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Title: The Organizational and Political Transformation of a Social Movement: A Study of the 30th of May Movement in Curacao
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00087021/00001
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Title: The Organizational and Political Transformation of a Social Movement: A Study of the 30th of May Movement in Curacao
Translated Title: Working Paper #39 ( English )
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
Creator: Anderson, William A.
Dynes, Russell R.
Publisher: William A. Anderson and Russel R. Dynes
Publication Date: 1971
Subject: Caribbean   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: Curacao -- Caribbean
Funding: Working Paper # 39 for the Disaster Research Center, The Ohio State University; Permission granted by the Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware, Support for the research on which this paper is based provided by the Mershon Center, The Ohio State University, and Arizona State University
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Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the Disaster Research Center.


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Full Text



Working Paper #39




William A. Anderson
Department of Sociology
Arizona State University

Russell R. Dynes
Department of Sociology
Disaster Research Center
The Ohio State University

Support for the research on which this paper is based was provided by
the Mershon Center, The Ohio State University, and Arizona State University.




There is considerable variation among social movements in the degree to

which they are organized and integrated. Usually, however, integration and

coordination are problematic for social movements as they tend to be marked

by considerable dissensus. As Killian has noted: "Many movements are comprised

of diverse segments, each with its own structure, loosely united only by their

allegiance to the central, explicit values and by the tendency of outsiders

to view them as parts of a single whole."' In many cases, there is no overall

formal organization or structure which wields such diverse elements together.

In fact, the interaction between the various components of a social movement

is often characterized by conflict.

There are points in the life history of some social movements, however,

when the disintegrative tendencies are cancelled out, or are temporarily

neutralized. Such periods are characterized by a growing consensus among the

various components of a movement regarding such matters as goals and tactics

and a heightened sense of in-group consciousness. Under these circumstances,

greater coordination and integration may emerge among the diverse segments of

a movement, thus enabling it to have a profound affect upon its environment.

In this paper, we will present a case study of a movement, more specifically

the labor movement in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, which underwent such a

transformation beginning in May, 1969, hence the designation of this trans-

formation as the "May Movement." Prior to this period, the labor movement in

Curacao was highly fragmented, lacking the basis for sustained coordinated

action. Among other things, the dissensus within the movement involved

ideological and political considerations. The transformation of the labor

movement assumed several forms, the most dramatic being a riot during which

there was loss of life and many injuries, and millions of dollars in property

damage. In the discussion to follow, we will describe and offer an explanation

for the various forms the transformation of the labor movement took beginning

in May, 1969. Also, we will more briefly consider some of the consequences that

the transformation of the labor movement had for its environment.2

Background: Social, Political, and Economic
Patterns and Strain in Curacao

Curacao, with a population of over 141,000, is located some 35 miles from

the coast of Venezula.3 It is the largest and most populous island of the

Netherlands Antilles, which also includes Aruba, Bonaire, St. Maarten, Saba and

St. Eustatuis. Willemstad, the capital of the Netherlands Antilles, which has

a population of over 65,000 is located in Curacao. The Netherlands Antilles is

a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with Surinam, another former

Dutch colony. The central government of the Antilles, headed by a prime minister,

is considered autonomous in local matters; however, the kingdom government

handles such important matters as foreign affairs and national defense for both

the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam.4

To many Antillians, the semi-independent status of the country, whichh was

worked out in 19545, is a satisfactory one. For example, many point out that

it would be extremely costly for a country the size of the Netherlands Antilles

to handle its own foreign affairs and national defense and that such a burden

would even threaten its survival. Another argument used to support the existing

relationship between the Antilles and the Netherlands is that it gives the

former access to world trade markets that would otherwise be closed to it.

However sound such arguments seem to many, if not most, Antillians, they do

not satisfy some groups who see in the limited autonomy of the country a


continuation of its colonial status. The call for independence has come from

such groups, particularly in recent times when nationalistic anti-colonial

movements have emerged throughout the world, and when independent movements have

even been successful in other areas of the Caribbean, for example, in Jamaica

and Trinidad. This pressure for change in the political status of the Antilles

exerted by some groups in the society was one- of the underlying strains which

led to the May Movement.

Cultural, racial, and economic strains also m~rk the Netherlands Antilles,

and these too had an influence on the mobilization and transformation of labor

during the May Movement. Some elements, for example, saw continued cultural

as well as political domination by the Dutch in the Kingdom government arrangement.

