We next met with representatives from the EDH (Electicite d Haiti) the state electrical company, in particular Hary St. Felix, General Secretary of the Federation of Workers Unions of the EDH. The EDH is the next target for privatization following the neo-liberal model. Hary stressed the idea of pushing for a 3 year severance package for the soon to be laid off workers. He proceeded to explain the working of the electrical union and how the production of power took place in three different stages: Production, transportation, and commercialization. The problem in this process is practical-- how can you furnish the necessary service. In fact 75% of Haitians lack electricity as witnessed in Hinche and even in PAP where there are 3 hours or less of power a day. The EDH would like to have sustainable energy created (solar, wind, hydro) but the state is not interested in exploring these alternatives.
There are 2500 EDH employees, each of which support roughly 10 dependents. In October 2007, before the food crisis, the union did a study that concluded that the salary needed to bring a family of 4 up to the poverty line is $450 a month. This only includes 2 meals a day, and does not include the cost of schooling and health care, both of which are now private. However, the average salary of an EDH worker is only $80 a month. Keep in mind there are only 200,000 formal sector jobs so if 2,500 EDH workers are laid off it effects over 25,000 individuals.
The EDH is involved in both production and delivery. There is also a private firm that only produces electricity and refuses for the moment to involve itself in delivery and collection of payment from individual customers because there is such a problem with theft. Apparently, of all the electricity that is consumed in the country the EDH receives payment for only 50% of it because people at all levels of society are illegally tapping into the electrical lines. Of course this only includes those who have access to the electrical infrastructure in the countryside and the shanty towns where there is no infrastructure there is no "theft." The EDH has asked for proper funding to improve its bill collection and infrastructure improvement, but this has fallen on deaf ears.
To date the government's argument for privatization has been that the public sector operates at a loss, however the evidence suggest that this is due to underfunding. The union believes that this is a deliberate strategy to justify handing over potentially profitable public sector industries to corporations.
In contrast, Venezuela and Hydro Quebec have proposed a cooperative agreement which would see to the construction of several power plants around the country. Venezuela in particular will be constructing 3 power plants, one in Gonaives, one in Cap Haitien and one in Port-au-Prince. They are being built in the spirit of cooperation and not competition; the Venezuelans will provide their own technicians to get things up and running, but they will be training Hatians to replace them, thereby providing Haiti with electrical sovereignty. In addition, Venezuela provides Haiti with 14,000 barrels of oil a day, 60% of the cost is paid now while the remaining 40% must be invested in state infrastructure and repaid in 25 years time.
According to the EDH union representatives, President Chavez of Venezuela does not promise aid, he gives it as opposed to the United States, Canada and Europe who only promise but never give. Our personal experience confirms this as we have seen the tangible aid from Venezuela as opposed to the constant and intimidating U.N. military patrols. Furthermore, a medical university that Cuba helped establish in Tabarre has since been closed and is now occupied by the U.N. and is used as a military base.
Currently the EDH is striking in order to get the promised 35% raise in salaries to deal with the increased cost of living. This was promised in March but has yet to be realized. While taking a break from our meetings we heard singing in the adjacent room. We went to listen and saw that it was the union representatives, Hary Saint-Felix and Pierre Nadal, singing solidarity songs, which described how the union fights not just for the betterment of its members but also for the betterment of the whole country. They said that songs demonstrate that union members walk not with the heads down but with their heads held high, they don't walk alone, but with each other. By betterment they are referring to socio-economic and political conditions as well as to working class culture. Song is a concrete expression of solidarity because we sing together a common understanding and goal. Our cameraman Nathaniel returned the favour, leading in the singing of "Solidarity Forever."