Liberation Listening is a radical community healing method designed to increase the effectiveness of change-making organizations in the face of systems of oppression and a collapsing society. A major focus of our work is in developing and supporting leadership. Although readers of this article may be unfamiliar with the practices of Liberation Listening, the principles of leadership apply to all kinds of human groups.
In Liberation Listening we define leadership as the ability and willingness to make a commitment to see that everything goes well to the limit of one’s resources.
Leadership is the commitment to help everything go well in your family, community, and environment. It is realizing that you are responsible (able to respond) to the challenges that face us.
In order to do this, we must heal the old distresses that cause us to feel helpless. The truth is that we are powerful, capable, loving, and intelligent. The challenges before us are large, and we are the best people for the job.
Leadership is an inherent human characteristic. In any group of people, leadership functions must be performed in order for the group to function well. At least one person must think about the group as a whole rather than about just her or his role in it.
It is possible to deliberately create sanctuary spaces where we can connect with other humans, think, release emotions, and heal from old traumas. This creation of sanctuary space can help the group to function better in terms of addressing the real-time challenges we encounter. It is not necessary for all people in the group to be committed to specific emotional healing paths in order to use the safety of the group for their own healing. It is only necessary that we make and follow agreements that lead to a greater sense of safety, trust, and connection with each other over time.
Leadership may include listening respectfully to people in your group who are unawarely acting out old emotional trauma. Usually this listening requires us to decide that we are not actually threatened by the person’s emotional reactions. By listening respectfully, we give the person time and space to heal themselves with the help of our positive regard. We may also need to give ourselves attention for challenging emotions that arise while listening. This form of listening assumes that each person has always done the best they possibly could with the resources available to them at each moment. By listening, we offer a moment with additional emotional resources, to see if that may be what they need in order to do better than before.
Be aware, however, that it is not always effective or advisable to use compassionate listening skills on someone who unawarely acts out emotional distress in your group. Sometimes the best option is to set clear boundaries and expectations for behavior, and ask people to leave the group if they cannot follow these agreements. The specific appropriate response to each incident will require the thinking of the group, and while we can learn from other groups’ successes, we will require fresh thinking to solve our group’s problems. Giving time to really hear all group members’ thinking is a valuable tool.
It is not the leader’s job to do all the thinking for the group. Rather, a good leader listens to the thinking of every group member, fills in any gaps, and organizes the thinking into a consistent form. The leader then communicates this synthesis of ideas back to the group well enough to secure their agreement, and, if possible, their commitment to it.
Being a leader opens you to attacks. People have lots of old trauma about power dynamics in their past. People also project hopes and frozen needs onto leaders. A frozen need is something you needed in childhood, but did not get. It continues to feel like something you need, even though it can never be met because it was actually a need in the past, not the present. For example, many people have both current needs for connection, and frozen needs for connection from too much isolation as young children. Frozen needs can never be satisfied, so when they are projected onto leaders, they are bound to be disappointed. People often react to this disappointment by blaming the leader. (We can never satisfy our frozen needs, but we can heal them by mourning the developmental loss.)
As leaders, we must be ready to listen compassionately to ourselves and others in times of attack, and use it as an opportunity for further healing. Peer support is essential in these situations. Use your listening relationships to stay resilient during, and to recover from, attacks. Look at it as an opportunity to heal old traumas and free more of your thinking from the binding power of past hurts.
Within the context of Liberation Listening, we agree to support the leaders of classes and workshops in several specific ways. These include:
Continuing to do our own thinking, and considering what we as individuals can do to help the classes and workshops go well.
Supporting the leader’s thinking, even when that thinking is different from our own. This may include agreeing to take on roles delegated to us by the leader.
Sharing our thinking with the leader. If we think the leader is making a mistake, or missing valuable information, or acting out distress in the class, we find an appropriate time to share our criticism. The goal is not to make the leader change direction, but to give the leader more information with which to make good decisions.
Using Listening Skills on the leader. All people have patterns of behavior based on old trauma that they are not yet aware of. In order to help the leader move forward on topics that will make future classes go well, the class is asked to think together about the leader and use listening skills on the leader at the end of every class series. Feel free to push the leader with persistent listening outside of class as well. Of course, do this as two people thinking about one person—in other words, include the leader in your thinking about how you plan to use listening skills on her or him in persistent sessions.