To them, this meant that Antillians would continue to measure themselves by

Dutch values and be destined to perceive themselves as failures, rather than

developing and accepting an Antillian culture and identity which would lead to

self respect, thus destroying the legacy of slavery and years of colonialism in

the islands. Some Antillians, for example, resented the fact that Dutch was

the official language of instruction in schools rather than Papiamento, the

native language, and that many Dutchmen while living in the Antilles never

attempted to learn Papiamento.

Turning to racial and economic strain, even though legal forms of discrim-

ination have been removed in the Antilles, non-whites, who make up the bulk of

the population, have been underrepresented in the skilled trades and professions.

Thus most unskilled w.'ers, the poor, and members of trade unions in Curacao

have in common the fact that they are black. Furthermore, the disadvantages of

the non-white population has been exacerbated by unfavorable changes in the

economic situation in Curacao. Like many other areas of the Caribbean, Curacao

is experiencing a serious decline in the need for unskilled workers due to the


increasing mechanization of its industry, while at the same time its population
has been rapidly increasing. In this century, the economic life of Curacao

has been dominated by the Royal Dutch Shell Company which operates a huge oil

refinery on the island. As a result of automation, the company had reduced

the number of its employees from a peak of 11,000 in 1952 to about 4,000 in 1969.

In an effort to attract new investors to the islands who could create new jobs,

the central government has pursued a policy of wage stabilization.7 However,

some groups have been highly critical of this effort, interpreting it as a

means of furthering the interests of Dutch and other capitalists, to whom high

government officials were said to be closely allied for reasons of class and

race, rather than as an attempt to help unemployed workers who are mostly non-

white. To further exacerbate matters, tourism has been one of the major

industries the government has attempted to develop. And some labor leaders

have attempted to mobilize workers by calling to their attention differences

between their own standard of living as the result of low wages and that of

the increasingly visible and free-spending tourists who are mainly from the

United States.

These, then, were some of the underlying strains in Curacao and the

Netherlands Antilles prior to the emergence of the May Movement in 1969. We

turn now to a consideration of some of the main features of the labor movement

in Curacao just prior to its transformation.

The Labor Movement: Fragmentation and Dissensus

The labor movement in Curacao has a history of fragmentation and

unevenness. On the island there are large unions with well trained leaders,

but also many small ones with leaders who have received little formal training

in union management. Furthermore, although unions within the same confederations

have generally cooperated with one another, the over-all pattern has been one of


disunity, competition, and conflict. This pattern stems from a number of

factors, the foremost being ideological differences based in part on international

affiliations and identification; differing political allegiance and styles;

and personal antagonisms between various union leaders.

As would be expected given its former colonial status, labor organization

in Holland served as the model for the labor movement in the Antilles. In

Holland, there are three basic groups of trade unions: Protestant, Catholic,

and Free or Socialist. Roughly corresponding types can be found in the Antilles

and are referred to as Independent, Catholic and Free unions. The three groups

of unions in Holland often work with their counterparts in the Antilles, providing

them with financial aid and advice. Prior to the May Movement, there was

considerable conflict between the three groups of unions in Curacao based in

part on these varying international affiliations.

Of the three types of labor unions in Curacao, the Free unions had the

largest membership, and were the best organized and most influential. Several

Free unions formed the largest confederation in Curacao, the General Conference

of Trade Unions (A.V.V.C.), which had a membership of around 12,000. One of the

major unions affiliated with the A.V.V.C. was the Petroleum Workers Federation

of Curacao (P.W.F.C.) founded in 1955 by petroleum workers at Royal Dutch Shell

out of concern for the increasing automation at the company. Because of its

location at Shell, the heart of industry in Curacao, the P.W.F.C. has played

a major role in the labor movement. The labor agreements it has made with

Shell, for example, have often become the standard used by other unions in their

negotiations with management. Prior to the May Movement, relations with Shell

were considered good by the leaders of the P.W.F.C. As was generally true of

other A.V.V.C. affiliated unions, the leaders of the petroleum union took a

gradualistic approach to negotiations and relations with management, and for this


they were often criticized by the more radical unions and even sometimes by

their own rank-and-file. The leaders of the petroleum union, as well as the

leaders in other A.V.V.C. linked unions, were also criticized by radical union

leaders for being generally sympathetic to the Democratic Party, the party in

power in the central government. The man who held the position of prime

minister at the time of the May Movement had assisted in the formation of the

petroleum union. Thus, the more radical unions saw the petroleum union and

its fellow unions in the A.V.V.C. as part of the opposition and allied with

what they referred to as colonial forces. However, in spite of this criticism,

unlike trade unions in many developing societies, the Free unions in Curacao

did not directly involve themselves in politics or engage in "political

unionism."8 Indeed, most trade unions in Curacao followed the pattern of the

Free unions by not becoming directly involved in political activity.

