In the sugar plantations or bateyes of Dominican Republic, cane cutters often work barefoot. They can’t afford shoes. They can barely afford food, for that matter, despite the fact that they often work a minimum of 12 hours a day, doing the back-breaking work of cutting sugar cane by hand.
On the other side of the border that divides Hispaniola, Haitian garment workers in Port Au Prince recently blockaded a Korean factory because of bounced paychecks. For years, Haitian garment workers have been fighting wage theft and to be paid the inadequate legal minimum wage – which is still not enough to live off of, much less dignified.
“Whatever the product is – the pair of pants, the t-shirt – we are the ones producing it. We labor hard, and don’t get paid.” – Haitian garment worker of SOTA in Port Au Prince
This weekend Unión De Trabajadores Cañeros De Los Bateyes (Union of the Bateyes of Sugarcane Workers) and Sendika Ouvriye Takstil ak Abiman (SOTA) (Union of Textile and Garment Workers) will meet to discuss their common struggles against exploitation. Specifically, they are meeting about recent actions of the DR government to strip people of Haitian descent of their citizenship. This has mostly affected the poor – cane cutters, street vendors, and service laborers. In bringing attention and their perspective to this struggle, the groups intentions are to put down false divisions of racism and nationalism, with the goal of working together against their common enemy – the Haitian and Dominican ruling classes.
SOTA is affiliated with the autonomous workers organization, Batay Ouvriye (BO) (Workers Fight), which will host a series of meetings, a press conference, and direct action in Port Au Prince.
According to one event organizer, “They will be three Haitian cane workers, one Dominican cane worker and the coordinator of the union. The presence of the Dominican cane worker is to deny the nationalist option and to put the class situation in concrete relief, in contrast to the bourgeois organizations here who pretend to defend their ‘compatriots.'”
There is a long history of animosity between Haiti and Dominican Republic. Both nationalism and racism are deeply rooted. The DR won its independence, not from European colonialists, but from Haiti. Since then, Haitians living in the DR have faced discrimination, and thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent were massacred under Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo.
In 2013, the Dominican Supreme Court retroactively withdrew citizenship from anyone born in the DR to undocumented immigrants, with the provision that persons who submitted the proper documentation could apply for legal residency. The deadline for this application was summer 2015. However, many who submitted this paperwork, along with hundreds of dollars in fees, never received any notice or proper documentation from the government. Thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent left the DR, or were rounded up and dropped at the Haitian/Dominican border, often without being able to gather their belongings or to alert their families.
So now, there are hundreds of thousands of people rendered stateless, living in temporary shanty-towns along the border. They’ve been told that if they get documentation proving their country of origin from the Haitian government, then they can apply for Dominican citizenship or work visas. In fact, the Haitian government was paid by the Dominican government to facilitate this process, but Haitians living in limbo on the border have seen no results from this transaction.
Another issue affecting cane workers and low-wage laborers is that for years many paid into social security in the DR. Once they stopped working, they apply for their pensions by submitting the required paperwork to DR government and never receive anything. Or, if they’ve been deported, they have no means of claiming their pension either.
This situation is not just about racism or nationalism. It is an issue of the ruling classes of both countries exploiting and stealing from the poor and working class. This summer, many demonstrations were held, especially in New York and Miami, with calls for travel boycotts against the DR and urgent appeals to avert a humanitarian crisis. Most of these demands have been voiced from people outside of the DR/Haiti, or removed from the exploitation of the bateyes and the temporary shanty-towns.
The aim with this series of meetings between workers from both countries is to bring attention to calls and demands led by the workers and people directly affected by these struggles. These are the people whose demands should be amplified, and calls for action should be followed.
Here in the U.S. many of us are also dominated and exploited by capitalists who reap massive profits from our work. We can learn from the example of these workers to unify against our common enemy, and to struggle to build our own autonomous organizations so we can fight together for our interests.
Not only should we support the cane workers in DR and the garment workers in Haiti, but the strongest form of solidarity we can offer is to build our own autonomous organizations of laborers and workers, right here within the headquarters of imperialism – the U.S. Let’s build the international working class movement!
The following is a description of the days of events from Batay Ouvriye (Workers Fight) in Haiti:
SUGARCANE WORKERS UNION DELEGATION VISIT FROM THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Port-Au-Prince, Tuesday December 8, 2015
In 2014, the Sugarcane Workers Union (UTC) in the Dominican Republic invited us to participate in their Annual Congress (See Photo). At the conclusion of the meeting, we invited them in return to come to Haiti to share ideas and participate in upcoming mobilizations. They agreed.
As we all already knew, sugarcane cutters who left Haiti and went to work in our neighboring country suffered ample humiliations; their working conditions are among the worst in the world; their wages are among the lowest also. Therefore, their living conditions are a nightmare as well as hell.
Notwithstanding, they have a lot of courage and big hearts. Their mobilizations tell us this.
Since the Dominican government decreed the law that removed their nationality, the sugarcane workers have lost all legality. Thus, they are threatened with deportations. As we know also, the majority of them can’t even remember where they come from in Haiti. That’s why they rather remain over there, fight for residency, and work agreements. Older ones fight for their pensions too. However, their problems lie in the fact that in order for the Dominican government to allow residency, they have to prove they come from another country (in their case, Haiti). So, they’ve asked the Haitian government to provide them with the documents that can prove they are Haitians, and with that, they would be able to take their claims to the Dominican government. At that moment, the Haitian government charged them huge fees. They have deposited 4,608,000.00 pesos (Four million, six hundred-eight thousand pesos) in total in the embassy in the Dominican Republic! …the Haitian government never sent them any papers!! This is what the delegation is coming to demand.
Now, we think this is a very important visit in which the workers themselves take their lives in their own hands. It is not the government (the one that says it’s going to do something and never delivered), nor organizations that support them (even though this support is important), not organizations that have nothing to do with workers’ interests or acting against their interests. They are the ones defending their own causes. At the same time, their main meeting is with workers like them. Therefore, it is a fundamental unity of the island workers. On the other hand, they will meet poor peasants, progressive organizations, and students in the struggle. All of that to build a stronger popular alliance.
The Visitation Program
From Sunday, Dec. 14 through Tuesday, Dec. 15, the delegation will participate in a series of meetings, events, and cultural activities, including:
- A meeting with SOTA (Textile and Garment Workers Union)
- A press conference
- A sit-in in front of the Prime Minister’s office with leaders of Batay Ouvriye to demand a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the question of the necessary documents
- A meeting at the Faculty of Ethnogy to exchange ideas and speak with students
We invite all conscientious comrades, all allied organizations, all friends who see the importance of this visit on the basis of the construction of the necessary unity and alliances on the island, to come and meet our UTC comrades and give them the support they deserve in this historic moment before us.