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News :: Education : Environment : Gender : GLBT/Queer : Globalization : Human Rights : International : Labor : Media : Organizing : Politics : Race : Social Welfare : Technology : War and Militarism
The minimum Wage struggle in Haiti
06 Apr 2008
Let’s support the Haitian workers’ struggle for a minimum wage adjustment and the struggle to lower the cost of living, a two-pronged struggle.
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The Haitian popular masses, on many occasions, have taken to the streets in order to stop the degradation of their social condition. Workers, laborers, the poor and dispossessed, landless peasants, agricultural workers and the petty-bourgeoisie, the whole people’s camp, fought for their demands, even their most minimal ones, their most basic ones, such as the right to feed their family, to have decent living conditions, and for their daughters and sons to receive a decent education. But the aspirations of the masses are becoming a nightmare in a society dominated by bankrupt bourgeois politics, under occupation and totally dependent and dominated by imperialism. Under the domination of the anti-national, anti-popular ruling classes, with the state’s neo-liberal policies mandated by imperialism, no solution seems to be in the interest of the popular masses. In fact the tendency for the situation to worsen is far greater than for any short-term improvement. The probability for the conditions to worsen is rapidly growing.

Since 1986, through all the Lavalas regimes, the demands of the popular masses have never been objectively addressed. Different sectors of the dominant classes, relying on the petty-bourgeoisie, used the popular masses to achieve their own objectives. Inside Haitian society there are two distinct types of struggle being waged. One is among the dominant classes and the other between the masses and the dominant classes. The struggle among the dominant classes is mostly and fundamentally a struggle for hegemony, restructuration of bourgeois democracy and how to best administer a decaying feudalism and a totally dependent and dominated form of capitalism. There are no stable structures within the social formation capable of negotiating the struggles emanating from the contradictions within the ruling classes. These situations have created very volatile conditions and a never-ending series of crises between the dominant classes and the state apparatus. No fraction and no class in the dominant classes seem to be able to put forth a viable alternative. The internal contradictions of the ruling classes can’t be resolved thru simple reforms. The incapacity and opportunism of the petty-bourgeoisie doesn’t allow them to carry on a form of struggle that will be beneficial to the bourgeoisie’s potent need to restructure, as we have seen in Nicaragua or in South Africa. Even their good intentions are short lived. As soon as petty-bourgeois elements start heading the government and the state apparatus, they are digested by the existing structure and they quickly drop all their popular aspirations and they themselves become bourgeois, engaging in the primitive accumulation of capital thru the state apparatus. We witnessed such social practices under Duvalier and under the different Lavalas regimes. There is a total incapacity for the dominant classes, primarily the bourgeoisie, to resolve the actual situation in Haiti, even with the occupation. THEY HAVE THEIR HANDS TIED UP AND THEY ARE STUCK IN REVERSE.

There are two types of struggle being waged. All classes in the popular masses have been mostly fighting under the leadership of one or the other section of the dominant classes. A protracted ideological and political warfare is being waged to steer the masses away from their own interests. After the fall of Duvalier, the demands of the masses were very clear. We wanted TOTAL AND RADICAL CHANGE. In fact we did not want elections. Even Aristide at the time was saying that election was a method the dominant classes use to resolve the problems in their midst.

On the other hand, there is another alternative, still in minority, that is accumulating strength under great hardship and difficulties. There is a growing struggle for the popular masses to radically break away from the influence of either the bourgeoisie or its representatives, even the populists, and build their own autonomous combative organizations, in particular the working class, agricultural workers, dominated and exploited peasants, so that they can wage their own struggles. Struggles that are totally independent from the interests of any class or fraction in the dominant classes. THEIR OWN AUTONOMOUS STRUGGLES!

These battles are being waged on two fronts and are very difficult. They are difficult because all the disadvantages are against the people’s camp. These disadvantages are as arduous as can be: the general state of misery affecting the masses to the point they are forced to eat dirt patties to calm their hunger, the generalized terror either by the occupation forces, the paramilitary forces, the armed gangs under the leadership and influence of the dominant classes, including different fractions of Lavalas, the lack of organization, etc,. All these are hurdles facing the masses in their daily struggle for survival. An incontrovertible fact, however, is their determination to find a viable solution to their misery and to seek a better future. Slowly but surely, life’s struggles are teaching them the lesson that only their struggle, based on their own interests, will open the door to a better life.

