Ed. note: We received the following information about a Haitian garment workers’ struggle from Rapid Response Network (RNN). MHI has over the years supported Batay Ourviye (BO), the Haitian movement of autonomous textile unions and organizations of peasants, small vendors and neighborhoods. See articles here and here.
On Jan. 25, 2017, garment workers and SOTA-BO union members at the H&H Textiles factory warned the company they planned to go on strike on Thursday Jan. 26. H&H Textiles is in the Palmiers Free Zone, of the Carrefour subdivision in Port-au-Prince. The company had fired several workers for being known union members and leaders. Management constantly harasses union members, finding minor and arbitrary “wrong-doings” as excuses for disciplinary measures and anti-union firings.
After learning of the planned strike, H&H agreed to hire back three of the four workers they unjustly fired. They returned workers’ badges to them, meaning they can access the factory to return to work.
This is a partial victory. SOTA-BO is waiting to see what the company does next, and they may call on the RRN for our international solidarity.
Last July, RRN supporters gave an awesome show of support for four women workers/union organizers who were unjustly fired by H&H Textiles. The company has not changed their ways. They continue to intimidate workers. They consistently try to eliminate workers fighting for their rights to a decent wage and their right to organize.
Below is a rundown of what you need to know about the situation, followed by the original statement from SOTA-BO about their intended strike.
Stay tuned. The struggle continues!
Four Women Workers & SOTA-BO organizers were unjustly fired.
• Woman 1: She was arbitrarily fired for “standing too close to the wall and being lazy” while she was working. She is a known SOTA-BO union member.
• Women 2 & 3: These women are leaders in SOTA-BO union. They are part of the executive committee. When they heard Woman 1 was unjustly fired, they went to Human Resources (HR) to discuss the matter. This is their legally recognized role as union representatives. The person in HR refused to speak with them and ordered them to get back to work. But, the women union reps insisted on standing up for Woman 1. Then a manager came and fired them on the spot. These women were also instrumental in organizing a wild cat strike in December to make sure workers received the holiday leave pay that had been promised to them by management. The company tried to go back on this agreement, so the workers went on strike.
• Woman 4: She was also unjustly fired back in December for being a known union member. SOTA-BO negotiated with management for her to return to work, but the company then reneged on the agreement. Without work for this long, she is struggling to exist.
H&H Textile – the Haiti subsidiary of Seoul, Korea based Yujin Apparel. Their factory in Haiti makes mostly t-shirts, shorts, and sportswear. Some brands include Children’s Place, Avia, and Athletic Works. You’ll find these brands in stores like Walmart and Marshall’s.
SOTA-BO – textile trade union in Port Au Prince, affiliated with Batay Ourviye.
Batay Ouvriye (Workers Fight) – a Haitian movement of autonomous textile unions and organizations of peasants, small vendors, and neighborhoods.
What: (Based on a conversation with a BO representative)
• Reductions: H&H consistently threatens workers with “reductions,” saying they’re going to be firing people to make the operation more profitable. The reality is that reductions are meant to intimidate people, to make them think that their job is not secure, and thereby discourage them from exercising their right to organize.
• Disciplinary Measures: H&H justifies their anti-union firings by documenting every minute and arbitrary action of workers. Workers have to sign letters, admitting their guilt or error constantly. If you are late, you must sign a letter. If a boss thinks you spoke to a fellow worker too long, they write you up, and you must sign a letter. Then these letters are used to justify anti-union suspensions and firings. “Well look, you have four letters here.” Workers need these jobs. With their salaries, they live in debt, on the edge of desperation. But without the salary, starvation and homelessness are the reality.
• Phone Policy: H&H has implemented a policy that bans workers from bringing their cell phones into the factory. These workers have families that depend on them. A phone call is the only method of communication if something happens with a child or family member. It’s yet another disrespectful policing of workers and stripping them of basic rights.
• STRIKE! Workers are fed up. Every day is a fight to exist. Most work 12-16 hour days. They receive starvation wages, while factory owners, brands and stores make millions, sometimes billions of dollars in profit. They have the legal right to a union and the right to organize. But at every turn, this right is suppressed. Now, they are taking matters into their own hands. On Wed 1/25/17, SOTA-BO announced a strike for Thursday, 1/26/17. To avoid a work stoppage, H&H rehired three of the workers.
The fight for a higher wage (500 Gourdes) in Haiti is ongoing. This fight, as well as the basic right to organize, is constantly met with harassment, illegal firings, and often violent repression. Manufacturers and the brands they produce for vehemently oppose workers’ rights because they interfere with their ability to extract as much profit out of the production process as possible. This means exploitation is required, and it takes many forms. Setting impossible production quotas to prevent workers from receiving the minimum wage, wage theft, and unpaid overtime are a few of these methods.
Here’s how you can support these workers, for now. We’ll keep you posted if they decide the situation requires more direct action.
• Find out about workers’ struggles in your own community.
Thank you for your solidarity!
Strike statement from SOTA-BO (English; also in Kreyol):
2017 is not 2016; this year, WE ARE NOT JOKING ! On Thursday January 26, WORK STOPPAGE at H&H Textiles !
Workers, at H&H Textiles, the Executive Secretariat of SOTA-BO and the H&H Textiles Committee Section send their greetings and tipping hats to you all for your growing awareness on the importance of the SOTA-BO Union in the face of the intimidation and corruption attempts by company management and allies to destroy our union.
Comrades, beginning with the end of the year 2016, we’ve taken some hard hits. For the last few weeks, it’s been worse. We’ve been through four (4) arbitrary firings, and many dismissals to intimidate our members for their involvement in union activities and to scare workers so they don’t fight against exploitation, oppression and domination in the plants. They want to pacify us to force us to obey as puppets. HELL NO ! THIS CANNOT BE DONE, WE WILL NOT LET THAT HAPPEN ! Let’s mobilize to make January 26 strong ! Let’s build solidarity with one another, we are organizing to make SOTA-BO strong because those capitalists are not playing with us, they use all tactics to destroy our union with arbitrary disciplinary measures and abusive power or with attempts to corrupt some of us to give up the fight. Let’s tell them, THEY ARE DREAMING ! WE WILL NOT BE DECEIVED ! We will mobilize on Thursday January 26, 2017 to demand :
• The reinstatement of our fired comrades. Those firings are anti-union ;
• Stop those arbitrary tactics to fire us, this is not job creation, this is rather job insecurity ;
• The measure to stop us from entering the plant with our telephones is arbitrary, and demonstrates a lack of respect for us ;
• Eliminate all arbitrary disciplinary measures such as warning letters and over-the-top dismissals we are seeing ;
• The rights for our union members to function without fear.
We are mobilizing to give them their true worth. We are moving forward in the struggle against all imperialists and the Haitian puppets managing the plants. WE WILL NOT OBEY ! Tell each other, THE FIGHT SHALL CONTINUE STRONGER. WE SAY : WORK STOPPAGE FOR JANUARY 26, 2017. WE ARE MOBILIZING TO THROW THEM IN THE AIR WITHOUT CATCHING THEM ON THEIR WAY DOWN !
Sota-Bo Section at H&H Textiles, January 22, 2017