what the TV doesn’t tell us about haiti

by Claudio Testa
Socialismo o Barbarie

The world’s TV is showing, as we might expect, a false picture of reality. In the case of Haiti, this is all the more outrageous given the circumstances. With barely disguised racism they paint the picture of a people who are suffering but “ignorant” and “barbarous”, incapable of “keeping order” by themselves after the earthquake, necessitating a renewed colonial occupation, with a fresh US invasion.

Of course, no-one mentions the two-hundred-year sentence capitalism and imperialism imposed on the Haitian people for having carried out the only successful slaves’ social revolution in history. Still less do they tell us about recent events, like the significant workers’, students’ and peasants’ struggles against colonial occupation and Preval’s puppet government which developed in 2009.

A new super-exploited working class

The “globalisation” of capitalism, initiated in the 1980s and triumphant in the 90s, meant in the first place carte blanche to find places around the world to establish the most savage exploitation of the working class, without limits. China, with its miserable salaries and brutal super-exploitation, is the best example, but not the only one.

In Haiti, on a much smaller scale, something similar took place. In the last decade the US government forced Haiti to create “free trade areas” where they set up the latest-generation factories, primarily producing textiles. These textile mills today employ almost 30,000 workers and, in spite of the world crisis, they do not appear to be dying down. The secret is paying the lowest salaries in the world (even less than in China or in Latin American factories) and forcing an ever-more-infernal pace of work.

But capitalism, when doing this, has created what did not exist in Haitian society before: a new working class, young and “modern”, amid a country falling behind with elements of barbarism and subject to a colonial-occupation political régime.

Significant working-class and student struggles

In 2009 this began to express itself in important workers’ struggles. As well as this explosive mix was the important factor of the radicalised student movement, which supported workers’ mobilisations and also demanded an end to the occupation. Some layers of students were in conflict since April.

In May 2009 there began a working-class struggle with near-immediate political consequences, resulting on a direct assault on the government and the MINUSTAH (United Nations) troops, which lasted, with some gaps, until almost the end of the year. As they repressed these struggles the occupation troops, commanded by the forces of the “progressive” Brazilian president Lula, killed and wounded dozens of workers and students.

The struggle began with the demand for an increase in the minimum wage from 75 gourdes ($1.80) to 200 ($4.80) gourdes per day. At the same time as partial and all-out strikes, lasting up to two weeks, thousands of workers held daily demonstrations in the streets of Port-au-Prince together with the students.

By July this pressure had obliged the Congress to concede an increase in the minimum wage, up to 200 gourdes. But the Preval “government” vetoed this increase in the textile industry, the largest sector, keeping it at 125 gourdes ($3) per day. On 17th August the Congress accepted this veto.

Logically enough, all this politicised the struggle, resulting in a direct confrontation with the colonial occupation and its puppet government, lasting until August. Then MINUSTAH engaged in a brutal repression of the movement, banning demonstrations. Numerous working-class and student fighters were imprisoned. Many other activists “disappeared”.

The “disappearances” were a serious defeat for the new workers’ movement. But it did not mean the end of the struggle against the occupation and the puppet government.

On 18th November was commemorated the the battle of Vertières, where in 1803 the Haitians decisively defeated the French troops. That day the students went out into the streets, provoking fresh clashes with the police and MINUSTAH troops.

To summarise: the situation in Haiti before the earthquake was not “social peace”, nor resigned acceptance of colonial rule. Now, acting in its own self-defence, US imperialism wants to place more shackles on the Haitian population and its workers.

We must not let them!