Using time in your listening sessions to talk about leading and leadership. What distresses make you want to avoid leadership or rigidly take on leadership?
Learning to take on leadership ourselves. If there is a topic that is underrepresented by current Liberation Listening leaders, learn about the topic and do extensive listening sessions on the topic. Prepare yourself to lead on that topic. Solicit the support of the leadership team in reaching for your goals.
Directions for Listening Sessions:
You can try doing this with a friend or co-revolutionary: Set a timer for 20 minutes. One person talks while the other person silently listens with curiosity and interest. When the timer goes off, switch roles and start the timer for another 20 minutes. The second person talks while the first listens. It’s important for each person to get the same amount of time. Hold what you hear with confidentiality.
If you prefer to do this work alone, try journalling on the topic, or daydreaming. You can also try telling your thoughts to a tree, animal, or rock.
Use the following prompts for your work on leadership:
Tell memories of good leadership in your past: mentors, people you admired, people who could think well about you and the group, people who helped things go well. If you can, start with the earliest memory, and tell each memory in chronological order.
Tell memories of poor leadership in your past: authority figures, people whose power over you or over the group was tainted by their distresses, people who had power but could not accept feedback, etc. If you can, start with the earliest memory, and tell each memory in chronological order.
What happened in the past when you tried to right a perceived wrong?
Tell memories of your own leadership or attempted leadership. If you can, start with the earliest memory, and tell each memory in chronological order.
What does it mean to you to be out in front? When you are in a group, and everyone is looking to you for guidance or leadership, what emotions arise in you? What thoughts come into your mind? How does your body feel?
What groups are you a part of? How could you help those groups function better? Think about the group’s current functioning. What are the needs and challenges of its members? How can the group meet those needs and address those challenges?
Kara Huntermoon is one of seven co-owners of Heart-Culture Farm Community, near Eugene, Oregon. She spends most of her time in unpaid labor in service of community: child-raising, garden-growing, and emotion/relationship management among the community residents. She also teaches Liberation Listening, a personal growth process that focuses on ending oppression.
Paul Feather calls us to reframe this time of crisis: “Shall we permit the storytellers to name what it is that we do? They would call this a lockdown, but we are going through the motions of a general strike. Our foe is down. Are there no holds barred? Strike now! Strike down their stories. Break their magic wand.”
I have been told that this is war.
That this virus makes frontlines of our hospitals and calls for measures untold of before.
That there will be victory gardens again.
Ford will make ventilators for the fight, and United We Stand.
Are there no holds barred then? Where is the enemy that we may strike? But wait! Is there time for a treaty?
Perhaps we may yet consolidate our allies—these gathering armies that bristle at each other may yet coalesce against a greater foe. This has happened before, has it not?
Lift your gaze.
When Pizarro landed in Peru, he met an empire quite as plagued by infighting and partisanship as our own. We should be wary of reducing the outcome of complex encounters to absurd things like causes, but the Incas were quite confident in the integrity of their empire. They were unconcerned about conquest by a few hundred smelly white men, and opposed factions within the Inca’s domain sought to wield these invaders against other factions. For this lack of unity, at least in part, they were killed. Por viruela. By a virus.
We will do this also. We will not unite in what they tell me is this war against the virus.
Our so-called leaders, the media, and other influencers also seek to wield this new invader as a weapon of their own. This is a form of domestication, for we cannot tolerate a wild thing. Eventually they will tame this virus with vaccines, but in the meantime those who would wield the power of this wild beast will keep it on a leash made of story. They will weave together narratives for their already docile people—for they are the storytellers, and we the captive audience. But, they will offer us a choice. Some semblance of freedom. We may choose which side we’re on.
Here is the choice we are given; the story we are told; the dichotomy we must never question. Shall we ask for protection from our government?—lockdown measures to protect the fragile among us—or do we argue for loosened restrictions (even if this means more deaths) to protect the economic system? This is your choice. It’s the Heartless and Practical Capitalists against the Naive and Compassionate Socialists—which side will you choose? In this war against the virus, sacrifices must be made. What will it be—protection or profit?
Lift. Your. Gaze.
