Haiti’s Minimum Wage Struggle

Choice Between Super-Profitability and Two Meals a Day

BASICS #16 (Nov / Dec 2009)
by Niraj Joshi

The United Nations Security Council has just voted to extend the UN “peacekeeping” mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) for another year. MINUSTAH will now enter its sixth year of illegal occupation, in violation of both the Haitian constitution and international law. The military force was imposed on Haiti in June 2004 and used to violently contain and repress the popular resistance to the western-backed 2004 coup d’etat against President Aristide. Since the 2006 election of President Preval, it has been used to violently contain and repress popular resistance to the neoliberal and imperialist program imposed on the Haitian government, and which has only worsened poverty and increased misery on the Caribbean island.

Such has been the case in the last months when several thousand workers and students have tirelessly protested President Preval’s failure to raise the minimum wage in Haiti. The protestors were brutally repressed by MINUSTAH and the Haitian police, with at least two demonstrators killed and several others beaten and arrested.

Haiti has the lowest minimum wage in the hemisphere. In May of this year both chambers of the Haitian parliament voted to increase the minimum wage from the daily 70 gourdes to 200 gourdes ($5.32 Cnd). The current 70 gourdes is not even enough to cover transportation and two meals a day. Even the proposed 200 gourdes is not an actual increase but rather an adjustment, since inflation has soared drastically beyond the purchasing power of the minimum wage. However, it is a small step toward alleviating the rampant poverty endured by Haitian workers. The last minimum wage raise happened in 2003 under President Aristide, but was immediately revoked by the western-installed dictatorship after Aristide was kidnapped by the joint forces of U.S., Canada, and France.

But under foreign occupation, President Preval has yielded to the demands of international institutions, foreign governments and the business sector. He has blocked the wage raise arguing it would hurt the country’s maquialdora sector (the tax-exempt plants that assemble products mostly for export and that is slated for expansion – but that produces some of the most exploitive and precarious employment in the country). Foreign factory owners, such as Canada’s Gildan Activewear, have threatened to shut down because they cannot afford to pay the higher wages (Gildan cleared 150 million in profits this year and projects a free cash flow of $600 million over the next 3 years).

A compromise of a woefully deficient raise to 125 gourdes is likely to be passed. However, the foreign investor’s export zones (where most of the lowest paid jobs exist) will be exempt! Haiti under American, Canadian and UN occupation remains on its neoliberal course despite the moderately contrary efforts of some of its legislators. And if outraged Haitian workers chose to resist with strikes or protests, the MINUSTAH “peacekeeping” forces will be on site to take up their military position and lead the unruly back to their slave-like posts.
Demonstrators rally outside the Haitian Parliament to demand a minimum wage increase to 200 gourdes ($5 dollars / day) – which would still remain the lowest wage in the western hemisphere.




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