Let’s Learn From Haiti – Occupy!

As the capitalist crisis continues, workplace occupations have been increasing in frequency. The most recent example is Haiti, where over 10,000 workers are currently occupying their workplaces in order to secure the right to a minimum wage.

In the spirit of learning from our sisters & brothers around the world, we’re posting some news reporting on the struggle in Haiti, along with an article outlining the increased number of worldwide occupations by workers, and finally a translation of an interview with Zanon factory workers in Argentina who are known for having taken over production against bosses during the Argentinian uprisings of 2001.

These examples begin to demonstrate what a developing militancy looks like – confronting the state, self-organizing production without bosses, and occupying workplaces without respect for capitalist property relations.

One can begin to imagine what a world would look like if these types of isolated examples were to be interconnected across national boundaries and combined with assemblies and councils in communities and across institutions likes hospitals and schools.

The importance of certain questions becomes clear: what type of work do we need to do to sow the seeds for this type of radically different future? What types of organization must be built to make this a reality? What type of work should revolutionaries engage in so that the struggles that currently exist may be advanced and directed towards these goals?

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11 responses to “Let’s Learn From Haiti – Occupy!

  1. For a second, let’s not make a fetish of the sit-in/occupation movement.

    Batay Ouvriye is an organization of questionable origin and aim. The organization came to prominence simultaneous to the ousting of the elected government of Aristide and the attempt to force the Lavalas movement underground, mostly by supporting the U.S. abduction of Aristide and his continued exile.

    Haiti Progres busted these fakers years ago, and among the revelations included its acceptance of funds from organizations that are definitely not Left-leaning – including the National Endowment for Democracy (aka, the people that brought you Carmona in Venezuela and Micheletti in Honduras), as well as the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center (which has earned the nickname, “AFL-CIA” for having supported the white-collar lockout of Venezuela’s oil workers).

    “Militancy” in this case is horseshit is used to put clothes on otherwise naked imperialist collaborators.

  2. i applaud hegemonic’s mentioning of the AFL-CIA Solidarty Center. the AFL-CIO has no less a dubious track record at home than it does abroad. the WWII no-strike pledge that the CIO entered into on the basis of a patriotic alliance with the US ruling class in defense of stalin’s ussr, along with the AFL’s decades-long exclusion of unskilled, female, immigrant, and black workers, demonstrate a longstanding antagonism on the part of the US union leadership toward the foreign and domestic proletariat.

    if wages are any indication, haiti has the lowest bargaining power of any working class in the western hemisphere. in the haitian case, what is the demand? an increase in the minimum wage. how are they fighting for it? aggressively, uncompromisingly, and by taking over the means of production. hegemonic, i dont think you should call this horseshit, unless you are willing to apply the same label to everyy AFL-CIO led strike as well (were Republic Windows and Stella d’Oro “horseshit?”). workers can undertake worthy struggles even if their “leaders” are unworthy. ever heard of father Gapon?

    sometimes the method of struggle is as important as the particular demands. there will be no revolution without the spirit of fearlessly confronting the class enemy and without the use of militant tactics such as occupation. it runs counter to their own intersts for a reactionary party to provide training to thousands of workers in the methods of class WAR, even if they deny them the crucial guiding element of CONSCIOUSNESS. with the experience of struggle, the working class learns (aka gains consciousness of) its potential, and revolution can become plausible in the imagination.

    i dont think anyone reading this blog would argue with the fact a revolutionary organization is needed to expose a conservative mis-leadership, but this is done best in action by outflanking the conservatives with more radical demands and by proposing better strategy . . . not by boycotting a worthy struggle.

    • Let me use a metaphor, esteban: labor militancy is to revolutions in the third world what the tuba is to an orchestra. It has its role to play, but it’s more than a little ridiculous on its own.

      With regard to Haiti, what we have here is an organization that very much attempted to downplay the role it played in the ouster of Aristide and the red carpet it layed before international imperialism (and I note that Haiti is now a glimpse of what “multilateralism” means in practice: not just rape, but a gang rape, by American imperialism with the cooperation of not only the French, but by the “progressive” Brazilian at the behest of Lula).