I question this declaration of war. I will not fight a fight against so new an enemy when I have old enemies enough. Nor will I submit that my stories be told in the dichotomies of power and politics. I am at odds with this economy already, it’s true—I would love nothing more than to shut it down—but I am wary of these strenuous protections. These lockdown measures respond to the death of privileged people and nothing else. Where is the National Guard when indigenous lands are stolen? When is the global economy shut down to save those who die mining conflict minerals in the Congo? Where is the infrastructure mobilization that stops the deaths of malnourished children?
There is a war we are already fighting, and it is the same war that the Incans lost five hundred years ago. Where are our allies in this war?
The virus has struck. The economy reels and casts about for weapons against this new foe. It reaches for that magic wand that tells the stories, and in so doing it regains initiative and footing. Shall we permit the storytellers to name what it is that we do? They would call this a lockdown, but we are going through the motions of a general strike. Our foe is down. Are there no holds barred? Strike now! Strike down their stories. Break their magic wand.
Do not let them name what we do.
Do not let them tell us that they lock us down for our own protection—that we cower before this virus to protect the fragile among us. We will say what we are doing, and it is a strike. We will protect the aged and infirm, yes. But when they call us out again, we will not come. Or we will come with our demands. And if we are frustrated at so many who do not isolate themselves and so accelerate the spreading virus, let us draw them into solidarity with our effort by offering something to gain. Call it a strike. Offer the carrot and not the stick. Listen to their demands.
This is all a bit naïve of course. There are big wheels turning that do not stop so quickly. I know this, for I have pushed against them all my life. I do not believe the workforce will suddenly coalesce behind a story that the storytellers have not written for us, but I do believe we might leave behind a word. A piece of punctuation. A blot of ink upon the story which cannot be wiped out.
And also there is this: There are bigger wheels than those that turn in this machine, and lest we also succumb to our temptation to wield the wildness of the virus for our own ends—however noble they appear—let us remember that it is the virus who wields us. Let us not domesticate or leash this power. Let us seek to be the point of the sword and not the hand that holds it.
But let us strike.
Paul Feather is an animist farmer and writer living in Georgia, USA. He is the co-author of three books, and some of his work has been published in Dark Mountain. His writing may be found at www.paulandterra.com.
The idea for this article came to me when I heard a man say at a demonstration that he was confused because he didn’t know if he was “right” or “left”. It therefore seems important to define such seemingly basic political terms as sharply and clearly as possible.
The terms “left” and “right” as political terms have their origins in the French Revolution. At the first French National Assemblies, the traditionally “more honorable” seat to the right of the President of Parliament was reserved for the nobility, so that the bourgeoisie sat on the left. Therefore, those who want more equality are called “left” until today, while those who want to preserve existing power structures are called “right”.
“By ‘left’ we mean a commitment to social change towards greater equality – political, economic or social. By ‘right’ we mean the support of a more or less hierarchical social order and an opposition to change towards equality”.1
“Right”: who tries to stabilize and preserve the respective centers of power (e.g. monarchy, economic elites) and the structures on which this power is based (e.g. church, colonialism, slavery, corporate capitalism).
“Left”: who advocates the recognition of the equality of all human beings and for a democratic containment of power.2
The French philosopher Geoffroy de Lagasnerie defines “left” as follows: “To define the left, I increasingly rely on a term from Sartre – authenticity. I believe that the point is to be authentic in one’s relationship to the world, to free oneself from all the preconditions that define one’s own situation. One must not bend oneself, one must not gloss over the reality of the world as it is, and that means one cannot do anything other than stand up against this world. To be left basically means not to close one’s eyes to the truth. (…) Pierre Bourdieu has, in my opinion, provided the best definition. He said: To be right means to believe that the problems of the world are that there is no order. So we need more order. The left, on the other hand, is convinced that there is too much order, so it wants more disorder. The left must defend itself against the excess of order, against the ruling systems, against oppression, against persecution, against criminal oppression. It must create disorder, chaos, resistance.”
Ultimately, these definitions can be reduced to two fundamentally different conceptions: “right”: Humans are minors and must be controlled and educated by a ruling power. “left”: Humans are of age and must be as free as possible.
