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21154: (Arthur) Haiti: What we learned from the net (fwd)
Haiti: What we learned from the net
March 09, 2004
by Eric Lee
Sometimes it really does just hit you. The Internet really does change the
way we look at things. I was struck by this as I look back upon the recent
tumultuous events in Haiti.
Watching television news here in Britain – which is how most of us get our
news, especially foreign news – the story we saw played out was of a
once-democratic leader (Jean-Bertrand Aristide) who had somehow gone bad and was tossed
out of office by a popular rebellion. But only hours after the departure of
Haiti's elected president, we heard of dramatic developments taking place at a
textile factory in the north east of the country. The news came via email.
The factory was owned by a Dominican company called Grupo M, and produced
materials for, among others, Levi Strauss. Its workers had formed a union, but
came to work one morning to find that all the union members had been sacked. The
following day, a demonstration of the workers in solidarity with their sacked
comrades was set to take place.
Now this was happening in the context of a rebellion against what appeared to
be a hated and corrupt regime, so one would have expected that the rebel
forces would either let the workers carry on, or even come to their aid. Instead,
rebel troops came to the factory at the invitation of management to beat and
arrest demonstrators, and terrorize the others into returning to work.
Not one of the three 24-hour news channels I receive was reporting that
story, despite extensive coverage on the Internet. The story was reported on
Haitian web sites, and then on anti-sweatshop websites and mailing lists, and
eventually got picked up by such sites as the Workers Independent News Service
(WINS) and LabourStart, which launched an online campaign in support of the workers.
Now you could argue that the happenings at a single textile factory in
north-east Haiti may not deserve to be reported on the BBC, Sky and ITN. Fair
enough. But because stories like this don't get reported, we don't see the whole
picture. Suddenly the rebels no longer appear to be cigar-chomping Fidel Castros
emerging from the jungles, kalashnikovs in hand, singing revolutionary
anthems. They start to look more like Pinkertons, union-busting private cops.
In a statement released by one Haitian union, the "rebels" were also called
just that – in double quotation marks. The real rebels in Haiti seem to be
workers at Grupo M, daring to fight for their rights to have a union even as their
For more information, see http://www.labourstart.org/haiti/