Workers killed in Haiti
June 4— A May 27 clash between unionized
workers and armed goons backed by local officials left two union
supporters dead at the Société Guacimal, S.A., orange plantation
at St.-Raphaël in northern Haiti. Several union supporters were
wounded, and five were arrested, along with two journalists;
two St.-Raphaël officials were wounded by gunfire, one seriously.
The violence was the latest incident in a two-year struggle
between Guacimal—which produces orange extract for European
companies, including the French multinational liquor company
Rémy Cointreau—and the workers, supported by local peasants
and organized into a union affiliated with the Batay Ouvriye
(”Workers’ Struggle”) organization. In April Batay Ouvriye warned
that increasing repression by management and local landowners
and officials might lead to a massacre.
The May 27 incident began when the Guacimal workers
tried to exercise their traditional right to farm the land between
the orange groves during the off-season. Joined by Batay Ouvriye
supporters from nearby Cap-Haïtien and St.-Michel, the workers
began a march to the plantation. According to Batay Ouvriye,
local officials and “a big crowd of armed men under orders of
a local big landowner (Lavaud) along with his caretakers” attacked
the demonstrators “with rocks, machetes and guns.” The workers
and their supporters fled, but two elderly Batay Ouvriye supporters
from St.-Michel were killed.
Seven people were arrested, including at least
three people who were seriously injured: union supporter Urbenn
Garçon; Darwin St.-Julien, a reporter for the New York–based
weekly Haïti Progrès; and Allan Deshommes, a reporter for the
Radio Atlantik radio station. St.-Raphael mayor Adonija Sévère,
a member of left-populist Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s
Lavalas Family (FL) party, denounced the prisoners, including
the journalists, as “terrorists.” Sévère has opposed the unionists,
as did his predecessor, his brother Fernand Sévère, who was
killed last December in a fight between FL factions.
On May 29 a helicopter came from Port-au-Prince
and removed the seven prisoners to the National Penitentiary
in the capital. As of May 30 none had been charged, in violation
of Haitian law, which requires that prisoners be charged or
released in 48 hours. The authorities allowed a delegation of
journalists to visit the reporters on May 30 but not the imprisoned
unionists. The delegation reported that the two journalists
needed immediate medical attention and that there was a real
danger that Deshommes would die from his injuries and St.-Julien
would lose an eye.
Source: Weekly News Update on the Americas
Ecuador banana workers attacked
Workers’ and human rights activists called for worldwide action
after thugs brutally beat banana workers in Ecuador who are
fighting for decent wages and their basic human rights from
their employer, Noboa Corp.
About 400 hooded men, who said they worked for
Noboa, attacked the workers May 15 -16 in their homes on the
Alamos plantation, according to US/Labor Education in the Americas
Project (US/Leap). Other workers were attacked May 17 at a Dutch
plantation, according to US/Leap.
US/Leap supports economic justice and basic rights
for workers in Central America, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.
Chiquita workers strike in
Some 2,000 Honduran banana workers for the Tela Railroad Company
went on strike May 27 at 14 plantations and their packing facilities
in Cortes and Yoro provinces in the north. Tela is the Honduran
affiliate of Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International,
which emerged from bankruptcy in March.
The immediate cause of the strike was the firing
of 29 workers who refused to apply a pesticide identified as
“clorpirifos” or Durban, which the company started using on
May 20. The workers say the chemical causes vomiting, fainting
and sexual impotence. In addition to the rehiring of the laid-off
workers, the strikers’ demands include a 10% wage increase and
improvements in housing, schools and medical care.
After mediation by the Labor Ministry, Tela agreed
to re-hire the 29 laid-off workers; the ministry also named
a seven-member commission to determine whether the pesticide
was harming the workers. But a general assembly of union workers
voted to continue the strike and added two more demands, including
stable pay for packing facility workers.
(Weekly Update on the Americas)
Strike brings Rome airport
to a halt
An eight-hour strike at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, Italy’s main
international hub alongside Milan’s Malpensa, grounded dozens
of flights and left passengers stranded on May 24.
Unions were protesting the layoffs of hundreds
of ground staff after a service and catering firm at the Rome
The stoppage was the latest of a series of strikes
to hit Italian airports since the end of last year, as workers
demanded help for an aviation industry badly hit by the post-Sept.
11 air travel slump.
The strike at Fiumicino and the capital’s smaller
airport coincided with a four-hour strike called by Civil Aviation
Last month Italian unions staged a crippling strike
to protest government plans to change labor laws. (Reuters)
Alaska wage goes north
The Alaska legislature voted to increase the state’s minimum
wage from $5.65 per hour to $7.15, effective Jan. 1, and to
index future increases to the Anchorage consumer price index
beginning Sept. 30, 2004.
Now, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer will determine if the
measure eliminates the need for a Nov. 2002 ballot initiative
on raising the minimum wage.
A petition drive by the Alaska AFL-CIO and allied
groups last year drew enough signatures for the initiative to
be certified for the November ballot. (Grassroots Media Network)