      Here I think we need some real clarity. The Left is certainly not alone in its advocacy of the strike as a tactic. I believe this is certainly borne out in the U.S., where we’ve certainly had a number of strikes which had a fundamentally reactionary nature, among one of the most “militant” being a wartime shutdown of the Philadelphia transit system over the promotion of African-Americans.

      Add imperialism as an ingredient, and you have even worse and shameful actions: the strike of Chile’s “housewives” during Allende’s rule, possibly the only strike the NY Times ever supported.

      In this, I believe more than ever, it’s important to see just how this plays out. I’m certainly not an advocate of ham-handedly refusing to engage struggles wherein the Left doesn’t have some totally explicit control – but I’d also caution against expecting a chicken to lay a duck egg.

      • hegemonic, what do you define as “labor” militancy? do you just mean stuff unions do? only what wage earners do? only urban workers? what about rural workers? domestic and service workers? using the term “labor” can lack clarity.

        to oversimplify (and underestimate) the role of labor militancy in the third world, lets draw a connection between urbanization and “labor”ization. 80% of the US’s population is urban. 70% of puerto rico’s. mexico 76%. south africa 58%. brazil 84%. china and india each have between 30-40% urban populations which are rising fast. its hard to find a country predicted to have an urban population less than 50% of its total within 20 years. this isnt fanon or mao’s third world where peasants with small land holdings are the primary agents of militancy or reservoirs of revolutionary fervor. if not peasants, who? i posit proletarians. labor militancy, thus, is no laughing matter.

        hegemonic you said, “labor militancy is to revolutions in the third world what the tuba is to an orchestra. It has its role to play, but it’s more than a little ridiculous on its own.” i didnt claim this was a revolution. i said its a strike for a demand that will benefit the position of the working class as a whole. even if they dont win the demand, they will have re-articulated their antagonism toward the state and will have become more comfortable with a tactic that will be crucial in the event of the onset of a revolutionary movement. the leadership may be dubious, as it generally is in my opinion, but the workers seem genuine. NOT ridiculous. not even a little.

        by your analogy’s rubric, the general strike in guadaloupe must have been quite hilarious – a victorious month-long general strike… teeheehee! The 2001 wave of argentinean factory occupations… ha! no big deal. the bangladesh workers struggle about which there is a post on this blog… outlandish! hey you heard that one about the ridiculous mexican maquiladora workers? i’ll tell you next time..

  3. If Haiti Progres is involved in exposing the “fakers” of Batay Ouvriye, who are supposedly complicit in Aristide’s ouster, why does HP itself call that ouster a “rebellion”?

    http://www.haitiprogres.com/suite_anglais1.html

    And yes it is hard to see how such occupations can serve imperial interests, unless they are used a pretext for invasion. To add one more thing, I think we need to begin re-introducing the idea of “reconversion” to go along with any emerging occupations movement. Workers’ demands to keep their jobs have little weight when no one wants their product. But labor power plus materials plus machines can do much more than simply push commodities…

  4. Just a quick note Esteban, Republic is actually represented by UE, which isn’t in the AFL-CIO. They got booted when they refused to purge the CPUSA cadres in leadership of many locals like other CIO unions did and as a result the conservatives started the IUE to raid them.

    • Also, Stella D’Oro is militant because there aren’t unions involved at all – after one union at the plant was broken (with the shameful collusion of the one that remains) the sole union involved is weak enough that various radicals have had an entrypoint.

  5. esteban:

    Urbanization is not equivalent to industrialization or proletarianization. In the neocolonial countries, what percentage of these growing urban populations become part of the huge reserve army of labor (the unemployed and underemployed)? What percentage remains outside of the formal sector? And, what percentage lives in shantytowns peripheral to the city centers? What is happening here is that the conditions of rural poverty are being *carried into* the cities. The agrarian question remains, as well as its strategic implications: the proletariat is the revolutionary agent only to the extent that it finds a way to lead the peasants and other all oppressed strata in the country.

