Capitalism leaves Haiti to rot

Submitted by Matthew on 9 February, 2011 - 10:27

On 12 January 2010, Haiti was rocked by an earthquake which killed 230,000 people. One year on, in the capital Port-au-Prince, between 1.3 and 1.7 million people continue to live in squalid tents with little hope of moving.

Despite the huge sums of money charities and aid organisations received in a show of international solidarity following the quake, less than 30,000 of those displaced have found permanent homes. A recent cholera outbreak killed more than 3,300 people; and of the 20 million cubic metres of rubble created by the disaster, less than 5 per cent has been cleared.

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'No Sweat' raises £1,000 for Haitian workers' federation

Submitted by Matthew on 18 February, 2010 - 8:58 Author: Daniel Randall

Anti-capitalist activists and comedy fans (and a few people who fell into both categories) packed out London's Cross Kings pub on February 10 for a music and comedy benefit to raise money for Batay Ouvriye, the radical Haitian workers’ federation with a proud history of organising amongst Haiti’s hyper-exploited workers and urban poor. We were responding to an appeal for international solidarity in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

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Haitian workers call for solidarity

Submitted by Matthew on 5 February, 2010 - 2:24 Author: Ira Berkovic

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.

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Haiti, emergency aid and the left

Submitted by cathy n on 1 February, 2010 - 6:56 Author: Dan Katz

For the call for funds and solidarity from the radical Haitian workers' organisation Batay Ouvriye, see here.
For Liverpool TUC's initiative in support of Haitian workers, see here.


Submitted by AWL on Tue, 02/02/2010 - 01:32

I agree that focusing on calling for US withdrawal is dumb and amounts to saying "stop the aid", but isn't the point to demand that any aid that's delivered - by the US ruling-class or anyone else - is delivered without strings?

Clearly the US presence in Haiti doesn't represent a colonial, military occupation (as the article says - what would be the point?) but it's pretty plausible that a lot of the US-delivered aid might be tied to carrying out reconstruction projects on a particular - i.e. neo-liberal - basis. Even if there aren't explicit strings, by positioning itself as the main supplier of aid the US can manoeuvre for a greater role in reconstruction. We should warn against that possibility and demand that aid is given on the basis of need and without strings.

The focus for the left should be on building practical solidarity with the Haitian workers' movement and calling for more, better and faster aid without any strings attached.

This article obscures that a little bit I think and does slightly lapse into "painting up" the good intentions of the US intervention (not out of positive support for it but out of a legitimate desire to cut against the knee-jerk response of a lot of the left).


Daniel Randall

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 03/02/2010 - 10:59


I'll let Mark reply in detail, but two points. The first one is fundamental.

You say:
"The article has earlier referred to the fact that the US is more interested in Haiti's sweated labour than helping its people. Too true. The US also does not want to annex or permanently occupy Haiti like a literal 'colony', but rather 'control' it - subject it to the will of US capital. It cannot do so if it is unsure of the stability of the government, rule of law etc. and thus needs to be able to 'keep a lid' on the situation. Given the breakdown of the government, it cannot hope to do so by relying on René Préval."
In other words, the threat the US faces to its ability to continuing exploiting Haitian labour in a reliable, organised fashion is not (now, at this point) worker/popular militancy but the complete break down of the Haitian government and society. In other words, the immediate alternative to the presence of US troops is not workers and the poor threatening Preval or another bourgeois leader from the left, but social break down - in a situation where millions are already dead, wounded, have lost their homes, services etc.
Why would you see that as preferable?