“Liberalism (Latin liber “free”; liberalis “concerning freedom, liberal”) is a fundamental position of political philosophy and a historical and contemporary movement that strives for a liberal political, economic and social order. Liberalism emerged from the English revolutions of the 17th century.”3
“For the first time in many countries, nation states and democratic systems emerged from liberal citizen movements.“4
Historical liberalism essentially meant the liberation of the bourgeoisie from the rule of the church and aristocracy. In particular, liberalism plays an extremely important role in the emergence of modern capitalism and the history of the United States. Lierre Keith, co-author of the book Deep Green Resistance, explains the history of liberalism in dept in the chapter Liberals and Radicals:
“(…) classical liberalism was the founding ideology of the US, and the values of classical liberalism—for better and for worse—have dispersed around the globe. The ideology of classical liberalism developed against the hegemony of theocracy. The king and church had all the economic, political, and ideological power. In bringing that power down, classic liberalism helped usher in the radical analysis and political movements that followed. But the ideology has limits, both historically and in its contemporary legacy.
“The original founding fathers of the United States were not after a human rights utopia. They were merchant capitalists tired of the restrictions of the old order. The old world had a very clear hierarchy. This basic pattern is replicated in all the places that civilizations have arisen. There’s God (sometimes singular, sometimes plural) at the top, who directly chooses both the king and the religious leaders. These can be one and the same or those functions can be split. Underneath them are the nobles, the priests, and the military. (…) Beneath them are the merchants, traders, and skilled craftsmen. The base of the pyramid contains the bulk of the population: people in slavery, serfdom, or various forms of indenture. And all of this is considered God’s will, which makes resistance that much more difficult psychologically. Standing up to an abuser—whether an individual or a vast system of power—is never easy. Standing up to capital “G” God requires an entirely different level of courage, which may explain why this arrangement appears universally across civilizations and why it is so intransigent.
“In the West, one of the first blows against the Divine Right of Kings was in 1215, when some of the landed aristocracy forced King John to sign Magna Carta. It required the king to renounce some privileges and to respect legal procedures. (…) Magna Carta plunged England into a civil war, the First Baron’s War. (…)
“The American Revolution can be seen as another Baron’s revolt. This time it was the merchant-barons, the rising capitalist class, waging a rebellion against the king and the landed gentry of England. They wanted to take the king and the aristocrats out of the equation, so that the flow of power went God➝property owners. When they said ‘All men are created equal,’ they meant very specifically white men who owned property. That property included black people, white women, and more generally, the huge pool of laborers who were needed to turn this continent from a living landbase into private wealth. (…) Under the rising Protestant ethic, amassing wealth was a sign of God’s favor and God’s grace. God was still operable, he’d just switched allegiance from the old inherited powers to the rising mercantile class.
“Classical liberalism values the sovereignty of the individual, and asserts that economic freedom and property rights are essential to that sovereignty. John Locke, called the Father of Liberalism, made the argument that the individual instead of the community was the foundation of society. He believed that government existed by the consent of the governed, not by divine right. But the reason government is necessary is to defend private property, to keep people from stealing from each other. This idea appealed to the wealthy for an obvious reason: they wanted to keep their wealth. From the perspective of the poor, things look decidedly different. The rich are able to accumulate wealth by taking the labor of the poor and by turning the commons into privately owned commodities; therefore, defending the accumulation of wealth in a system that has no other moral constraints is in effect defending theft, not protecting against it. Classical liberalism from Locke forward has a contradiction at its center. It believes in human sovereignty as a natural or inalienable right, but only against the power of a monarchy or other civic tyranny. By loosening the ethical constraints that had existed on the wealthy, classical liberalism turned the powerless over to the economically powerful, simply swapping the monarchs for the merchant-barons. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, provided the ethical justification for unbridled capitalism.“
In the meantime, capitalism and the mercantile class have conquered the whole world. Money rules the world, as we all know.
The liberal ideology and its underlying individualism has proven itself as one of the most effective instruments of power, because people who believe that they are free will not resist. “I freed hundreds of slaves. And I would have freed hundreds more if they but known they were slaves,“ said Harriet Tubman.
