Haiti: garment bosses fight new unionization drive

The management of two Port-au-Prince apparel factories owned by wealthy and powerful Haitians—Gerald Apaid and former presidential candidate Charles Henri Baker—fired a total of five officers of a new garment workers union between Sept. 23 and Sept. 25, a little more than a week after the union announced its formation. Johny Deshommes, a spokesperson for the Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA), lost his job at Apaid’s Genesis S.A. factory on Sept. 23 when he asked to be allowed to go home because of a fever. Three other members of SOTA’s executive committee, Brevil Claude, Wilner Eliacint and Cénatus Vilaire, were fired on Sept. 25 when they tried to meet with the human resources director to discuss Deshommes’ firing; Genesis management brought in two police agents to intimidate and threaten the unionists before they were allowed to leave. SOTA’s secretary, Mitial Rubin, was fired from Baker’s One World Apparel after he had leafleted workers outside the factory.

A third apparel company in the capital, Richard Coles’ Multiwear SA, fired union member Hilaire Jean-François on Sept. 30, and there are reports of harassment of other unionists.

The factories, located in the National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi) facility near the Port-au-Prince airport, are tax-exempt assembly plants producing largely for export (known in Spanish as maquiladoras). None of the SONAPI factories are unionized, and unions have been kept out of most Haitian assembly plants, although the leftist group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”) succeeded in organizing a union in 2004 at the assembly plants in Ouanaminthe at the Dominican border in the Northeast department.

SOTA’s formation was announced on Sept. 15 at a press conference in Port-au-Prince with representatives of Batay Ouvriye. Representatives of Haitian and international organizations also attended, including Camille Charlmers, executive secretary of the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA), and Víctor Báez Mosqueira, secretary general of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (CSA-TUCA). The union has registered with Haiti’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST).

The firings have received some international attention: the General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG), which led a 44-day general strike in the French Caribbean colony of Guadeloupe in 2008, denounced the companies’ actions and declared its solidarity with SOTA. Batay Ouvriye has announced plans to file complaints with the Haitian authorities about the situation, and the group is asking solidarity activists to email the factory owners and the Association des Industries d’Haïti (ADIH, a factory owners’ group) demanding the reinstatement of the unionists and full collective bargaining rights for assembly plant workers. The emails can be sent to Mr. Gerard Apaid/Genesis at gapaid33166@yahoo.com; Mr. Charles Henry Baker/One World Apparel at chbaker@pbapparel.com; Mr. Richard Coles/Multiwear at rcoles@multitex.com; and ADIH at administration@adih.ht, with copies to Batay Ouvriye at batay@batayouvriye.org. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Sept. 16, Sept. 29, Sept. 30; Batay Ouvriye press release, Sept. 27, via anarkismo.net, press release Oct. 1 via email)

In other labor news, the Association of Elementary School Teachers of Port-au-Prince Municipal Schools (ASIEMP) threatened to start an open-ended strike in the capital on Oct. 4, the day after schools open for the fall, to demand five months’ back pay the union says is owed to a group of 800 teachers. The week before, on Sept. 28, some 30 members and supporters of the National Union of Haitian Teachers (UNNOH) marched in Port-au-Prince to demand that President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) promulgate a law regulating school fees. Parliament passed the law in 2009, but it has never gone into effect. The marchers also demanded reinstatement of laid-off teachers and restoration of a bonus; they expressed doubts that the president really intends to carry out a plan he has announced for free public education. (AlterPresse, Sept. 29; Haïti Libre, Haiti, Sept. 30)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 2.

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