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  • Haitian textile workers are on strike for higher wages, better workplace conditions and access to social services.

    Haitian textile workers are on strike for higher wages, better workplace conditions and access to social services. | Photo: Twitter / RapidResponseNetwork‏ @RRNSolidarity

Their demands include a minimum wage boost, protections against quota increases and access to social services.

Haitian textile workers entered their third week on strike Friday, vowing to continue fighting for better working conditions.

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Their core demands include a minimum wage increase from roughly US$5.50 to US$12.60 per day, protections against quota increases and access to social services for all workers.

Marxist Humanist Initiative reported that PLASIT-BO, a federation of textile trade unions affiliated with Batay Ouvriye (Workers Fight), an independent workers movement, has assisted the strike, which has spread to the country's four main cities: Port Au Prince, Carrefour, Ounaminthe and Caracol.

They also noted that production quotas are set high, that factory owners and management mistreat workers, and that workers' salaries often amount to less than the current minimum wage.

Apart from these malfeasances, union organizers, cognizant that their co-workers receive the lowest wage in the Western Hemisphere, are frequently pestered by management and arbitrarily fired simply for demanding their legal rights.

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"It's gotten to the point where I can't take care of my son. I don't see any future in this," said Esperancia Mernavil, a garment worker who belongs to the Gosttra union, told the AP.

Despite working hours that normally range between 12 to16 hours per day, garment workers, according to It's Going Down, are known to live in debt, hungry and on the brink of homelessness.

Still, the Association of Haitian Industries claimed that lone “militants and syndicalists” were responsible for beating workers, forcing them to join the picket lines in favor of improved work conditions.

Since the strike began, protesters have been able to close down dozens of textile factories in Port Au Prince and blocked the road leading to Toussaint Louverture International Airport.

However, deplorable work conditions and salaries in Haiti aren't entirely internal. According to memos obtained by WikiLeaks in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. State Department blocked a proposal for minimum wage increase in Haiti.

In 2008, when the Haitian Parliament started discussing doubling or tripling the daily minimum wage of 70 Haitian gourdes to keep up with inflation, roughly amounting to US$1.75 a day or about 22 cents per hour, the WikiLeaks cables showed that U.S. Embassy officials started monitoring the minimum wage during the same period.

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"In 2009, while Bill Clinton was setting up one of the family’s shell companies in New York, in that same year Hillary Clinton was at the State Department working with U.S. corporations to pressure Haiti not to raise the minimum wage to 61 cents an hour from 24 cents," Lee Camp, an activist of RT’s Redacted Tonight told PolitiFact.

The memos show that U.S. embassy officials in Haiti opposed the wage hike and met multiple times with factory owners who lobbied against it to the Haitian president.

In 2011, nearly 2,000 WikiLeaks cables made available to The Nation and Haiti Liberte, a weekly newspaper in Port-au-Prince, also concluded that the "U.S. Embassy in Haiti worked closely with factory owners contracted by Levi’s, Hanes and Fruit of the Loom to aggressively block a paltry minimum wage increase."

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