Jean-Hugues Ratenon is President of the “Agir Pou Nou Tout” [Act for All of Us] Association, which is part of the Collective of Trade Unions, Political Organizations, and Community Associations of Réunion (COSPAR), the organizer of the social movement.
The prefect of Réunion announced, on Thursday, 5 March, a decrease in the price of bottled gas from 12 March and a decrease in the price of fuels from 1 April. Are you satisfied with these proposals?
Satisfied, but only partly. The prefect recognizes our legitimacy, but we know nothing about the total sum of the announced decreases. And other very urgent issues have yet to be addressed. COSPAR demands, in particular, a 20% decrease in the prices of five hundred primary consumption goods and a net increase of 200 euros per month for low-wage workers, low-income retirees, social welfare recipients, students on scholarship. . . . On these issues, we have received no answer yet. We must meet the prefect at 11 AM tomorrow to discuss it.
How is the economic situation in Réunion?
In 2007, the UFC-Que choisir [Federal Union of Consumers and its magazine What to Choose] conducted a survey on the price differences between Réunion and Metropolitan France. According to their figures, some products are up to 50% more expensive on the island. On top of that, our income is markedly lower than in the mainland and the other overseas departments. There is a real problem in the level of purchasing power for people in Réunion.
How do you explain these disparities?
The world is going through a very serious cyclical economic crisis, but these problems are not new to us. The island has long suffered from persistent monopolies that get worse and worse. It’s always the same people and the same financial flows between certain brand names and certain businesses. Given the tension in the country today, I will not name names. But COSPAR calls for more transparency in pricing and markups from which some benefit. He who pays has the right to know.
Your collective denies wishing to follow the Antillean movement. How is this mobilization different from the others?
It’s a movement that spreads in time and grows in strength. In September 2008, the “Agir Pou Nou Tout” Association published reports calling on the authorities to shed light on pricing. In January, the trade unions began to demonstrate together. We, several associations, sounded the alarm, but we knew we couldn’t launch a general strike overnight. We should certainly not have done so when the mobilization was intensifying in the Antilles. That would have threatened the social cohesion of the island.
The Secretary of State for Overseas France, Yves Jégo, assured that the government had all the answers to the demands of COSPAR. What do you think?
What answers? No agreement has been signed yet in Réunion. No meeting has been held between representatives of the big retailers and COSPAR. The same goes for social landlords and employers. We should not rely on the speeches of government officials. Only what’s put into writing counts.
You called for a general strike next Tuesday, but, unlike what happened in Guadeloupe, you are not calling for shutting down the island. Why?
The people would want COSPAR to harden the tone and take tougher actions. But shutting down the island means burdening the poor, artisans, the sick, and those who need to work every day. Today, the prefect agreed to negotiate. If we feel that these discussions are unsuccessful, we will alert the public. We’ll wait a few more days. The rally on Tuesday will be decisive.