You then quote Dan saying:
"As such, elements of US intervention are rooted in the need to preserve stability in the area and avoid, for example, an enormous refugee exodus impacting on the US."
and comment:
"This is posed the wrong way round. After all, our sympathies are obviously with the people trying to seek refuge, not those who are faced with the problem of trying to contain this 'problem'."
This is disingenuous.
1. Because the "as such" refers to the previous sentences:
"None of this means that we believe the US has become a benign player, a liberal "do-gooder" state. Nor do we endorse US policy. The US is still a massively powerful, aggressive imperialist power."
Perhaps this could have been clearer. But obviously it means that one aspect of the US's non-benign-ness is its reluctance/refusal to accept refugees.
2. Because our record on refugee/migrant rights is absolutely clear.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 03/02/2010 - 11:15

"But anyway, "troops out" doesn't necessarily mean an end to military planes or naval vessels dropping supplies, since these things don't need troops on the ground."

This strikes me as a bit silly. So "troops out" doesn't refer to US military intervention in general, but just to ground troops? It's okay for the US military to intervene, as long as no-one's feet touch the soil? Come on, Tom; that's just not serious.

Tom's right to say that we shouldn't go around sloganeering without having a grip on the facts; he says he's "not confident" about raising the slogan "troops out" here. Fine - let's investigate more.

But on the basis of what we do/can know right now, certain things seem pretty straightforward; firstly, that aid directly delivered by US military intervention is pretty essential and secondly that the intentions of the US military in Haiti do not appear to be directly colonial or in any way directly or immediately menace Haiti's independence (I think we can also say with reasonable confidence that the US ruling-class would have no interest whatsoever in occupying Haiti; the American bourgeoisie is not some deranged glutton that just wants to gobble up more and more land just for the sake of it). It therefore seems to me that focusing one's demands on calling for the troops to leave - rather than demanding that all aid is delivered without strings/caveats and warning against the trust/confidence in the troops in general - really misses the point, and just leads to getting tied in the sort of knots Tom ends up in where you say "troops out" but don't really mean it.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 03/02/2010 - 13:42

I don't know a lot about aid delivery, and I always find these things hard to visualise/imagine, but I assume that dropping parcels isn't the end of the matter. Firstly because it's not a very efficient way of transferring/delivering things in bulk, and secondly because you actually have to get the food, water and medicine to people, which must be even more difficult in a society and environment torn to bits.

I'm sure Daniel would agree that you can of course, even when an occupation is not "directly colonial", call for imperialist troops out. In fact, I would think that's our default position. I'm for US troops out of Britain ("Britain out of NATO, NATO out of Britain"), but obviously I'd pour scorn on the idea that Britain is a US semi-colony or whatever. In a situation where US troops are pretty much playing the role of backing up the local ruling class against the workers/popular movements, you surely would say get out. Maybe that was right in Haiti in 2005. It's certainly not right now.

Looking forward to David's reply on my first point in post above.


Submitted by Jason on Thu, 04/02/2010 - 06:48

This article and the comments is indicative of a certain facet of AWL politics. In a seeming obsession to not be 'kneejerk' there's a fruitless concentration on why 'troops out now' is not a good slogan.

Instead of this arcane debate socialists should concentrate on getting aid to labour movement and activists in Haiti whilst also discussing the history of the island including the revolt against colonialism and slavery and the long term inteference in Haiti by the US- mainly using economic leverage but using troops frequently when needed including full scale invasions which has a great deal to do with Haiti being the poorest country in the Western hemisphere despite having been one of the richest colonies. Poverty is also the reason the death toll is so high. Proper investment and a planned economy under working class control can minimise deaths from natural disasters.

If there's a workplace collection no one is suggesting that socialists condemn this and have an impromptu demo of 'troops out now'. But we should argue for aid to go to activists on the ground and throw a spotlight on US imperialism's continued efforts to profit from others' misery.

See for example
this appeal

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 04/02/2010 - 11:22

We've reprinted both the Liverpool TUC statement and the Batay Ouvriye appeal. They're both on the front page of the site. Those were the first things we put up, long before we published this article, though unsurprisingly they haven't sparked debate in the same way as this. In contrast some on the far left - not PR, to be fair - responded by publishing calls for 'Troops out'.

Not only that but some practical action: we brought over a Batay Ouvriye representative for a speaker tour a few years ago, and our comrades are involved in organising a benefit gig for the union in London next week.

Good to pay a bit more attention!

