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8807: extract from July Haiti Briefing (fwd)
From: Charles Arthur <email@example.com>
Extract from the July issue of Haiti Briefing, #43, the newsletter of the
British Haiti Support Group. For affiliation details see the Haiti Support
Group web site: www.gn.apc.org/haitisupport
GMB union vows solidarity with Haitian workers.
Building on links forged in 1997 when the Haiti Support Group invited a
Batay Ouvriye organiser to the UK, two representatives of the British GMB
trade union joined members of War on Want and the Haiti Support Group on a
visit to Haiti in March. The GMB - Britain's General Union- was formed
through the merger of over 100 smaller unions throughout the last century.
The purpose of the trip was to demonstrate international solidarity between
unions. In their report, GMB officer, Rehana Azam, and the union's young
members' activist, Barry Sewell, note that, "despite overwhelming dedication
to the struggle for equality, Haitian workers find that exploitation and
intimidation are still the main barriers to ending the terrible working
conditions they face."
The delegation received a warm welcome when it visited orange tree
plantations near Cap-Haitien that are owned by French company,
Marnier-Lapostolle. Two hundred plantation workers greeted them, filling the
road, dancing and singing songs of the workers' struggle against
exploitation. When shown the sheds where the oranges are sorted and peeled,
the delegation was shocked by the conditions. In the GMB report, their
delegates wrote, "Unclean drinking/washing water, and toilet facilities that
have no system of ridding waste products, produce a health and safety
nightmare that is only overshadowed by the immediate conditions of work.
Women who peel the oranges, for which Grand Marnier is famous, have no
protection against cuts to their hands which are then soaked in citrus acid
resulting in the tips of their fingers being burnt away. The oranges are
then threshed by fatally unsafe, unguarded machines, and the peel is sorted
by groups of women who work amid the dust from open fertiliser bags stored
nearby." One union member told them, "We’re being killed by these conditions
- we may as well die trying to stop them."
On a visit to the homes of plantation workers, the delegates met one 60-year
old Marnier worker who had spent 30 years trying to save for bricks with
which to build a house. The GMB remarked, "His savings had bought a pile
barely knee high - not even enough to build a small wall."
At meeting with Marnier-Lapostolle's Haitian manager, Daniel Zéphir, the
delegation discussed the workers' staggeringly low pay and poor conditions,
but Zéphir shifted all responsibility to the French headquarters in Paris.
The GMB delegates warned that "they would make the French employer aware
that their employees' working conditions are exploitative, and contrary to
Haitian legislation, and that the delegation's work could not cease until
these issues were addressed."
Later, the delegation met Haiti’s newly appointed Minister for Social
Affairs, who stated that the new Aristide government would be committed to
developing working relationships between unions and employers in an attempt
to end the unprincipled treatment of workers. Having also met with
representatives of the National Union of Haitian Media Workers, and the
COSYNA federation (the Coordinating Committee of Haitian Unions), the GMB
delegates viewed these promises skeptically. Their report pointed out "just
how far Haiti has to go before becoming a responsible and democratic state.
Journalists campaigning for freedom of speech continue in constant fear of
violent recrimination, and teachers wishing to protest against low pay and
conditions find themselves the target of smear campaigns by local
government, resulting in attacks from pupils and their parents."
Back in the UK, in early June, the GMB held its national conference in
Brighton, and the Haiti Support Group accepted an invitation to address a
conference meeting. In response to our request for support, the GMB, the
second largest union in Britain, has agreed to focus on building solidarity
links with unionised workers in Haiti.
Forwarded by the Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the Haitian people´s
struggle for justice, human rights and participatory democracy since 1992.
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