Tahitian labor unions general strike to protest economic hardship, 2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
June 4,
2010
to
June 15,
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
French Polynesia
Location City/State/Province: 
Tahiti
Goals: 
The strikers were protesting against job cuts and hardship caused by the economic crisis. The Collective for Peace called for the following: secure pensions, unemployment insurance, welfare reform, French compensation to victims of radiation exposure from nuclear weapons tests.
 

Tahiti was first made into a French colony in 1880 and then, along with the rest of the Polynesian islands, became a French territory in 1946. Since then, Tahiti has been the economic center of French Polynesia.

Under the government of Charles de Gaulle, France began testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific Ocean near French Polynesia. The testing would continue for 36 years, before nuclear testing was officially put to an end after international protest in 1996. The collateral damage of the tests would affect the French Polynesian population for years and years. Internal studies from French Polynesia suggested that even ten years after the last test, the magnified effects of the nuclear testing were responsible for up to 600 cases of cancer and 250 deaths per year.

Once the tests concluded, the French Polynesian economy suffered. In 2006, French Polynesia slipped into a recession and one economist estimated the unemployment rate to be at 20%. As unemployment increased, the gap between the rich and the poor continued to widen.

In 2010, situations in Tahiti and in the rest of French Polynesia had not improved. The news of the recession and the side effects of the nuclear testing intensified resentment on the islands. Consequently, on June 4, several Tahitian labor unions announced the possibility of a future strike if measures were not taken to improve the economy. On the same day, a major Tahitian labor union, A Tia I Mua, announced that it would not be participating in the strike because the economy was not ready for it. Four days later, representatives from the unions met with Tahitian president, Gaston Tong Sang, to negotiate a preventative agreement. The demands of the labor unions were: secure pensions, unemployment insurance, welfare reform, and for France to pay the healthcare costs for victims of radiation exposure from the nuclear testing. After debating which of the representatives were going to meet with the president, the unions met with Tong Sang, but did not reach an agreement.

After unsuccessful negotiations, the coalition of labor unions started a general strike on June 10. The coalition, which called itself the Collective for Peace (CFP), was composed of port workers, airport fire fighters, civil servants, teachers, and hospital workers. The Collective for Peace promised not to blockade the roads because it did not want to interfere with high school exams. Local church leaders also spoke out against road blockades, warning not to disrupt the daily lives of the Tahitian people.

The next day, the CFP met with President Tong Sang in order to reopen negotiations, but the CFP representatives left the meeting after just two unproductive hours. Another negative moment for the campaign occurred when two striking airport firemen were forced to work in order to assure a plane’s safe landing. In retaliation, the CFP broke its promise and set up blockades on one of the main roads in Tahiti’s capital city, Papeete. The road connected to an area where Tahiti’s gasoline and fuel tanks were stored. The blockade nearly paralyzed the port and the airport; 2,500 travelers were left stranded at Tahiti’s airport.

More negotiations were held on Friday June 11 between Tong Sang and the CFP, but meetings once again ended abruptly and unsuccessfully; the meeting began Friday afternoon and ended at 4 a.m. on Saturday. No further meetings were held over the weekend.

Long periods of negotiation resumed on Monday, the 14th. By this point, Tahiti’s economy was suffering. Local stations were running out of fuel, as the road to the fuel storage remained obstructed. Consequently, many flights to and from Tahiti were canceled or delayed.

By 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the general strike was called off because negotiations concluded with an agreement supported by both parties. The agreement ordered the end of the general strike on the conditions that President Tong Sang would meet with the International Labour Organisation in order to investigate the viability of an unemployment insurance fund and also that he attend negotiations in Paris to discuss pensions for civil servants. The CFP agreed to the accord despite it not achieving any of its stated goals. All Tong Sang agreed to was to consider two of the CFP’s demands: unemployment insurance and secure pensions. The CFP had no success reaching an agreement about compensation for victims of radiation exposure or about comprehensive welfare reform. History will label this general strike a major failure because it did not meet its stated goals and the strike burdened Tahiti with even more economic loss. Tourism professionals released a statement indicating that Tahiti was set to lose $10 million because of the general strike. The statement also speculated that the strike would have a negative effect on future tourist trips to Tahiti.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Agence France-Presse. “Strike strands 3,500 passengers in Polynesia.” Agence France-Presse, 13 June 2010.

Tahiti Presse. “Disruptions affect Tahiti as general strike begins, negotiations to resume in Papeete.” Tahiti Presse, 10 June 2010

----. “Employers’ group says general strike really hurt Tahiti.” Tahiti Presse, 18 June 2010

----. “General strike continues, disruptions increase.” Tahiti Presse, 11 June 2010

----. “General strike ends in Papeete, international flights resume.” Tahiti Presse, 15 June 2010

----. “General strike starts in Tahiti.” Tahiti Presse, 10 June 2010

----. “General strike still looms, negotiations start.” Tahiti Presse, 9 June 2010

----. “General strike still on, negotiations on hold.” Tahiti Presse, 13 June 2010

----. “General strike will cost French Polynesia US$ 10 million.” Tahiti Presse, 16 June 2010

----. “Labor unions announce possible general strike for next week.” Tahiti Presse, 4 June 2010

----. “Many travelers stranded as general strike continues.” Tahiti Presse, 14 June 2010

Vincent, Lindsay. “French accused of Pacific nuclear cover-up.” The Guardian, 1 January 2006.

Additional Notes: 
Edited by Max Rennebohm (08/06/2011)
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Julio Alicea, 14/11/2010