Yet the first step toward real freedom comes with the radical analysis: “One of the cardinal differences between liberals—those who insist that Everything Will Be Okay—and the truly radical is in their conception of the basic unit of society. This split is a continental divide. Liberals believe that a society is made up of individuals. Individualism is so sacrosanct that, in this view, being identified as a member of a group or class is an insult. But for radicals, society is made up of classes (economic ones in Marx’s original version) or any groups or castes. In the radical’s understanding, being a member of a group is not an affront. Far from it; identifying with a group is the first step toward political consciousness and ultimately effective political action.”
The basic problems today are still essentially the same as in the famous story of Robin Hood, which takes place at the time of the above mentioned Magna Carta: The rich oppress the poor and steal from them. But by now, a huge pile of ideology has been added to justify this oppression and theft.
During the 20th century, liberalism has emerged into neoliberalism, which has been described by Rainer Mausfeldas “the most powerful and sophisticated indoctrination system a political ideology has ever seen”.5
“Neoliberalism, unlike traditional capitalism, is (…) from the beginning consciously twinned with a massive formation of ideology. It was clear to the founding fathers — who came from very different fields — of that what constitutes neoliberal ideology today, that this program is never feasible democratically.
“So they knew — and Hayek explicitly says it — that they have to conquer the language, they have to conquer the brains. Neoliberalism depends on that more than any other ideology. More than any, including communism. One can say in all other things that there is something positive behind it, even though it has been betrayed and might be something completely different now.
“Neoliberalism, ‘take it from below and give it to the top,’ as a gigantic redistribution programme, was from the beginning geared towards extreme formation of ideology. And it is so ingenious and so refined — it goes back to Lippman, Bernays and so on — that they have consciously developed techniques, so that what today is called the neoliberal self is so highly fragmented and actually consists only of false identities. The identity is, ideally, their Facebook account, the smartphone they use, the car they drive, the type of Rolex they wear, the food they eat and so on. Identities have become market products that can be bought. This fragmentation has the advantage that an integral self, which could be a core of resistance, is actually no longer there in a totalitarian structure, because the grown social solidarity no longer exists.
“I am part of a community only through solidarity with others. But if I no longer identify myself with others as a community, but with market products, then solidarity will also be destroyed.
“…neoliberalism has from the beginning actually stressed the importance of [destroying] our psychological resistance to the decomposition of society, which was explicit when Thatcher said “there is no community”. There is only a pile of atomized individuals and their task is to optimize their individual use as best they can. Everyone is a small “Me Inc.” and if someone fails, he/she was just a poor “Me Inc.” -that’s what the market regulates- […] and if someone succeeds, he/she has adapted well to the market. So neoliberalism is a kind of infamous combination and not just an economic program. Neoliberalism is totalitarian in the sense that — Thatcher also said that — […] ‘it’s not just about the economy, it’s about conquering the brains.’
“It is, so to speak, as ideology invisible. Many of us in our society have the feeling: the society in which there is no longer any real ideology — unlike in Russia or China — that’s us. This invisibility of ideology itself is one of the most gigantic achievements of ideology production.”6
At the beginning of the 20th century, the famous catastrophe of the Titanic has already shown us in strong pictures and metaphors how this technocracy will end. In neoliberalism, the upper classes are still dancing, while the lower classes are already drowning. Those on top don’t know (and don’t want to know) how those below are doing.
The ideology rains down from top to bottom:
“The Titanic is unsinkable! Everything is fine! We are all fine! And if you’re not well, it’s your own fault, you just don’t row hard enough.”
They don’t want to see that the whole ship is already sinking.
With the words of Max Wilbert:“We are well along the path towards global fascism, total war, ubiquitous surveillance, normalized patriarchy and racism, a permanent refugee crisis, water and food shortages, and ecological collapse. We need to build legitimate movements to dismantle global capitalism. All work is useful towards this end.”
It’s time for a global uprising. The lower classes should organize and turn their gaze — and their weapons — to the top.
Our common goal must be to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet.
1 Lipset, S. M., Lazarsfeld, P. F., Barton, A. H., & Linz, J. (1954). The psychology of voting: An analysis of political behavior. Handbook of social psychology, 2, 1124-1175
2 Rainer Mausfeld, from the slides of the presentation at the DAI Heidelberg
3 Ralf Dahrendorf: Liberalism. In John Eatwell/Murray Milgate/Peter Newman (Hrsg.): The Invisible Hand. The New PalgraveMacmillan, London 1989, S. 183.
