The Quest of Equality in the French West Indies: Strikes and the Transition to Departmental Status during the 1950s

By Jacques Dumont

The strikes which occurred during February and March of 2009 in Guadeloupe and Martinique concentrated media attention on problems which, although far from new, seemed to be newly discovered in France. The aim of this paper is to concentrate on the period just after the status change from French colony to department in order to show the motives for local unrest in these regions, as well as the difference in how these regions are seen on the two sides of the Atlantic world. The purpose is not to construct a genesis of the social protests in the French Antilles, but rather to focus on certain social measures during the period 1948 to 1953 with an eye to their logic, their slow implementation, the gap between expectations and measures taken, as well as the context of rapid change in which they took place. Although at that time political assimilation was considered to be achieved, the transition to departmental status did not bring the recognition or equality one hoped it would accomplish.

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