"The Duvalier Dictatorship and the Labor Movement" by Marvin Chochotte

Chochotte is a doctoral student in the History Department at the University of Michigan. His dissertation will examine politics and repression in Haiti under the Duvaliers.

The twentieth-century Haitian labor movement was completely suppressed in 1963 under the dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Papa Doc became head of state in 1957 until his death in 1971. Within a few years of his leadership, Duvalier unleashed a wave of violent repression that would ultimately overwhelm organized labor. In December 1963, Duvalier suspended indefinitely the two most powerful Haitian labor organizations: Intersyndicale d’Haïti (UIH) and La Fédération Haïtienne des Syndicats Chrétiens (FHSC). As a result, organized labor was demoralized and labor activism declined considerably in the Duvalier era.

Yet some labor leaders and owners of industries alike were surprised by the outcome of the 1963 labor crisis because they saw Papa Doc as a supporter of labor rights. Prior to 1963, Duvalier supported certain groups of labor activism as he simultaneously crushed other elements of the labor movement that he deemed a threat to his political agenda. This kind of state ambivalence to the labor movement may have been an indication of a state unsure of its role mediating labor, radicalism, foreign capitalism and influence. As soon as he and his government came to power, Papa Doc had to face the competing demands of labor activists, leftists, foreign capitalists, and America’s Cold Warriors, all wishing to influence the early Duvalier state. By 1963, labor interests were lost to powerful foreign economic and political interests that won over the Duvalier dictatorship. Nineteen sixty-three was the fall of the Haitian labor movement.