4 Christoph Nonn: Bismarck: Ein Preuße und sein Jahrhundert. C.H.Beck, München 2015, S. 123 ff. (Kap.: Die englische Alternative)
Today, Haitian garment workers are going on strike to demand 500 gourdes ($7.94 for 8 hour work day)!
This follows last Thursday’s (5/11) work stoppage and shut down of the SONAPI Industrial Park in Port Au Prince.
From that action, union organizer, Telemarque Pierre, was fired without reason from his position at Premium Apparel factory, which produces for Gildan, and owned by Clifford Apaid.
In a statement shared with the RRN, organized workers said:
“The Fight for social justice will continue!… The firing of our comrade is an act of repression, intimidation and interference in the fundamental rights of workers to organize concerted activities to defend their economic and social interests.”
So now workers are striking for a decent wage, and also for the re-hiring of Telemarque Pierre!
Reports from Haiti say that police presence is high, and workers will brave strong repression for the strike.
1) Use the following contacts to Voice Workers’ Demands (Talking Pts Below)
a. Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST), Haiti: firstname.lastname@example.org
b. AGA Corporation (Parent corp of Premium Apparel factory): 305-592-1860
c. Gildan (international clothing brand that contracts with Premium Apparel factory):
Jason M. Greene, Director of Supply Chain: 843-606-3750
Corporate office (Montreal): 866-755-2023
Customer Service (Charleston, SC): 843-606-3600
Twitter: @GildanOnline; facebook.com/GildanOnline/
– I’m calling/emailing in support of Haitian garment workers’ demands for a minimum wage of 500 gourdes ($7.94).
– I also support union organizer, Telemarque Pierre, who was unjustly fired from Premium Apparel for exercising his right to union organizing. Rehire Telemarque Pierre!
– I disagree with the minimum wage of 265 gourdes ($4.21) that the Association of Haitian Industrialists is pushing for.
– Pay workers 500 gourdes ($7.94)!
2) Send solidarity statements directly to the garment workers. Let them know you took action: email@example.com
3) Share, Post, Tweet. Tag RRN
#RehirePierre #SolidarityForever #500Gourdes
Twitter – @RRNsolidarity
Facebook – @Rapid Response Networ Background Info:
On Thursday, May 11, garment workers shut down the SONAPI Industrial Park in Port au Prince to demand increased wages. These efforts were organized by the Port Au Prince trade union, SOTA-BO (Union of Textile & Apparel Workers), along with PLASIT-BO, an association of autonomous textile trade unions in Haiti, affiliated with Batay Ouvriye (Workers Fight).
The mobilization started in the morning with a work stoppage, followed by a sit in. The national police were called as more workers joined the mobilization, demanding 500 gourd ($7.94 for an eight-hour workday).
In response to this action, on Saturday, May 14th, Premium Apparel factory owner, Clifford Apaid, fired Telemarque Pierre, the General Coordinator of SOTA-BO and spokesperson for PLASIT. Further, ADIH (Haitian Industrialists Association), Better Work Haiti (a labor practices monitoring agency), and the USDOL (U.S. Department of Labor) have denounced “acts of violence” they claim were committed against property and people during the day of the mobilization.
What about the daily violence of wage theft, harassment, and threats for organizing for your rights? What about the violence of not being paid enough to eat? This is repression in the interest of profit.
Haitian garment workers live in crushing poverty and are paid the lowest wages in the Western Hemisphere. These wages are mostly absorbed by workers’ transportation costs, to and from work, pushing them into debt to afford the basics – food, water, rent.
Wage theft, harassment, and unwarranted firings for organizing are the norm in factories.
In 2013, Workers Rights Consortium found that the majority of workers in Haiti’s garment industry are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally owed due to widespread wage theft. A previous report found that every single one of Haiti’s export garment factories was illegally shortchanging workers.
The demand for 500 gourdes is absolutely necessary for Haitian garment workers to exist. Please support their fight.
