PORT-AU-PRINCE, July 21 — “Haiti has a hardscrabble beauty,” an art historian said about its eroding slopes, its city streets turned into a huge informal market, its people always on the move in the daily scramble for food. However, Haiti, at the bottom rung of racist capitalism, has the beauty of workers struggling with their backs against the wall.
Workers at the University Hospital (HUEH) led off a strike with a demonstration at the Ministry of Health, for unpaid wages, decent health services for patients and working conditions for workers. Our PLP Summer Project medical clinic team spotted the demonstration and learned more from the local nurses working with us. The strikers are in the Syndicat des Travailleurs de Santé (STS — Health Workers’ Union), an industrial union whose logo combines a stethoscope with a mop.
Today we brought 50 students from our Project’s freedom school, and health workers and translators from our medical clinic to the sweltering STS union hall. We were given some of the few seats, fans were brought up, and they looked at us expectantly.
Charles, the head of their negotiating committee, explained the problems at HUEH, whose administrator lives in Canada and, with his cronies, gets paid in U.S. dollars. They have, in essence, destroyed the hospital.
Since the earthquake, labs, medicines, even food for the patients are missing or are allowed to deteriorate. Workers must find food for the patients themselves. The bosses allow patients to pile in without the means of caring for them. And workers being paid? Maybe.
As Charles said, these terrible services for patients occur alongside terrible working conditions for their caretakers, plus the stress of being unable to provide needed care.
The STS president Milot, a doctor, wrung his hands as he described the pain workers felt, prevented by the bosses’ system from using their strength, skills and creativity to treat other workers who need them so badly. He and Charles thanked us for our solidarity across the seas, his hands clutching the precious handful of $20 bills we donated to the fund.
Someone started a chant in English, “Same Enemy, Same Fight! Workers of the World Unite!” Our STS hosts took it up as best they could. Some of us lost our voices there today.
A Physician’s Assistant from the Bronx described his public hospital’s conditions as failing to improve over his 30 years of service, actually declining steadily over the last five years. A Dominican teacher, also from the Bronx, called for unity of workers on both sides of the bosses’ colonial border dividing Haiti from the Dominican Republic. A student from Mexico working here in our clinic added greetings from workers in Mexico.
We did the best we could with English and Spanish translated into French so a friend from Haiti could put it all into Kreyòl. We said we’d start a campaign of letters of support from the U.S. and elsewhere, and picket the Haitian consulate. It was, well, beautiful — and then we bumped our way home over the hardscrabble streets.
What is beauty? This recalls the common question among PLP’ers: “What is winning?” Workers’ struggle in and of itself is, as the Irish poet Yeats wrote, “a terrible beauty,” and nothing is uglier than the blank, depressed defeat of the dark night of the soul. But all reform struggle fades, slowly if it wins, and with a sad and terrible speed if it loses.
What our class needs in Haiti is a communist revolution. It cannot come a moment too soon, clearly seen as you watch a hungry child devour the bananes braisées from our Sunday picnic on a public beach as if they were sacred.
The revolutionary beauty our class needs must come from the strikers with mops and stethoscopes and from the anger of hungry children. It must come from their worldwide communist party. The truth of PLP’s ideas and the strength of its international organizing are the only adequate response to the racist crime that is Haiti today.
Send letters of strike support to Syndicat des Travailleurs de Santé, Siège Social HUEH, Rue Monseigneur Guilloux, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.