In any case, as you go on to say, we can do all that while also debating the politics.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by Matthew on Fri, 05/02/2010 - 09:41

Dan, leaving aside the usual slanders, half-truths and lies - "the racist denial of the right of return in Israel, for troops to stay in Iraq and for the right of Israel to bomb nuclear facilities in Iran" - where have we written that "the whole country would be in lawless mob rule if the US troops weren't there"?

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 05/02/2010 - 11:26

Let's not turn this into a row about Palestine.

Matthew:where have we written that "the whole country would be in lawless mob rule if the US troops weren't there"?

Sacha wrote: the threat the US faces to its ability to continuing exploiting Haitian labour in a reliable, organised fashion is not (now, at this point) worker/popular militancy but the complete break down of the Haitian government and society.

Rather than doing more textual analysis, let's try to get to the issues.

Sometimes societies do break down, and it is often not pretty, even though brutality and grasping by some are intermingled with heroic altruism, selflessness and acts of solidarity by others. There is nothing racist (!) about saying this - though it may be exploited in a cynical, authoritarian and sometimes racist way by bourgeois forces. And there are very unpleasant gangs in Haiti, as in most poor cities. I don't see what's racist about noticing that?

I'm not sure about Batay Ouvriye's formulation in 2005 - in any case, you might well say "Troops out of x factory or district" without saying "Troops off Haiti" in general, cf police and Brixton or Toxteth during riots in early 80s - but do you think the basic aim of the troops landed after the quake is to control the workers? No, they have not become benign, but they are basically there to deliver aid and, more cynically, preserve stability, in a society that has collapsed. And things will be WORSE for the working class if they leave immediately!

You might ask why Batay Ouvriye, who generally take a very 'anti-imperialist' position, say nothing about Troops Out in their solidarity statement.


PS Dan accuses Daniel of utopianism for arguing for no strings aid, but wants US soldiers to disarm and continue operating under civilian commanders!

Submitted by AWL on Sat, 06/02/2010 - 22:13

Dan says "Why the need for jet fighters and navy ships that are only designed for war?"

Does he think, and do others think, that the US is about to go to war on Haiti? Is it about to launch a direct occupation of Haiti (establishing more direct control than the existing troop presence has wielded over the past years)? Is the US about to put down down a working-class or even popular uprising to prop up a local ruling-class?

If the answer to these questions is "no", (and I think it is) then why should we focus our propaganda on this issue around demanding that the troops leave, particularly in a situation in which they are - like it or not - involved in the delivery of aid (whatever else they may be doing).

Working-class anti-imperialism is not about being abstractly "against", in the most vociferous way possible, whatever the big imperialist powers happen to be doing at a given time. It's about starting from a concrete assessment of the realities on the ground and developing perspective/slogans than can help build up working-class independence. A position of no confidence/trust in the troops and the demand for grassroots control of aid that's delivered (i.e. no strings) does that much better than to simply demand that the troops get out.

Others can start from "anti-imperialist" dogma if they like ("US troops are involved? Well, we'd better say 'troops out now', then. Why? Well... that's just what you say in these situations, isn't it?") but we prefer to start from reality. Dan2 says that it's not an "either/or" situation between US troops and no aid; okay, fine - but given the concrete reality that the US troops *are* involved in the delivery of aid (yes, they may also be involved in blocking other forms of aid and any amount of other stuff we'd be opposed to), why would you want to focus your demands on calling for their withdrawal rather than trying to shape the conditions under which that aid is delivered and who controls it?

I think that

* no confidence or trust in the troops
* for a massive international aid programme, delivered without strings
* international working-class solidarity to support the Haitian people and workers' movement

is a perfectly adequate framework for a socialist perspective on the situation. This wasn't spelled out more explicitly in the original article because it was a polemic against the knee-jerk, robotic use of "troops out now" by other left groups - not an exposition of AWL's full perspective on the issue.

