to confirm them or reject them. For us, the workers’ assembly in a union is the supreme decisional organ and this principle, included in all of the statutes of Batay Ouvriye worker unions, is in all of our struggles, all mobilizations, all our practices in general, where we try to make it real. On the other hand, as these negotiations occurred, the Tribunal of Fort-Liberté rendered a very important sentence in the conflict opposing two SOCOWA (the free trade zone union) members and management who called the Dominican army to beat them up. The clearness of the case (physical abuse in broad daylight, before witnesses, the workers with legal and medical certificates to support their depositions), the total clarity of the denunciation explains the judge gave the workers reason and condemned the company’s head security agent who commanded the beatings ordered by the CODEVI company. That is when the company’s director called the government for it to intervene directly in the conflict in its’ favor. And indeed, as we speak, various ministers of this government are seeking to hijack justice in favor of the Dominican capitalists, always against the Haitian workers. We firmly protest against this and are mobilizing our forces to counter this new abuse of the Dominican capitalists with the Haitian government against the workers once again. (For more on this, see our website: http://www.batayouvriye.org ). Linked with the free trade zone practices are various levels of organization established by us in the town of Ouanaminthe itself, especially in the neighborhoods, with recently immigrated poor peasants, and workers in general, on one hand, confronted with landlords seeking to kick them out of their homes throughout Ouanaminthe’s popular neighborhoods (!) but also, on the other, in front of the absence of the State in the area, which allows any hoodlum or “feeling authorized” to carry out any abuse against the population in general and, presently, in particular against the traveling poor merchants and deported Haitians from the Dominican Republic.

In the North, particularly Cap-Haitian, the unions’ mobilizations against the bosses has resumed in earnest given the high cost of living the workers are confronting. Salaries have already become much too low, even their struggles in many factories and workshops have made them rise beyond preceding rates. In some places, like the Marnier-Lapostolle orange fields, where the workers had already managed to obtain a daily salary of 250 gourdes a day (US $6.41) during their last mobilization, it attained 275 gourdes. At Hotel Beck, however, management has refused to discuss a collective work convention with the workers, despite the fact they had gathered the signatures of over two-thirds of the work force, in conformity with legal stipulations. According to the Labor Code, upon the demand of two-thirds of the work force, management is obliged to negotiate a collective convention. But, once again as a bourgeois in full power, Beck simply declared he refuses to negotiate! Presently, the workers, who can’t endure anymore with the situation of domination they are undergoing and the pitiful salaries they perceive, are preparing to mobilize. In the neighborhoods, certain localities have established Workers’ Committees’ in Neighborhoods, this helping them to defend their rights especially against the numerous abuses the former Lavalas gangs used to carry out against the population (forcing them to pay State-distributed water, stealing taxes from low income street vendors, etc…). Presently, they are confronting the former military (often combined with former lavalas gang members) who have set out to seize various land plots and even houses in certain areas. And, together with the rest of the population, they are mobilizing to this end.

Alongside all of this, our practices continue in the capital too. This we will return to in our next bulletin. In this number, we wished to address the practices occurring amongst the workers, the popular masses in general, in various areas within the country, especially in the rural zones. These generally aren’t relayed by the press. However, in the majority of the cases, it is fundamental conflicts that are being dealt with; it is the country’s turning point that is in question: questions of property, of social relations within production itself! In this period in which we are assailed by the high mystification of “bourgeois democracy for all”, it is important for us to realize that the social conflicts in production, at various levels, in different places, these are what really describe the concrete situation the Haitian social formation is going through. In this period of generalized crisis in which the dominant classes don’t have a solution, in this period in which the State is either absent, either more directly attending to preparing the big landowners’ and bourgeois’ exploitation, the workers’ struggles are crucial for the future of the Haitian people. Our limited capacities put us in a major contradiction with our general responsibility. Material difficulties render the problem even more acute and, although we have always and will always rely on our own forces, solidarity remains important.

While the dominant classes are seeking to resolve their problems through mystification, in the elections, we are advancing, ourselves, in our independent line proceeding from the interests of the exploited workers. This demands mobilization, organization. After the failure of the dominant classes, whether they be the archaic landowners, the useless import-export bourgeoisie, the corrupt bureaucratic bourgeoisie or, presently, the rapacious industrial bourgeoisie; in light of the State’s absence and the absence of an alternative political party non-dependent or not completely subservient to imperialism, the workers must come forward with their own alternative, starting from their own interests, their struggles, in their struggles, and not simply submit to the dominant classes’ efforts to rebuild the rotten State through elections and their deceitful democracy. In this, it is really and concretely the problem of the development of the productive forces that is in question, that of an alternative State, even if the difficulties, confusion and hesitations of the general situation render the practice highly complex.