They fought Duvalier, only to see their aspirations taken away from them, and they fell in an even worse situation. They took the streets, forced their will on the dominant classes, gave a mandate to Lavalas, only to witness the bourgeoisie recuperate what they fought for. They voted for a new constitution, only to find out that any amendments in their favor are not being respected and no measures are taken to implement them. The constitution guarantees an adjustment of the minimum wage based on inflation plus 4%. Neither the Lavalas administrations nor the de facto regimes have ever enforced this law.

The two Aristide administrations issued decrees raising the minimum wage, but each time the adjustment was only worth half of the real value of the previous minimum wage. The last adjustment to 70 gourdes per day was worth one-fifth the minimum wage under Duvalier. Even so, the bourgeoisie openly defied these decrees. They even put up bulletin boards inside their factories stating that wages are based strictly on piece rates and quotas. No state institution ever took any measures to enforce these decrees nor to make sure workers were getting paid the meager minimum wage. Under the quota system workers sometime have to work more than 12 hours a day without making the minimum wage and without earning overtime pay.

But yet, bourgeois politicians try to lean on theses same popular masses to achieve their own reactionary political objectives. The Haitian masses resisted the coup d’état, supported the anti-national anti-popular embargo only to see that at the end of the day they were being short-changed, they were left holding nothing, even what was duly theirs. And now they are being asked to make even more sacrifices “to promote investments”, while the bourgeoisie is accumulating even more capital.

In 2004, the Haitian masses again took to the streets, thwarted the imperialist plan and elected Lespwa (Prèval’s Hope party), another Lavalas tendency, at the head of the state apparatus. Again, they are being told that their demands would need miracles to be met, while it is still the good life as usual for the dominant classes. The popular masses voted for Préval and Lespwa, not the bourgeoisie. THEY NEED RESULTS NOW.

Under the initiative of Batay Ouvriye a battle is now being waged on the ground for an adjustment and increase of the minimum wage and also against the high cost of living. These two battles are linked and all progressives, progressive immigrants, immigrant workers and all workers need to support them. In fact, for workers, it is an internationalist responsibility to give this support as part of our battle against our common enemy, global capitalism. We need to limit the capacity of capital to cross borders without any resistance. The struggle for a minimum wage increase in Haiti is also linked to the struggle around immigrants’ rights and a living wage in the US or any capitalist country.

The actual minimum wage in Haiti is about 70 gourdes a day; 25¢ an hour, while the cost of living in Haiti is comparable to that of the US. There is a recent proposed adjustement of 150 gourdes a day, a mere pittance, still a slave wage. Only a wage adjustment of 300 gourdes could relatively meet the minimum needs of workers. We know it is going to be a fight. The workers are the ones selling their labor power; they are the only ones capable of defining a just minimum wage. We know the bourgeoisie and their intellectuals will come up with theories showing the negative impact of a minimum wage adjustment. At the same time, they are living in luxury; they know nothing of the effects of the high cost of living. When the Group of 184 was fighting Lavalas, they made an appeal for a “social contract”. Now is the time for that social contract, unless it was just a ploy to bring the masses on their side. In order to have a social contract, the ones living in abject poverty are the ones that need to benefit. The call for a social contract clearly proves that the bourgeoisie is well aware of the abject poverty that the masses are living under. A MINIMUM WAGE ADJUSTEMENT OF 300 GOURDES IS A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.

The high cost of living is the consequence of failed economic policies and a bankrupt political line. It stems from the failure of capitalism in Haiti, a capitalism totally dominated by the interests of imperialism and totally dependent upon it. There are no policies to develop the national economy. Instead, our governments are conceding arable lands to build Free Trade Zones. The Haitian popular masses, in particular the working class, not only need to engage in the fight for their autonomous democratic rights but also to put forth their own alternative for an emancipated Haiti.

Support the struggles to raise the minimum wage!

No to the military occupation!

No to imperialist aggression!

See also:

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