Finally, the idea that the demand for aid without strings will almost certainly not be realised means we shouldn't raise it is absolutely farcical. The idea that Bush and Blair were going to retreat from their war plans once they've drawn them up was pretty fantastical ("utopian", one might say), but we continued to oppose and mobilise against the war because it was objectively the right thing to do. Raising such a demand gives a concrete focus for action as well as politically exposing the inherently class-biased nature of capitalist "aid".


Daniel Randall

PS: While I think the Workers' Power article is a total fudge, it is worth noting that it explicitly does *not* use the slogan "troops out now" or indeed any formulation of "troops out", but rather focuses on placing demands on the troops themselves. So maybe you *can* be anti-imperialist without saying "troops out now" after all...

Submitted by AWL on Sun, 07/02/2010 - 14:13

So the demand for aid without strings is utopian but the demand that the US military - the armed wing of the most powerful capitalist ruling-class on the planet - disarms isn't?

Not convincing.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 08/02/2010 - 10:15

From DAN2:
"So the demand for aid without strings is utopian but the demand that the US military - the armed wing of the most powerful capitalist ruling-class on the planet - disarms isn't?"
I still don't think you are getting the point I'm making.
The demand to disarm can't be achieved now but not all demands that are put forward are immediately achievable. However if there was a powerful workers movement in the US it could achieved. Even a powerful workers movement in Haiti could maybe make it achievable.
However the ruling classes will never, ever, give aid without strings. Why would they, it would go against all their material interests. They could be forced to do so, but that's different. Maybe that's what was meant, but it wasn't clear if that's the case.

"The ruling classes will never, ever [my emphasis], give aid without strings [...] They could be forced to do so."
Riiiiiight. For future reference, saying "thing X will never, ever happen", and then saying "it could happen" in the same paragraph tends to undermine your argument a little bit.
I have a high enough opinion of your intelligence, Dan to assume that you understand socialist agitational demands are not made in the belief that the ruling class will simply do what's demanded out of the kindness of its heart, but because they are forced to concede them by a working-class movement which has made the demand.
It is "against all the material interests" of the capitalist class to concede shorter working hours, higher wages, etc. Are these demands also "utopian"?

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Tubeworker 26/1/10

Submitted by Tubeworker on 26 January, 2010 - 8:52

The new issue of Tubeworker celebrates a 'triple whammy', as Underground workers fight back on Alstom, Signals, and against the five pound minimum Oyster top-up.

Other reports include the fight for Bakerloo drivers' jobs, the absurdities of the mystery shopper surveys, and the CSS bonus. Another article explains why Haiti needs not just charity but change.

Click '1 attachment'/ file name to view and download it. Click here to read Tubeworker's blog.

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Haiti: whose recovery?

Submitted by AWL on 26 January, 2010 - 11:36 Author: Patrick Rolfe

A recent post on the blog of The Heritage Foundation, a US think tank, argued that any humanitarian intervention in Haiti should "prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea ... to try to enter the US illegally." The document goes on, "Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue." In 2009 the Heritage Foundation was rated by the journal Foreign Policy as the fifth most powerful think tank in the US.

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Solidarity with the workers and people of Haiti

Submitted by AWL on 25 January, 2010 - 5:52

In fact a Batay Ouvriye representative, Yannick Etienne, also visited the UK on a No Sweat speaker tour in 2004. (There is a No Sweat speaker benefit for Haitian workers' organisations on 10 February: see here and Facebook event here.)

We hope to work with Liverpool TUC on this.

Liverpool TUC motion

Labour movement solidarity to the Haitian Labour movement

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Policies pushed by global capital worsen Haiti disaster

Submitted by martin on 15 January, 2010 - 9:37 Author: Charles Arthur

Charles Arthur of the Haiti Support Group has issued this statement.

The magnitude of this terrible tragedy is directly linked to the massive influx of people who have come to live in Port-au-Prince over recent decades.

Hundreds of thousands of people have abandoned the countryside and come to capital to try and make a living. This human wave has overwhelmed the city and the rudimentary services that serve the city's population.

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