BY LYN DUFF
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - "Jimmy Carter Fo Demokrat" (Jimmy Carter is a fake democrat) reads the graffiti on the walls of the SONAPI Industrial Park. In Haiti, Jimmy Carter is synonymous with the Macoutes - the paramilitary thugs who backed former dictatorships here and whose safety from prosecution he negotiated - as well as the continual occupation of their country by Canadian, Turkish, and U.S. troops.
For Haitian workers, Carter also represents the "Blans," white capitalists from the U.S. who come to Haiti because, as one boss boasted, the labor's "even cheaper than Mexico."
And what does this spell for Haitian workers? "I work 12 hours a day and for that I bring home 15 gourdes a day (U.S.$1)," said Emanyél Iyve, a 24-year-old who packages and ships Mickey Mouse pajamas. "I am only paid that much if I reach my quota, which I rarely do," he added.
Iyve works for Quality Garments, a U.S.-owned factory that sews dresses for Kmart and pajamas for Walt Disney. To get to Quality Garments, one must walk between factories built so closely together you are forced to walk sideways, through raw sewage that threatens to spill over the tops of your shoes.
Covered with dust from the cement factory next door, Iyve and co-workers arrive at work every morning coughing. They have requested access to the front driveway so they won't have to make the trek through the back entrance, but the driveway is reserved for the boss's BMW.
Inside, nearly 100 women are hunched over 1940s sewing machines guarded by a dozen white "managers." The women are given no lunch break and must keep sewing until they reach their quota, which was raised 800 percent in 1992 when Aristide raised the minimum wage.
"It is so dark I cannot see the thread, I feel it with my hands," one 14-year-old worker said. "If I lose hold of the thread and have to stop to feel it, the Blan comes at you with his hand raised to strike you," her 16-year-old friend, Máre added.
Máre said that she is required to sew zippers on 341 pairs of pajamas a day and for this she gets 18 gourdes (about U.S. $1.07). If she sews less than 150 zippers, she is not paid. A worker like Máre can rent a cardboard and tin shack in Cité Soley for about $75 a year.
"We need a union of the Haitians who work here in SONAPI that will give us a strong voice," Máre replied when asked what could be done to solve their problems. "We need to work for the good of Haiti, not for the Americans to get fat. That is the goal for now, but none of these problems will go away as long as capitalism is allowed to control us."
"You need to go back and tell workers in America what it is like here, how dehumanizing these conditions are." Her friend added, "You need to fight to stop this cancer of capitalism in your own country. That is the only real solution to the problems of Haitians."
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