The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Agricultural Workers Are the First Victims!

Apr 16, 2018

This article is from the March 10th, 2018 edition of Combat Ouvrier (Workers Fight), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in Martinique and Guadeloupe.

For several weeks, the extent of soil contamination in Martinique and Guadeloupe by the banned pesticide known as Kepone has been back in the news. Both animals and humans are severely affected. But no one talks about those who had to work for years with pesticides and herbicides like Kepone: the agricultural workers.

On Saturday, March 3rd , banana workers and their unions CGT Guadeloupe and CGT Martinique felt the need to make their protests heard. They organized a joint press conference in Pointe-à-Pitre [Guadeloupe’s largest city] to publicize the complaint they planned to file so that the banana plantation owners who sold Kepone might be punished. They demanded that agricultural workers—both those living and dead, as well as their descendants—be compensated for having been poisoned while working with these dangerous products. Marie-Hellen Marthe, also called Surelly, the General Secretary of the CGT Martinique agricultural workers’ union, and her comrades, Luciana Vincent Sully and Marie-Sainte, Albert Cocoyer, the General Secretary of the CGT Guadeloupe banana workers’ union, and Jean-Marie Nomertin, a former banana worker and the General Secretary of the CGT Guadeloupe federation held the conference. Jean-Marie Nomertin is also known for being the spokesperson for our political group, Combat Ouvrier, in Guadeloupe.

The banana workers who were present filled the room. They described their experiences. Kepone was used under several names: Chlordecone, Curlone… The pesticides were spread on the ground by hand and by crop-dusting. The workers who spread it came into direct contact with the dangerous products. These products are so toxic that some workers were burned, with the chemicals eating into their skin and flesh. Others died from poisoning in the hours after the product was spread over the ground. Even the workers who were not directly involved in spreading the pesticides suffered from the effects, since they worked in the middle of the polluted plantation.

In order to get the workers to agree to expose themselves to these poisons, the plantation bosses presented the job of spreading them as if it were a privilege: those who sowed the pesticides got to finish their workdays much earlier. Those who hesitated or refused to work in contact with the products were simply fired.

As a result, a high number of workers died of cancer (particularly prostate cancer), Parkinson’s disease, and even paraplegia well before the age of retirement. The poison also affected their children, since some of them were born with handicaps or developed them later.

Since the 1970s, banana workers in the fields have denounced how dangerous these products are. Workers at a demonstration in 1974 held up a sign that said “No to Nemacur!” [another banned pesticide used to kill nematode worms].

Today, the agricultural workers of Martinique and Guadeloupe are attacking those who are directly responsible. On the one hand, they target the banana industry bosses who are mostly békés [descendants of the European colonists], most notably Hayot, De Lucy, De Lagarigue, Lemetayer, Duflo, Lignières, Chaulet—for having marketed known poisons. On the other hand, they target the government for having granted exemptions to the plantation owners even after Kepone was outlawed in France in 1990. They call for reparations, including for their comrades from the islands of Haiti, Dominica, and Saint Lucia, as well as their family members.

The workers of the two islands are united in this fight, since they have the same exploiters and poisoners: the large béké families and the French government. These are the true killers!