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France

Reporters' notebook: no end in sight for crippling strike

Video by Eve IRVINE , Willy BRACCIANO

Text by Eve IRVINE

Latest update : 2009-02-21

Protests continue in Guadeloupe and Martinique over the high cost of living, due to which basic services on both islands have been disrupted for weeks. FRANCE 24's Eve Irvine and Willy Bracciano report from Martinique's capital Fort-de-France.

Send your questions to our correspondents

Thursday, February 19


Eve Irvine travels to Guadeloupe following the recent upsurge in violence in the French Caribbean island. You can follow their reports here.
 

Monday, February 16

 


Protest day and one that will test public opinion for the strike which began 12 days ago.

 

Arriving before kick-off time at the union building, the first thing we notice is the smoky smell.

 

All along the sides of the main boulevard, people have set up stalls selling hot food, drinks and even large straw hats. The early protestors are stocking up on food and energy before they hit the streets. It's only later in the day that we realise Eve should have bought a hat. As an Irish woman in the Caribbean, she sticks out somewhat, and despite the curls, manages to burn the top of her head. Oh well.

 

With the marching underway, the atmosphere is quiet carnival-like, good vibes and some great chants. Each organisation or union marching seems to have brought a small band or some means of striking a tune.

 

We see lots of drums and even some seashell horns. It's hard not to start bopping to their rhythm - a change from protests on the mainland where more aggressive noises are made.

 

Speaking to those demonstrating, they all have the same message for me. These people have no choice but to be here. A number of times I am told that they can understand there is a global economic meltdown and that businesses need to make profits but they really feel that they are being exploited.

 

 

A number of families with two incomes tell us that they find it difficult to make ends meet.

 

There is also an element of anger against the mainland. When it comes to paying taxes, one man tells us, Paris is very aware of Martinique's existence but when it comes to price control, the level of poverty and support, they feel the island is left to fend for itself.

 

The protest itself lasts about three hours but then the people regroup at the union's office. They are waiting to hear the outcome of the latest round of talks. The negotiators regrouped again on Monday morning but by Monday evening little progress had been made.

 

Talks are still stalling on the agreement of dropping the price on 100 products.
 

 

Sunday, February 15
 

There is a notable increase in the number of cars on the roads around Fort-de-France this morning.

 

People have petrol again and it would appear they are happy to get out and about. The Sunday market is ticking over quite nicely.

 

The day starts on a hopeful note. The “Collectif du 5 fevrier”, the organisation of unions leading the strike, say they have heard that the major supermarkets are ready to meet their price concessions, namely a price reduction of 20% in 100 product types rather than a reduction in 100 precise items. 

 

Negations are to restart on Monday at 10:00 am. Top of the agenda, the unions say, will be getting written proof of what they have been told by political leaders of the island.

 

However, there is no confirmation coming from the supermarkets' representatives. 

 

All parties concerned are called to the negotiating table though some delegates fear that the session could end before it even starts.

 

Despite the re-start of the discussions, the “Collectif” is calling on people to take to the streets to protest once again on Monday.

 

The turnout will test how much locals still support the strike.

 

On the way back we see another sign of how it is affecting people's daily lives.

 

Cedric, a fisherman, has taken to selling his home-grown 'ignames', a form of sweet potato, to make ends meet.

 
We're curious to see how many people still support the strikes.

 

 

Saturday, February 14

 

Negotiations at the prefecture in Fort-de-France, Martinique, were to begin at 9:00 am but locals had said that those involved were always late and it wouldn't start on time. Well, they were right.

 

The parties concerned all arrived roughly an hour late; no one seemed at all surprised or bothered by the delayed start. Talks began at about twenty past ten, only to sojourn again at mid-day with no progress made.

 

 

Observers told us that the main problem with the discussion in Martinique is that the group of unions leading the strikes is disorganized and so the demands are unclear. The result is that the negotiations turn in all directions. (Friday ended with the organization of unions walking out, and talks being suspended.)

 

Driving through the capital Forte de France on Saturday was like driving through a ghost town. Shop shutters were down, lots of rubbish on the streets and then you would turn a corner and all of a sudden see a large group of people.

 

It seemed that anyone who was in town was outside one of the shops that had opened exceptionally, and just for the day, to allow people to stock up on vital supplies. The strike in Martinique began without warning so people say they weren't prepared. With little organizaton in the stores, it was very often a case of he pushes hardest wins.


After visiting the shops, which were out of some essentials like bread and milk by lunchtime, we followed a well-guarded petrol lorry to a gas station.

 

Here we found people who had queued since the wee hours, but we noticed that this didn't necessarily mean you got to keep your place.

 

One man who had been there since 5:00 am had his car right in front of the pump. As the lorry arrived, however, the garage staff asked him to move it. They then proceeded to let some of their friends jump in first without queuing. 

 

 

Friday, February 13



Arriving on a packed plane, we initially thought that the strike hadn't hit the tourism sector just yet. Some hotels were booked out and the queues at the car rentals were substantial.

 

Chatting to holidaymakers, while waiting for the car, we learnt that most people wouldn't have cancelled even if they could have. "It will only last another day or two tops. We've still got the sea and the sun and It's all part of the adventure," were the positive thoughts they sent out. However many were worried about finding petrol during their stay.


As we checked into our hotel the receptionist told us that they had had an increase of between 20 and 25% in cancellations since the strike started.


Later that evening, at around 11:00 pm, we saw cars starting to queue at petrol stations. There had been an announcement that almost half the island's stations would open from mid-day on Saturday. People were clearly desperate to fill up and ready to pull all-nighters to be sure to get some of the precious black liquid.

Date created : 2009-02-17

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