  6. but urbanization DOES mean the termination of rural conditions for those who make the move.

    what does this mean Boris?: “What is happening here is that the conditions of rural poverty are being *carried into* the cities.” are you arguing that there are urban peasants? in fact, redundant peasants are being transformed into unemployed proletarians… but proletarians nonetheless.

    by far MOST migrants to the city become proletarianized, own no productive property and sell their ability to work to someone else who uses it to make profit. this stands whether or not their boss is “legitimate,” and whether third world proletarians’ wages are above the table or below it. even a garbage dump scavenger can be seen as contributing to a new cycle of accumulation – reCYCLE – as a miner of sorts.

    only dogmatists narrow the definition of proletarian to a blue collar unionized industrial worker. in 2009, most rural people are not primarily dependent upon their own land for their economic survival, but their LABOR-POWER. this makes them some kind of worker. unwaged women living with men across the world, as well shantytown unemployed belong to the proletarian class even though they are often marginalized from directly productive activity. even if their only activity is to keep themselves alive (reproduce themselves, which most women do plus a host of other people) they are working to maintain the reserve army which contributes to capital accumulation by keeping wages down with their potential to scab. their misery is that of the proletariat. their interest is aligned with the employed (more jobs, more pay, ultimately, control of production, socialism), and conversely the employed will raise the level of their struggle much higher when they realize that their interests are aligned with their less visible sisters and brothers.

    **communists shouldnt mock labor militancy and wishfully fit their square peg of peasantism into the circle hole of a proletarianized world. rather, they should search for and point out the common interests between all sectors of the proletariat, push for a broader class perspective rather than narrow sectoral interests, and point the way toward the dictatorship of the proletariat.**

    none of this is to say that the land question is irrelevant and i wont be straw-manned into that position. but i will attack hegemonic’s absurd and counter-factual reduction of working class militancy to the role of “ridiculous” tuba, as if there were a whole orchestra of non-worker forms of resistance available. every decade that passes polarizes the world class structure even further, leaving no other option for liberation than working class based struggle.

  7. Esteban is making good points here about the METHOD of stuggle these workers are using that hegemonic is continually not engaging with. Even Gerrard made a good point that workers can do a lot more with their labor power then push commodities around. They can occupy factories, and shut down production. Nobody is saying that Haiti’s occupation means the revolution is here, but there is always something to learn when the working-class unites against its bosses exploitation. The key is to connect all these struggles, and elevate the revolutionary class consciousness of these people. We must not downplay the dialectic between class struggle and revolution.

  8. Earlier today a friend from Georgia posted about moving to Philly. I was reminded of the Gramsci piece “Some aspects of the southern question” (1926, unfinished). Re-reading it I came across this snippet, which quickly reminded me of this conversation. Not saying that it pushing the conversation in any definitive direction, but it is a neat overlap at least insofar as folks grappling with similar tactics, in very different conditions at different points in history can be.

    Well, what has occurred on the terrain of the Southern question shows that the proletariat has understood these duties. Two events should be recalled: one took place in Turin; the other occurred at Reggio Emilia, i.e. in the very citadel of reformism, class corporatism and working-class protectionism which is cited as a prime example by the “Southernists” in their propaganda among the peasants of the South.

    After the occupation of the factories, the Fiat board proposed to the workers that they should run the firm as a cooperative. Naturally, the reformists were in favour. An industrial crisis was looming; the spectre of unemployment tormented the workers’ families. If Fiat became a cooperative, a certain job security might be obtained by the skilled workers, and especially by the politically most active workers, who were convinced that they were marked out for dismissal. The Socialist Party section, led by the communists, intervened energetically on the question. The workers were told the following:

    “A great firm like Fiat can be taken over as a cooperative by the workers, only if the latter have resolved to enter the system of bourgeois political forces which governs Italy today. The proposal of the Fiat board forms a part of Giolitti’s political plan. In what does this plan consist? The bourgeoisie, even before the War, could not govern peacefully any longer. The rising of the Sicilian peasants in 1894 and the Milan insurrection of 1898 were the experimentum crucis of the Italian bourgeoisie. 254 After the bloody decade 1890-1900, the bourgeoisie was forced to renounce a dictatorship that was too exclusive, too violent, too direct. For there had risen against it simultaneously, even if not in a coordinated fashion, the Southern peasants and the Northern workers.

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