On May 7, National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux concluded a sevenday mission to support our Haitian counterparts with the Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers (CTSP). He shares his observations on the situation in Port-au- Prince after the earthquake of January 12, 2010 and the trade union solidarity on the ground.
SG: What is life like in Portau- Prince almost four months after the earthquake?
CG: Life is very, very difficult. There is a lack of public services, which is a principle concern for CUPE. Here is a revealing example: the Champ-de-Mars is located directly in front of the ruins of the presidential palace and there, just like on much of the flat-lying terrain in the city, one observes an atrocious scene. There is an immense camp that is completely disorganized and anarchic. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case, no picture can fully capture the calamity.
Fortunately, I also noticed electricity-sector unions in the process of building a community. Of course, these were only temporary shelters, but they formed a wellorganized little settlement of 700 to 800 persons. They set up community kitchens and a system for washing clothes; it’s a start… a budding social order. This is why CUPE went there, along with many other unions from all over the Americas: in our own humble way, we all wanted to support Haitian unions.
SG: What circumstances do Haitian unions currently face?
CG: I could see that union work, right there and then, was quite unique – and hard to understand from a Canadian perspective. It was not like the work we usually perform at the local level, which is, defending and negotiating working conditions. Instead, it involved trying to meet the basic needs of a society in which, due to the earthquake, 90,000 jobs have disappeared overnight. Thus, 90,000 members who had held good jobs were now without work, most of them had no accommodation, and their children had no school.
SG: How will CUPE continue to support its counterparts?
CG: We would like to support Haitian unions directly, on the ground, to generate local Haitian solutions taking into account the input provided by workers themselves. In this way, they will be able to develop a just and equitable society with high-quality public services.
Concretely, with the support of our global justice program and local unions, we intend to make available highly skilled CUPE members who, over the course of several months, will support Haitian unions on the ground. While maintaining contact with Canada, these experts will help the CTSP equip themselves with new offices, become functional again as an organization and amply provide its members with the assistance they need: food, housing, medical clinics and so on. Stay tuned!
Watch the video (French only):