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6027: Burnham to Dorce and Knowles (fwd)

From: thor burnham <thorald_mb@hotmail.com>

Despite the fact that i'm an avowed lefty, i have to disagree with Dorce on 
this one. There is no doubt that job security, health benefits, a living 
wage (see the "wealth of nations" all you neo-cons), and safe working 
environments would be preferred for the average Haitian worker.

However, Durban and Knowles are correct in stating "the better some than 
none philosophy". At least with a stable, low paid workface, you can 
actually build some kind of labour movement and shape it into a positive 
force for civil change.(well, at least there's a chance) If there are no 
formal sector jobs, you dont have a labour movement. (I'll avoid democratic 
theory here)

I managed a factory in Haiti for a short while. It closed about two years 
after i left. (why it closed is another story)
No, the workers were not paid North American Wages. Yes, they were paid more 
than the Haitian minimum wage.

I took the job with the misinformed belief that they were simply a group of 
hopeless exploited workers. I was very wrong. They took what little they 
were paid and made it work for them in interesting and powerful ways. The 
fact that they had access to capital provided them the means to participate 
in various forms of empowering action: they pooled wages, they could send 
their kids to school, they could lend money to other people in their 
families and neigbourhoods, they could pay for some forms of housing. 
(Generally, the people who worked there ended up supporting between 6 and 10 
people each.) In many cases their wages allowed them to buy in bulk and set 
up small stores in their homes.

They also had very sophisticated methods of supplementing their incomes 
through skimming, small scams and outright theft. Some turned the work into 
a cottage industry by teaching their kids to do the work while they went out 
and sold in the market.

Making things even better, (much to the chagrin of my boss) there was an 
informal loan system whereby workers could borrow money, from me,  and put 
their kids into school or pay for medical emergencies. (if you dont think 
that's important, try telling a tearful 45 year old father of four that you 
cant lend him 50 dollars american to put his kid in school)

Yes, there are ruthless and exploitative factory managers who abuse their 
employees and abuse any notion of ethics and morality, not to mention the 
law. In fact, i know some of them. I'm not sure how they sleep at night. Yet 
at the same time there are people like Lance Durban who do make a 
difference. If you go down to his factory floor and talk to his workers and 
ask them what their job has meant to them,  their families, and their 
communities I think you would see my point. (I have, by the way, been to 
Durban's complex and know the people and the working conditions, so i know 
whereof i speak)

Contrast Durban's workforce with the now unemployed workforce of the closed 
factory i managed. Many had worked in the factory for over twenty years. The 
vast majority are still unemployed in the formal sector. The only reason 
they have been able to survive the closing of the factory is because they 
had small capital reserves, had built homes, or had "invested" in other 
things. Of course, many have now fallen into dire straits and can be 
included in the desperate category. Ask them if they would like to go back 
to work....
I think you know the answer to that one.

In hope and despair,
Thor Burnham

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