Apr 16, 2012
The following article appeared in the paper of Combat Ouvrier (Workers Fight), the paper of comrades of the revolutionary workers organization of that name active in Martinique and Guadeloupe. These two islands in the Caribbean are overseas departments of France.
On March 29th, some three hundred people gathered outside the appeals court in Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique. They demonstrated their support for our comrade Ghislaine Joachim-Arnaud. She was appealing against her conviction and a $4,000 fine.
The complaint was made after a television broadcast. Ghislaine Joachim-Arnaud wrote in the visitor’s book in the Creole language, spoken by the people of the island, “Matinik sé ta nou.” This phrase was part of a chant shouted by thousands of protesters during the 2009 general strike: “Martinique is ours, it isn’t theirs, a band of béké robbers, profiteers, who need to be kicked out.”
This appeal hearing was a new occasion to underline the political character, the class character, of this trial. There are two opposing camps, that of the workers and that of the big owners, especially the békés, who are the descendants of the old slave owning families.
After speeches by the other side’s lawyers, claiming that the use of the word béké was “a provocation to discrimination, hatred and violence,” Joachim-Arnaud declared the following concerning the suit brought by one of the biggest owners of agricultural plantations, super markets and other businesses – a descendant of the old slave-owners:
“Mister Hayot has attempted to reverse roles by accusing me of inciting racial hatred. His accusations are worthless, like his wish to pass himself off as a victim! We have always known that the only victims of the arrogance, oppression and racism of big landowners, big bosses and planters in béké circles are the workers, the majority of the population, coming out of a history that no one can change. This history perpetuated the relations of master to slave in the relation of boss to worker which we live under today....
“It isn’t me who has to demonstrate my non-racism.... Nor should anyone in the working population, who fights to live, to be treated better by the bosses, have to do it.”
The representative of the General Confederation of Labor of France then confirmed the hostility of the entire union movement, everywhere and always, to any manifestation of racism. Militants from the General Confederation of Labor of Martinique reaffirmed that the meaning of béké in the Creole language was long since enlarged to designate bosses, whatever their color, and, in fact, the political administration itself. These speakers emphasized that no one, except the bosses, saw her remarks as an appeal to hatred.
Another militant of Combat Ouvrier in Guadeloupe made a statement to the court: he gave some examples of the shameless exploitation of workers and the scorn of the béké bosses on the banana plantations. Applause resounded in the court room. Others involved in the 2009 strike showed their support for Joachim-Arnaud.
The court won’t decide until May 3rd. But for all the participants at the trial and rally, the condemnation of exploitation was very effective and went against those who wanted the justice system to defend the bosses.
Leaving the court room, the sounds of the Creole song “Martinique isn’t yours” were heard everywhere. They also sang the revolutionary workers song The Internationale.