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8807: extract from July Haiti Briefing (fwd)

From: Charles Arthur <charlesarthur3@hotmail.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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