The Curacao Federation of Workers (C.F.W.) is another Free union which

bears mentioning at this point. It is a general union representing workers

from a wide variety of businesses and industries in Curacao. Included in its

membership are construction workers employed by the Werkspoor Caribbean Company,

known locally as WESCAR, one of several companies under contract to do work for

the Shell Company. It was a labor dispute between the C.F.W. and WESCAR which

led to the crisis that precipitated the May Movement.

In contrast to the tendency of most groups in the labor movement in Curacao

to be moderate and non-political, as best exemplified by the Free unions we

have mentioned, was a smaller number of groups with radical leaders. Such

groups differed from the more moderate unions in that they: (1) had different

international affiliations and/or allegiance, (2) had more militant and

aggressive styles, and (3) saw the economic goals of the labor movement

inexorably bound to political action.


Some of the more radical unions in Curacao were in the Catholic or Christian

trade movement. The Curacao Christian Confederation of Trade Unions (C.C.V.)

was the Catholic trade unions' equivalent to the Free trade union movement's

A.V.V.C. The C.C.V. was affiliated with the Latin American Confederation of

Christian Trade Unionists (C.L.A.S.C.) movement, a radical Latin American labor

movement.9 Indicative of its political role, the C.C.V., under the direction

of the C.L.A.S.C. movement, has attempted to provide financial assistance for

guerrillas working for the overthrow of the government in Haiti. Such direct

political activity by the C.C.V. created a great deal of concern among the more

moderate unions in Curacao who felt that the labor movement should focus

exclusively on economic activity and not directly enter the political sphere.

Another important radical union was the General Dock Workers Union (A.H.U.),

an Independent union. The leadership of this union espoused a revolutionary

ideology and opposed the existing government and leading industrial groups on

the grounds that they represented the colonial interests of Holland, and that

they erected barriers against the full participation of blacks in the economic

and political life of the Antilles. The leaders of the dock workers union were

often given to flamboyant speech making, and wore the khaki dress associated

with Cuban revolutionaries. Because of their personal styles, the leaders of the

dock workers had a large following among laborers, even though the actual

membership of their union was small.

Also involved in the labor movement in Curacao was a group of young radical

intellectuals and school teachers who upon returning to the island after

receiving university training in Holland called for sweeping social, economic,

and political changes. The young radicals formed the Vito movement, named after

their labor-oriented newspaper. This group exhorted workers to seek political

and cultural changes in the society as well as economic goals. Like the leaders


of the dock workers union, the recognized leader of the Vito movement and

publisher of its radical paper, an ex-teacher, was a prominent charismatic

figure in the labor movement.

Finally, personal antagonisms between leaders in the various unions

furthered the fragmentation within the labor movement. For example, some labor

leaders were in competition to organize the same industry and such competition

often took on the character of personal feuds. And because of its small aize,

it may have been more difficult to minimize personal hostilities in Curacao

through such normally effective techniques as avoidance.

In summary, prior to the May Movement, the labor movement in Curacao was

highly fragmented and largely non-political, except for a small number of

radical groups. However, part of the basis for more unified action existed

in the strain many workers commonly felt, yet traditionally did not articulate,

and the presence of charismatic figures in the dock workers union and Vito

movement around whom workers could coalesce for political action.

The May Movement

The transformation of the labor movement was triggered by a labor crisis

in May, 1969. This transformation involved increasing solidarity and consensus

within the labor movement,10 and increasing politicization. Factors both

internal and external to the labor movement were responsible for these changes.

During its transformation period, which we have labeled the May Movement, the

labor movement went through four phases or sub-movements: an economic strike

sub-movement, a proto-political sub-movement, a political strike sub-movement,

and finally a political party sub-movement. The May Movement began with a very

definite economic focus and gradually evolved into a mechanism for political


as well as economic change. W7e will begin our discussion of the May Movement

by considering its first phase, i.e., the economic strike sub-movement, and

then proceed to discuss the more political phases in the order of their


Emergence of the May Movement
Economic Consensus

The dramatic change in the labor movement in Curacao began during a period

of labor unrest throughout the Antilles in May, 1969. The first phase of this

change involved an unusual show of solidarity by several unions in support of

another union that went on strike for specific and limited economic objectives,

and for this reason we have labeled this phase of the May Movement as the

economic strike sub-movement. During this initial phase, labor leaders mobilized

workers around "bread and butter" issues. Since most unions in Curacao did not

traditionally become directly involved in politics and the fragmentation within

the labor movement was due in part to the presence of groups and leaders with

competing political styles and orientations, it seems highly unlikely that the

May Movement could have initially crystallized around a political rather than

an economic issue. On the other hand, a common position held even among the

fragmented labor groups was that workers deserved higher wages. This common

denominator, in contrast to the disagreement over the role of politics in

reaching the goals of the labor movement, facilitated the emergence of the

consensus among labor groups that support was due a sister union striking for

higher wages.

