Haiti: union building continues despite endemic violence

published 4 October 2023 updated 16 October 2023

Despite the serious and persistent violence in Haiti, the trade union educators of the Union Nationale des Normaliens/Normaliennes et Éducateurs/Éducatrices d'Haïti (UNNOEH) have found the resources to recruit new activists and train them.

According to Kenson Delice, Coordinator of UNNOEH, "things are going from bad to worse. Some neighbourhoods are now completely controlled by bandits, to the extent that residents are being forced to leave their homes and move to other areas. With no political agreement between the protagonists and no date set for elections, the government has no other hope than foreign intervention."

At the start of the new school year on 11 September, many state schools did not reopen because they are being used as shelters for the displaced, he said.

In addition, the vast majority of public schools found it difficult to operate on 11 September, except for the elitist ones located outside the neighbourhoods overrun by bandits.

Although "this insecurity is having an impact on union operations", Mr. Delice nevertheless affirmed that "we have created a means of continuing training activities".

In March 2023, UNNOEH launched a membership campaign, in accordance with the decision of the union's 4th Congress held last year, using the means offered by new technologies and thanks to international support during which the teacher trade unionists reaffirmed their determination to fight for quality public schools for everyone.

Mr. Delice also explained that after each congress, a principle based on an article of the union constitution requires UNNOEH to begin a unionisation campaign for two reasons:

  1. To renew the membership of former members.
  2. To integrate new members into UNNOEH to increase membership.

"To be a powerful union, you need more roots on the ground, in public and private schools. We have been able to recruit a lot of teachers, several hundred of them", Mr. Delice pointed out.

Membership campaign

The membership campaign was launched online, via a form that teachers can fill in.

"We were able to set up this form thanks to training from Education International three years ago. A few UNNOEH members were able to make use of the training to produce an online form," said the UNNOEH coordinator. "We provided information on the positions of UNNOEH, which sees itself as a militant union, a union that campaigns for collective interests. We made extensive use of Facebook and WhatsApp groups.”

He pointed out that union dues are annual and that, at the last congress, UNNOEH made it possible to pay them on a monthly basis. "There are municipal coordinators to collect the dues, in exchange for which a receipt is provided. Each new member must join a base committee, then a municipal coordination.”

UNNOEH is currently building up a database of members and encouraging all its members to re-register, said Mr. Delice.

He admitted that "this campaign surprised us as the commitment to join the union is so strong. It's even more remarkable at the level of the ministry's central administration, where there is considerable interest in joining the union. We already have 3,214 new members. We'd like to grow to 15,000 members. But we know that this is going to take us some time."

"Those who join UNNOEH," he analysed, "want to find support, to solve either immediate or structural problems in order to improve their working conditions. Some educators see UNNOEH as an important tool in the struggle to transform the Haitian education system.”

Nevertheless, according to him, there are others who refuse because they have a bad perception of the union struggle, because some unions give much more importance to their personal interests to the detriment of collective interests, and also because those teachers only see teaching as a stepping stone to another profession.

Union training

Mr. Delice added that, "to join, you have to follow union training, it's in the Articles".

While UNNOEH has not been able to provide training nationwide, it has trained trainers in the various departments who are responsible for organising training nationwide.

"We did this remotely via Zoom or GoogleMeet and developed a training module, which is still under development. The trainers are teachers with a certain trade union culture, who know the module and have exchanged views on the various chapters of the module remotely", he explained.

In Port-au-Prince, the trainers met face-to-face for the West department. In this same department, three sessions have just been launched for new members, for the moment at the rate of one session per weekend.

In other departments, the trainers have used GoogleMeet.

"The aim of the membership and training campaign is to strengthen us so that we can resume mobilisations with much greater force, and thus manage to force the authorities to listen to us. This campaign should enable us to better lead the battle for quality public education for all", concluded Mr. Delice.