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In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti, some sections of the British labour movement are stepping up to deliver the solidarity that Haiti’s workers and poor so desperately need.
With aid being delivered predominantly by various US or UN military bodies, or by unaccountable NGOs, there is (as ever) no guarantee that aid can be delivered on the basis of need or without strings.
For this and other reasons it’s vital for the left and the workers’ movement to organise direct material support and solidarity for our counterparts in Haiti who have experience in self-organisation and fighting on behalf of the most oppressed.
A motion passed by Liverpool TUC sets out several ways in which British unions can provide support, and is also explicit in putting the disaster in a proper socio-political context: “A severe natural disaster has befallen a country devastated by capitalism. The earthquake would not have had the same effect if it was in a different social situation.”
The motion identifies the Batay Ouvriye (Workers’ Struggle) union federation as a key organisation in the Haitian labour movement, citing their struggles to organise in some of Haiti's poorest communities and amongst the hyper-exploited workers in its sweatshop-factories.
As well as proposing union donations, the motion seeks to organise direct links including a UK labour movement delegation to Haiti. In 2004, the No Sweat campaign (in which Workers’ Liberty is active) brought Batay Ouvriye leader Yannick Etienne to Britain for a speaker tour and is continuing to organise support for Haitian unions now. We hope to work with Liverpool TUC and other labour movement bodies interested in building, deepening and extending links with Haitian workers’ organisations in this time of crisis for Haiti's people.
Batay Ouvriye statement
For us, the Haitian people, the earthquake in Port au Prince, on 12 January 2010 hurt deeply.
In fact, apart from the destruction of the public buildings most of our neighbourhoods were destroyed. Not surprisingly they are the most fragile and the most unstable: the state never gave them any service, any attention or helped them consolidate. On the contrary, we need to be able to move, so we have neither time nor capacity to be able to consolidate our position from being precarious.
Meanwhile some capitalists are trying to force the workers back to work in damaged factories, owners of large businesses are opposed to distributing their goods and sell them at a high price, the state proves again, as always, by its absence, its incapacity and incompetence (the only thing they do is steal and maneuver, supporting the landlords, the bourgeois and the multinationals), the national police are absent (they only know how to repress the people) and the imperialist forces are clearly taking advantage of the aid they give. They intend to establish a clear and definitive control over factory workers, workers of all kinds and the suffering masses in general, who are extremely dependent, with this disastrous situation.
Some of the press develops a progressive part of their work as their representatives help coordinate on the ground, several people's committees are working consistently and relentlessly, giving all their energy for rescue and survival. But! They lack the means and capacity of intervention! Truly, this earthquake, besides having thoroughly physically and morally shaken the population, far exceeds the abilities of people to intervene.
In Batay Ouvriye, even though the majority of our organisers are living, many have lost family, homes and their meager possessions. Many are injured and, while we have to bury our dead, survival is almost impossible.
To the extent that it is possible, we refuse to go through official government channels. But the situation becomes impossible to sustain! So today, we launch an appeal for solidarity to all factory workers, all workers, all progressive people worldwide to help us out of this disastrous situation.
After the last major mobilization around the minimum wage, we developed several new contacts – brave and consistent worker comrades. They live in different neighbourhoods, sometimes far apart. We also need to reach them with our active solidarity. This substantially increases costs. Moreover, in areas where our members live, there have been some common solidarity actions in the communities. We need to get more involved in them and to take energetically the necessary measures. And, as soon as possible (that means being able to concretely and practically intervene) take new initiatives (where possible) to build resistance to forms of reconstruction proposed by the dominant classes. This will also require money. When considering these types of actions and solidarity, we can say that what we need now is a sum of U.S. $ 300,000.
That is what will allow us to survive for now, help other fighters and conscientious workers to try to solve some specific life problems and build a political leadership in the class struggle that is organizing in the rubble. This latter aspect should be developed where possible from the start towards gaining a maximum possible force against another type of catastrophe that awaits us: what the imperialists and the ruling classes and their reactionary state are preparing for us.
We thank in advance all those who intend to contribute. The moment calls for international class solidarity. It takes a character of an additional approach, a further step in our common struggle.
No Sweat comedy benefit for Batay Ouvriye
Wednesday 10 February, 7:45pm at The Cross Kings, York Way, London N1 0AX (near King's Cross station)
A night of comedy and music in support of workers’ organisations in earthquake-struck Haiti, featuring Robin Ince, Josie Long, Shappi Khorsandi, Hils Barker with music from Robyn Hitchcock.
Tickets available from: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/70232