In solidarity and struggle,
On what I earn, I can’t afford shoes… We are poor, poor, poor. There are days we go to bed without food. – Batey worker from the film, “The Price of Sugar”
In the sugar plantations or bateyes of Dominican Republic, cane cutters often work barefoot. They can’t afford shoes. They can barely afford food, for that matter, despite the fact that they often work a minimum of 12 hours a day, doing the back-breaking work of cutting sugar cane by hand.
On the other side of the border that divides Hispaniola, Haitian garment workers in Port Au Prince recently blockaded a Korean factory because of bounced paychecks. For years, Haitian garment workers have been fighting wage theft and to be paid the inadequate legal minimum wage – still not enough to live off of.
Whatever the product is – the pair of pants, the t-shirt – we are the ones producing it. We labor hard, and don’t get paid. – Haitian garment worker of SOTA in Port Au Prince
This week Unión De Trabajadores Cañeros De Los Bateyes (Union of the Bateyes of Sugarcane Workers) and Sendika Ouvriye Takstil ak Abiman (SOTA) (Union of Textile and Garment Workers) will meet to discuss their common struggles against exploitation.
Specifically, they are meeting about recent actions of the DR government to strip people of Haitian descent of their citizenship. This has mostly affected the poor – cane cutters, street vendors, and service laborers. In bringing attention and their perspective to this struggle, the groups’ intentions are to put down false divisions of racism and nationalism, with the goal of working together against their common enemy – the Haitian and Dominican ruling classes.
SOTA is affiliated with the autonomous workers’ organization, Batay Ouvriye (BO) (Workers Fight), which will host a series of meetings, a press conference, and direct action in Port Au Prince.
According to one of the event organizers, “They will be three Haitian cane workers, one Dominican cane worker and the coordinator of the union. The presence of the Dominican cane worker is to deny the nationalist option and to put the class situation in concrete relief, in contrast to the bourgeois organizations here who pretend to defend their ‘compatriots.’”
There is a long history of animosity between Haiti and Dominican Republic. Both nationalism and racism are deep rooted. The DR won its independence, not from European colonialists, but from Haiti. Since then, Haitians living in the DR have faced discrimination, and thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent were massacred under Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo.
In 2013, the Dominican Supreme Court retroactively withdrew citizenship from anyone born in the DR to undocumented immigrants, with the provision that persons who submitted the proper documentation could apply for legal residency. The deadline for this application was summer 2015. However, many who submitted this paperwork, along with hundreds of dollars in fees, never received any notice or proper documentation from the government. Thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent left the DR, or were rounded up and dropped at the Haitian/Dominican border, often without being able to gather their belongings or to alert their families.
So now, there are hundreds of thousands of people rendered stateless, living in temporary shanty-towns along the border. They’ve been told that if they get documentation proving their country of origin from the Haitian government, then they can apply for Dominican citizenship or work visas. In fact, the Haitian government was paid by the Dominican government to facilitate this process, but Haitians living in limbo on the border have seen no results from this transaction.
Another issue affecting cane workers and low-wage laborers is that for years many paid into social security in the DR. Once they stopped working, they apply for their pensions, submitting the required paperwork to DR government and received nothing. Or, if they’ve been deported, they have no means of claiming their pension either.
This situation is not just about racism or nationalism. It is an issue of the ruling classes of both countries exploiting and stealing from the poor and working class. This summer, many demonstrations were held, especially in New York and Miami, with calls for travel boycotts against the DR and urgent appeals to avert a humanitarian crisis. Most of these demands have been voiced from people outside of the DR/Haiti, or removed from the exploitation of the bateyes and the temporary shanty-towns.
The aim with this series of meetings between workers from both countries is to bring attention to calls and demands led by the workers and people directly affected by these struggles. These are the people whose demands should be amplified, and calls for action should be followed.
Here in the U.S. we use Dominican sugar in our coffee every day. Our clothing is made in sweatshops, often sewn in Haiti (thanks to HELP and HOPE Acts). Capitalism and imperialism give us no choice, no say in how goods are produced. Our sugar and our clothing are the results of wage theft and a politic of misery for the working class in dominated countries. Boycotts and conscious consumerism pretend that with our purchasing, exploitation can be ameliorated. In reality, it is merely shifted to another part of the world. We need to understand the dynamics of capitalism/imperialism, its inherent exploitation, and we must address these issues from the interests of the working class. Who better to lead this effort than the workers themselves?