Haitian and Dominican workers build solidarity

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic — A delegation of Haitian unionists met in Santo Domingo July 1-2 with unionists from the informal sector of the working people of the Dominican Republic. The encounter was held at the office of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center and was facilitated by Cathy Feingold, the Solidarity Center representative to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The Haitian delegation was comprised of Retes Rejouir, President of Unity for Constructive Action by Haitian Unions (UACSH), leaders of a drivers' union, informal sector associations of street merchants and domestic workers (servants) affiliated with UACSH, and UACSH International Relations Officer Russell Pelle. The Dominican informal sector workers' delegation included FUTJOPOCIF President Juan Jimenez and leaders of Dominican domestic workers and street vendors (boneros) associations. The economy, class structure and union movement in the Dominican Republic is far more developed than in Haiti. While bi-national relations are mutually beneficial, Haitian unions have much to gain from fraternal relations with organized labor in the Dominican Republic.

The meeting strengthened existing relations and developed a six-month plan for a series of meetings, training sessions and workshops. Feingold discussed concrete ways the Solidarity Center could help. FUTJOPOCIF President Juan Jimenez pointed out that, unlike the working class, working people of the informal sector do not have employers or bosses. 'The government is the 'boss' confronting them. They have to deal with state authorities with regard to problems of permits, space to work, abuse and denial of their rights.' The problems of Haitian immigrant workers were also discussed. The representative of Dominican vendors noted that Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic 'face the same problems as Dominican workers, but also persecution by the police and conflicts with Dominican workers. Organized labor in the Dominican Republic considers Haitian immigrants part of the Dominican working class and organizes them. UACSH President Rejouir observed, 'Wherever we live on the planet, we must find work, education - a way to survive. We must have solidarity.' The meeting developed a mission statement, four specific objectives and strategies to achieve them. All present expressed their appreciation of the constructive role played by the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center. After the Solidarity Center meeting ended, FUTJOPOCIF President Jimenez took UACSH President Rejouir and UACSH International Relations Officer Pelle to the headquarters of the National Confederation of Dominican Workers (CNTD), where relations with other unions were established. Rejouir characterized Haiti and the Dominican Republic as 'a bird with two wings. But for the last twenty years the wing that is Haiti has been completely paralyzed.' He expressed his wish that the union leaders present could all speak Spanish, Kreyol and English. Pelle interjected 'In a sense, we already speak the same language: the language of the working class.' At the request of International Longshoremen's Association (ILA AFL-CIO) leader Kenneth Riley, Pelle initiated relations with the Federation of Dominican Dockworkers (FDTP), Silvio Mendoza, General-Secretary. Mendoza said they had lost contact with Haitian dockworkers years ago. CNTD Secretary-General Jacobo Ramos arrived directly from negotiations with the National Committee on Wages (CNS) on the question of raising the minimum wage. Negotiations had been going on for months. Ramos announced that negotiations had broken off without reaching an agreement.