Economic strike sub-movement

The labor dispute which eventually led to the mobilization of much of the

labor movement involved the Curacao Federation of Labor (C.F.W.) and WESCAR,


a contractor for the Shell Company. The dispute centered around two key issues.

At WESCAR, non-Antillian workers-- such as those from other Caribbean islands

and the Netherlands-- were paid more than Antillian workers as compensation for

working outside their own countries. Also, WESCAR employees received less pay

than those at Shell for doing the same work. Thus, the dispute between WESCAR

and the C.F.W. included demands by the union that Antillian employees doing the

same work receive pay equal to non-Antillians, and that WESCAR employees engaged

in the same work as those at Shell also receive equal pay.

On May 6, 1969, some 400 WESCAR employees went on strike. This strike

ended on May 8 with the two parties agreeing to negotiate for a new labor contract

with the assistance of a government mediator. During the brief strike, Antillian

workers were joined by non-Antillian workers at WESCAR. Also, the C.F.W. received

verbal and written support and encouragement from other unions in Curacao. Such

expressions were forerunners of the increased solidarity to come. The

negotiations between the C.F.W. and WESCAR, which lasted for nearly three weeks,

ended without a new agreement being concluded, and on May 27, the C.F.W. went

on strike a second time.

On May 23, during the lunch hour, a number of Shell employees and employees

of other companies under contract with Shell demonstrated at Post V, the main

gate of the Shell refinery, in support of the WESCAR strike. The next morning,

May 29, about O00 persons working for contractors at Shell sites went on a

peaceful sympathy strike at Post V. On the same day, the C.F.W. received notice

from the board of WESCAR that it considered the strike illegal and that all

employees had to start back to work the next day or be discharged. That after-

noon about 30 or 40 strikers, including several union leaders, marched to Fort

Amsterdam, the seat of the Antillian government. There they held a demonstration

and their spokesmen were heard by a mediator from the Social and Economic Affairs


Department. One of the concerns of the strikers was that the government itself

was interested in keeping wages low in order to attract foreign investors. Such

issues were to become more salient in the political sub-movement phases of the

May Movement.

At 7:30 p.m. on May 29, a meeting was held by the Petroleum Workers

Federation of Curacao (P.W.F.C.) at Casa Sindical, the headquarters and meeting

place for several of the Free labor unions. Also in attendance at this meeting

were strikers from WESCAR. The meeting was called to determine the position the

P.W.F.C. would assume in the labor crisis. The P.W.F.C. had never in the past

made common cause with the employees of companies doing work under contract for

Shell which the C.F.W. represented. However, the position that the P.W.F.C.

took in the labor dispute would be crucial in that it was the largest union in

the oil industry in Curacao, and its labor contract with Shell, which made its

members the highest paid workers in the industry, served as the basis for the

expectations of the strikers.

The leaders of the P.W.F.C. came under considerable pressure to show their

solidarity with the growing strike movement by calling a strike of Shell. This

pressure emanated from several sources. First, by the time of this meeting

several other groups of workers had united behind the strikers either by going

out on strike themselves or by giving support to them in public announcements

and in statements issued to government officials. For example, the latter was

done by the large General Conference of Trade Unions (A.V.V.C.) to which the

P.W.F.C. was affiliated. Also, the radical segment of labor exerted pressure

upon the P.W.F.C. to show solidarity with the strikers. Finally, there was

strong sentiment among the rank-and-file of the P.W.F.C. to support the other

strikers by going out on strike against Shell. This sympathy of the rank-and-

file for the cause of the C.F.W. strikers can be traced in part to the efforts

of radicals who went among the workers during the crisis calling for united


action against their common foe, the business community. Given these pressures,

the leaders of the P.W.F.C. ielt that they had no choice but to call for a

strike. They believed that to do otherwise would cost them the control of the

union. Significantly then, the moderate leaders of the all important petroleum

workers union who generally preferred negotiation and accommodation to more

militant tactics were effectively neutralized at least in part by the actions

of more radical labor leaders. Thus at the meeting, it was decided to call a

24-hour sympathy strike of all Shell employees. The decision to strike was

made at about G:30 p.m. and was to take effect at 11:30 that same evening.

