“We start work at six o’clock. We finish at five. We don’t have time to eat because we cannot meet the quota. The pants, the T-shirts—we are the ones producing them. We labor hard, and we don’t get paid.”
– Manuel (Union of Textile & Apparel Workers – Batay Ouvriye).
Every day when we get dressed, we put on the products of exploitation. Haitian garment workers live in crushing poverty and are paid the lowest wages in the Western hemisphere, about 200 gourdes (less than $5/day). Wage theft, harassment, and unwarranted firings for organizing are the norm in factories.
Batay Ouvriye (Workers’ Fight) organizes workers to struggle for better conditions, livable wages, and an end to occupation by UN military forces in Haiti. Batay Ouvriye is also one of the few truly autonomous workers’ organizations in existence. It is run by workers based on their direct interests, rather than those of establishment unions, NGOs, students, and outside groups. They have organized trade unions in all of the industrial parks and free trade zones in Haiti—a serious and ongoing battle. The organization is making a difference in Haiti, and it serves as a blueprint for those around the world who are also attempting to organize against the exploitative capitalist system.
Batay Ouvriye has been organizing around the issue of minimum wage in Haiti for years. In 2012, the Haitian Parliament raised the minimum wage from 200 to 300 gourdes (about $7.25/day). Factory owners vehemently opposed this, and responded by increasing production quotas, making it impossible to earn the 300 gourdes. The Workers Rights Consortium and Better Work group recently released reports that document this ongoing wage theft.
Even still, 300 gourdes ($7.25/day) is not enough for a family to survive. Transportation costs, to and from work, alone eat up most of the wages earned, leaving almost nothing for food, housing, education, and healthcare.
In late 2013, the State Salary Council announced that it would issue a recommendation to the Haitian Government to raise the minimum wage. Workers are demanding 500 gourdes ($11.50/day) plus free transportation, lunchrooms, healthcare, and retirement. Batay Ouvriye has been agitating and mobilizing across Haiti, to make these demands known: 500 gourdes ($11.50/day)!
To amplify these efforts beyond Haiti, Batay Ouvriye has asked the Rapid Response Network for support.
The Rapid Response Network (RRN) is an autonomous network of people that supports the struggles of workers fighting repression and exploitation. The RRN publicizes and supports these struggles under workers’ guidance and their interests. To support the current minimum wage mobilizations in Haiti, the RRN is coordinating efforts in the United States and internationally to voice the demands of Haitian garment workers: 500 gourdes ($11.50/day)!
Batay Ouvriye has been present all across Haiti, organizing protests, trainings, conferences and general assemblies. They estimate the cost of these efforts will be a minimum of $2500. The RRN has started an Indiegogo campaign (http://igg.me/p/584479) to help fund and recoup costs for organizing meetings, travel expenses, printing and ink for leafleting. The campaign finishes on December 11, 2013. “Please give what you can to support these workers,” said RRN participant Sarah Cruz. “No amount is too small. One way to show solidarity with sweatshop workers is by making a donation now, when they really need it to win this wage campaign.”
The RRN is also asking people to pressure brands and retailers who produce clothing in Haiti and benefit from wage theft. We’re asking people to flood these companies’ phone lines, voicemails, inboxes, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, with the demands of Haitian garment workers: 500 gourdes ($11.50/day). Contact information for responsible officers in Gap, Hanes, and Levi Strauss & Co. are posted: https://db.tt/O4XQx2LF
Organize a call-in party in your church, classroom, or among a circle of friends! The campaign is ongoing until November 29th, when a decision is scheduled to be announced.
Additionally, 90 artists and writers from around the world have expressed solidarity to Haitian garment workers through the RRN. Artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers (including four Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonists) have signed a statement of solidarity in support of the struggle. This statement will be sent to workers’ organizations in Haiti on November, 25, 213. You can read the statement here: https://db.tt/VYBBKNE8
Finally, the Rapid Response Network has made a leaflet available for anyone to print and distribute in front of retailers, like Gap, JCPenney, Walmart, and Target—anywhere that clothing produced in Haiti is sold. It’s important to note that garment workers, as well as the Rapid Response Network, are not calling for boycotts of these goods. Boycotting could cause companies to close shop and move elsewhere, in their constant search for the lowest paid and most repressed workers. Haitian garment workers want to keep their jobs, but they demand a fair wage for their labor.
To join the Rapid Response network and keep up with Haitian minimum wage struggles, as well as other campaigns, like the RRN Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/RapidResponseNetwork), or subscribe for email updates (http://eepurl.com/vqs-v).
The fight will continue, beyond the borders of Haiti and the November 29th decision. Exploitative multinational corporations will face resistance wherever they go. The Rapid Response Network seeks to build support and solidarity for autonomous workers’ organizations struggling against wage theft and repression everywhere.