Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Haitian Textile Workers Strike Against U.S. and International Sweatshops

Thousands of textile workers in Haiti have walked out to demand higher wages. The strike shows growing militancy among one of the most hyper-exploited sectors of capitalism’s imperial hierarchy.

B.C. Daurelle

February 18, 2022
Facebook Twitter Share
A Haitian textile worker at protest

Thousands of textile workers from Haiti’s assembly and export industry are leaving the factory floor and taking to the streets of Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. This predominantly female workforce is engaged in textile manufacturing and assembly for export to clothing giants like Levi Strauss, Gap, and Nike. The peaceful walkout was almost immediately met with police repression in the form of tear gas, beatings, and arrests, as the protestors marched to the residence of prime minister Ariel Henry. Nevertheless, protestors re-grouped for a second day to continue the fight for a higher minimum wage, and their ranks continue to swell as the action passes into its second week. 

The initial walkout was organized by the militant union group Batay Ouvriye at the Parc Industriel Métropolitain, one of Haiti’s “assembly zones,” duty-free production centers for multinational retailers such as Gap, Old Navy, H&M, JCPenney, and Zara, whose low prices rest on the legalized exploitation of Haitian labor. The initial demonstration on February 9 was entirely peaceful: protestors played music and danced, while others waved small tree branches, a display of non-violent resistance. The protest had barely begun, however, when police fired canisters of tear gas to disperse the crowds. However, the intensity of police repression only emboldened the striking workers, who returned the following day with faces painted to protect against another round of tear gas. According to Konbit Jounalis Lib, at least 15 people were injured in the first two days, 13 of whom were women. As of the weekend, four were still in the hospital, including one pregnant woman. 

The demand on the protestors’ lips is a raise in the minimum wage from 500 to 1,500 Gourdes (or HTG, the local currency). Currently, the minimum salary for workers in “assembly zones” like PIM is the equivalent of USD $4.86, for a nine-hour work day, a wage so low it’s derisively referred to as “Aba salè tibèkiloz”, a ‘tuberculosis salary.’ Many workers point out that it can cost nearly 250 Gourdes per day just to get to and from work.

The poverty wages paid to textile and assembly workers in Haiti is no accident: it has deep roots in imperialism. The complex at the center of today’s strikes is one of several administered by the government agency Société Nationale des Parcs Industriels or SONPAI, duty free zones created to enforce the country’s tiered wage system. Though textile workers in Haiti actually fall within the highest tier of the country’s minimum wage protections, companies that contract piece work specifically for export are allowed to pay workers 10% less. This is a legacy of the HOPE and HOPE II acts, passed by the U.S. congress in 2006 and 2008, during earlier periods of labor unrest in Haiti. To pre-empt the Haitian congress’s attempts to raise the minimum wage, the HOPE treaties imposed a U.S.-backed package of trade liberalization, allowing for extremely modest, gradual increases in the minimum wage in exchange for duty-free export of textiles. Leaked cables show how Hillary Clinton’s State Department and the U.S. Embassy leaned on the Haitian government directly, on behalf of companies whose profits rest on cheap Haitian labor.

Back in 2008, when the Haitian congress attempted an ambitious minimum wage increase, a study from the Worker Rights Consortium showed that a wage of 550 HTG was needed just to cover the daily living expenses of a family of three. Thanks to U.S. intervention, the wage rose only slightly, from $0.22 to $0.31, rather than to $0.62, as the government originally proposed. More recently, a 2019 report by Solidarity Center estimated that a reasonable living wage would be four times higher, since workers typically spend more than half of a current day’s earnings just on lunch and transportation. Modest increases have been made since the report, but they are far outpaced by inflation. The workers’ demand today, a daily minimum of 1,500 HTG, is still well below the 1,750 called for in that report.

Haiti’s textile and assembly workers know the fruits of imperialist inequality better than most, and the history of a struggle for a liveable minimum wage shows the lengths to which multinational capital will go to maintain a cheap, exploited workforce. These workers have been told by governments, economists, and business leaders of the Global North that they should be grateful to have jobs at all, that a reasonable minimum wage would drive businesses out of the country. But among those who work for nine hour a day — making articles of “cheap” clothing that cost four times their daily salary — resistance rooted in a sharp class consciousness will inevitably develop, as these protests demonstrate.

Facebook Twitter Share

Labor Movement

Several workers hugging in front of a Chipotle Store

The Unionization Wave Continues: Workers In Maine Have Organized the First Chipotle Store in the Country

Workers at an Augusta, Maine Chipotle have formed an independent union: Chipotle United. This is a clear indication that the unionization wave that started with Starbucks and Amazon is only growing stronger.

James Dennis Hoff

June 22, 2022

U.K. Railway Workers Begin Largest Strike in 30 Years

Amid high inflation, tens of thousands of railway and subway workers across the United Kingdom have declared at least three days of work stoppages to demand wage increases and other protections. Transport across much of the region has ground to a halt.

Protester holds a sign that reads "Pro Union, Pro Choice"

Roe Is About to be Overturned: Organize With Your Co-Workers to Fight for Abortion Rights

Roe v. Wade is about to be overturned, marking the biggest defeat of the feminist movement in the past 50 years. We need to organize in rank-and-file committees to mobilize for reproductive rights.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

June 20, 2022

‘It’s Devastating’: NYC Schools Face Enormous Budget Cuts

Left Voice publishes an interview with a teacher at New York City’s MS 839, who has been organizing with his school community against the city’s school budget cuts.

Emma Lee

June 20, 2022

MOST RECENT

United Kingdom: Is a Summer of Discontent on the Horizon?

Workers in the UK are bearing the brunt of the government’s response to rising inflation and slow economic growth. But they’re fighting back, with many talking about a “summer of discontent”.

Alejandra Ríos

June 22, 2022

You Can’t ‘Green’ the Military (You Have to Fight It)

The armed forces of state violence are "going green", but they're no friends of the environment. We need an internationalist climate movement that's strongly opposed to militaries, police, prisons, and borders.

B.C. Daurelle

June 22, 2022

AMLO’s Dilemma and the Limits of the Pink Tide

It is essential to establish a clear definition of class character to understand AMLO’s government, taking into consideration the particular characteristics of its “progressivism” in its relationship with the mass movement and capital. Otherwise, one could lose one’s way in implementing socialist and revolutionary politics that genuinely express the historical interest of the oppressed and exploited.

Pablo Oprinari

June 21, 2022
Former rebel Gustavo Petro and his running mate Francia Marquez, celebrate before supporters after winning a runoff presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022.

Historic Defeat of the Right in Colombia’s Presidential Elections: What Are the Implications of Gustavo Petro’s Win?

The center-left candidate Gustavo Petro has defeated right-wing Rodolfo Hernández in Colombia’s presidential elections. The outcome of the election reflects the people’s hatred of the right, but Petro has little to offer the working classes of Colombia.

Milton D'León

June 20, 2022