The Confederation of Haitian Workers (CTH), which is made up of eleven labor federations and three national commissions, has officially launched a website according to its General Secretary Paul Chery. Haiti, just south-east of Cuba and bordering the Dominican Republic, is host to a long thriving labor movement.
With offices in all of Haiti‘s ten departments, the CTH – with both leftist and christian leanings – is one of the largest labor confederations in the country.
In mid-2007 members of CTH carried out a well-received countrywide solidarity tour in Canada, speaking to hundreds of trade unionists and student activists. The year prior CTH organizers visited New York, Florida and California.
CTH delegates have also traveled frequently to South America and last year CTH was present at the founding congress of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in Vienna, Austria. CTH is today the official member-representative of ITUC , the world’s largest labor federation, in Haiti.
Chery observes that one of CTH’s main campaigns currently is in organizing port workers across Haiti into one large federation under its national structure. He hopes their recently launched website will provide information to Haitian trade unionists in the diaspora as well as help friends abroad find out about their campaigns.
A second ongoing campaign, he notes, is organizing workers in Haiti‘s large garment sector which is present mostly in Port-au-Prince and the Ouanaminthe Free Trade Zone along the northern border with the Dominican Republic. Most of CTH’s once active garment unions folded under severe repression during the dictatorship of General Raul Cedras (1991-1994).
However, besides CTH’s significant presence on port docks, it is also widely present in the transportation sector, the public school sector and in poor church communities. Teachers, who attended the CTH annual conference in August of this year in Port-au-Prince, spoke movingly of their ongoing organizing.
According to agronomist and CTH member Jude Bonhomme, from Haiti‘s Sud department, the confederation is also actively engaged in rural areas of Haiti as well.
From 2004-2006 numerous press articles and reports from foreign delegations documented a campaign of repression against CTH workers carried out by paramilitary and government forces in Port-au-Prince and the north of Haiti. The unelected interim government at the time was engaged in a policy of political repression that involved mass jailing as well as large-scale layoffs within Haiti‘s public sector workforce. Chery recalls how "many of our workers lost their jobs and many others could not afford to pay union dues".
According to Ginette Apollon, President of the CTH’s National Commission of Women Workers (CNFT), during 2004-2006 they experienced repeated arbitrary arrests as well as death squads coming to their homes and labor offices. Chery had to go into hiding for days after death squads threatened his life in front of his children.
In 2005 Apollon, and other CTH leaders, had been invited to visit Venezuela by the Chavista women’s group INAMUJER and partake in labor talks with officials of the Latin American Central of Workers (CLAT) and Venezuela’s National Workers Union (UNT). Apollon and others were briefly arrested at Haiti‘s main international airport in Port-au-Prince as they attempted to travel to Venezuela; one of many incidents as she recalls.
However CTH organizers explain that in recent years the confederation has solidified its core structure, ejecting organizers that were promoting divisive policies. By the 1990’s the CTH, which advocates a sovereign and participatory democracy, had split with the Autonomous Central of Haitian Workers (CATH) because of the CATH’s cooperation with US state department funded labor agencies in destabilizing Haiti‘s elected government.
Again in the early 2000’s CTH successfully dodged attempts by US and Canadian government financed "labor" groups who were engaged in a strategy of co-opting key organizers within trade unionist ranks. The CTH refused to be a part of an elite civil society coalition, known as the Group of 184 and its Coordination Syndicale Haïtienne (CSH). The CSH, according to Chery, had attempted to recruit "one of CTH’s female organizers and list the CTH as a member in [December of] 2002" without their approval.
CTH secretaries say that one of its top concerns today is an encroaching privatization campaign first launched by the interim government and now supported by the current administration. They say foreign multinational companies have been heavily involved in the process but the government has failed to properly debate the issue with the unions.
According to the confederation’s assistant general secretary Hubert Jean, the recent sacking of thousands of employees at TELECO, the publicly owned telephone company, and planned layoffs at other civil enterprises are the first step toward a large-scale policy of privatization advocated for by Haiti‘s President René Préval. CTH has been organizing with the main labor union at TELECO known as SOETEL.
With high unemployment and rising costs of living, CTH labor organizers say they face a mounting task but remain inspired knowing that their "organizing efforts could benefit generations to come".
Visit the CTH website at HaitiLabor.org
Visit our website at http://www.haitianalysis.com – News, Views and Analysis on and from the Grassroots in Haiti.