Jan 24, 2011
The following appeared in Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary group of that name active in France. It is based on a report from Martinique, an island in the Caribbean with 440,000 people, which is an overseas department of France.
In February and March of 2009, workers in Martinique carried out a general strike. Months after the strike, one of its main leaders, Ghislaine Joachim-Arnaud, was accused of racism by one of the richest men on the island, Jean-Francois Hayot. He charged her with discrimination against the békés. The békés are the descendants of the original slave owners on the island, and they are still masters of Martinique’s economy.
On December 15, 2010, the French colonial justice system put Ghislaine Joachim-Arnaud on trial. She is the secretary general of the CGTM (General Confederation of Labor-Martinique), leader of Combat Ouvrier (Workers Fight) and member of the leadership of the KSF, the collective which led the February 2009 strike in Martinique. The complaint was that she said in a broadcast in the Creole language: “Martinique is ours. We’re going to kick out the band of profiteering and stealing békés. This fight must continue.”
On the day of the trial, starting at 7:30 in the morning, several hundred militants, sympathizers, workers, young people and retirees, rallied at the trade union headquarters in Fort-de-France. They marched toward the court, singing the February 2009 strike songs, in particular “Martinique is ours...” Almost a thousand people ended up massed in the square in front of the court house, where they confronted a large-scale police mobilization.
During the trial, Ghislaine Joachim-Arnaud, her lawyers and people who testified in her behalf accused the wealthiest men, békés and others, and their system. She said that the lawsuit against her accusing her of racism against the békés was “fallacious.” Then she used the opportunity to make an indictment of the real racism, that of the wealthiest owners, békés and others. She spoke against the discrimination and the daily violence that workers, young people and retirees suffer, saying they are condemned to live off the crumbs left by the wealthy, who are supported by the State which serves them. She cited the example of the young workers of Mr. Bricolage (like Home Depot), who have been on strike for more than a month against the scorn and greed of the big béké owner Bernard Hayot. And she added, “Yes, it’s perfectly scandalous that those who are in the ruling camp accuse of racism those who rebel and don’t accept it. These bosses think a good worker is a worker who never strikes. But that is changing.”
She explained that historically the term béké in Martinique designates the exploiters. “We aren’t designating a race or an ethnic group, but a social position.”
The defense called witnesses, the majority of whom were workers, who spoke in simple, dignified and convincing words. They spoke about their experience, what the words “doing a béké’s job” meant, even it was for a black boss. And they testified to Joachim-Arnaud’s devotion to her class, of their camaraderie with her, and also of her fight to take the side of workers everywhere in the world.
The CGT representative told the head of court, “accusing Ghislaine Joachim Arnaud of racism is ... like pretending that Elisabeth Badinter [French woman philosopher and feminist] cuts off heads.”
The longer the court session went on, the more it was evident how proud people were of the spokeswoman of their February 2009 strike movement. And the day after the trial, the newspaper France Antilles, usually supportive of the wealthy, emphasized in its article: “the session ... constituted a trial against the capitalists.”