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Martinique workers campaign against high living costs, 2009
In Martinique, a small Caribbean island and overseas department of France, 70,000 people live below the poverty line. Before this campaign, the people of Martinique had been experiencing a continuing increase in layoffs and precariousness in work while the purchasing power continued to decrease. Unemployment was at 23 percent, while most of the basic food items shipped in from France remained very expensive. A neighboring French island, Guadaloupe, experiencing the same economic conditions, held a general strike on January 20. On February 5, a coalition of trade unions, called the February 5 Collective, on the island of Martinique decided to hold its own anti-inflation, multi-industry strike. The strikers demanded a monthly wage increase of €300, pensions and inflation-indexed social minima, residual benefits for persons not entitled to regular social security, and price controls.
The social upheaval heightened the tension between the workers (black majority, descendants of slaves) and those who controlled the majority of Martinique's economy and retail (white minority, descendants of slave traders and colonists). Throughout the crippling strike, many workers took to the street to defend their positions. On February 24 and 25 protesters created barriers with trash cans and set them on fire, blocking several streets of the capital, Fort-de-France. These actors also stole a car and tractor and crashed them into two different stores. Around 20 small stores and two mid-sized stores were looted and vandalized; several cars were also set on fire.
Another violent episode broke out on March 6 in Fort-de-France, while farmers and businessmen demonstrated against the strike. In the center city, near the strike headquarters, protesters (it is unclear if these were the campaigners or those protesting the strike) hurled rocks at police, who then responded with tear gas. Demonstrators (again unclear) fired shotguns at police, injuring three officers.
On March 10, thousands marched in Fort-de-France chanting slogans directed toward the békés, the Creole term for the wealthy whites living in Martinique. Because of the strike's devastating effect on Martinique's economy, the government decided to begin negotiations. On March 11, an agreement was signed which stipulated that workers would receive €200 monthly wage increase for 47,000 low-wage earners and smaller increases for workers with higher incomes. The workers would also receive retroactive pay until May 1. Major businesses had also previously agreed to lower prices for about 400 basic necessities by 20 percent a month after the stores reopened. On this day, about 20,000 strikers and strike supporters assembled and celebrated the victory throughout the streets. They repeated the slogan 'Matinik leve' ('Martinique stand up' in Creole).
Even after the victory Michel Monrose, leader of the February 5 Collective claimed that the coalition reserved the right to reinstate the campaign if the agreement was not kept.
Martinique's striking spirit spread to the French island of La Réunion, where, on March 19th, the island's worker's coalition called for massive mobilization.