After the meeting, a large portion of the gathering, estimated to be around

1,000, left by cars for the various gates of the Shell refinery to inform

workers who would be reporting to work on late shifts about the union's

decision to strike. Many of the workers on the job at Shell left immediately

upon hearing the decision to strike. Shell began to call in supervisory

personnel to take over operations and some of them were harassed by strikers

at the gates.

whilee a portion of the gathering from the union meeting had gone to the

Shell gates, the number of persons remaining in front of the union hall grew

again and the crowd started harassing passers by and stopping cars. Particular

attention seemed to be given to cars which contained or were suspected of

containing "European Dutchmen" (i.e., Dutchmen who had recently come from

Holland in contrast to persons of Dutch ancestry born in the Antilles).

Around midnight, about 1,000 men were gathered at Post V. There

harassment of supervisory Shell personnel occurred, especially European

Dutchmen, and some temporary road barriers were destroyed. The crowd, however,

began to dissolve about 2:30 a.m. and the rest of the night was relatively quiet.

Yet the conflict that occurred at the entrance to the Shell refinery, and that


which had occurred earlier in front of the union headquarters, were forerunners

of things to come in the second phase of the May Movement.

The first phase of the May Movement, then, involved primarily strike

activity on the part of workers directed at economic conditions. Other kinds

of strains were also reflected in the early actions of some of the workers,

however. For example, racial and political discontent was expressed by the

occasional harassment of whites identified as European Dutchmen, and claims made

that the government might be directly responsible for the crisis by pursuing

the policy of encouraging industry to keep salaries low. Nevertheless, for

most of the workers the expression of political or racial discontent did not

occur until sometime later.

Elaboration of the May Movement:

On the morning of May 30, more unions announced that they had gone on

strike in support of the C.F.W. Starting around 7:00 a.m. the number of strikers

and other persons at Post V grew rapidly, and by 7:30 it was estimated that

between three and four thousand men had gathered there. Union leaders began

making speeches to the gathering. The head of the C.F.W. appealed to the

strikers to keep politics out of the protest. However, the head of the radical

dock workers union, a man known as Papa Godett who was a popular figure among

workers in Curacao, hegan moving the issue in the direction of politics by

criticizing the actions of the government during the crisis and calling for

the strikers to march to Fort Amsterdam to overthrow it. Later, he was quoted

as having said, "If we don't succeed without force, then we have to use force.

I will lead, but if I get killed, then I want the struggle to continue.... But

I will lead and I want you to follow me. The people is the government. The

present government is no good and we will replace it."11


Up until the point when Papa Godett sounded the keynote for political

action, the May Movement had essentially an economic orientation. At least

this was the orientation preferred by the more moderate leaders in such unions

as the C.F.W. and the P.W.F.C. However, certain variables, both background

and immediate, converged making the politicization of the movement highly

probable. The first has to do with the nature of the social structure of

underdeveloped societies like Curacao. Since economic development is so

important as well as precarious in underdeveloped societies, the government

rather than business often establishes policies of direct concern to labor

unions such as wages, hours, and employment practices. As a result, in many

underdeveloped societies labor unions have to directly enter the political arena,

i.e., engage in political unionism, if they are to make changes in their

economic situation, Sufrin has noted for example, "In well developed economies,

trade unions adjust and adapt to industrial and governmental organization. The

same is true for developing societies, but the more significant type of

adjustment and adaptation in the latter is to government because it is the more

significant institution from the viewpoint of the interests of the trade

unions."12 The Antillian government had assumed a role that was somewhat

typical in a developing society. For example, it pursued a policy of encouraging

industries to stabilize wages in order to attract new investors. In such a

context, when economic institutions or arrangements are not clearly differen-

tiated from political ones, economic issues become political ones as well, and

an initial economic social movement may evolve into a political movement. Thus

Curacao was structurally conducive to the emergence of political as well as

economic protest activity by labor unions.13 The presence of leaders who could

articulate political aspirations for the labor movement and had broad appeal

among workers also facilitated the shift of the May protest from a primarily


economic to a political character. For example, prior to the labor crisis,

radical leaders like Papa Godett and the head of the Vito movement had

established themselves among workers in Curacao as important leaders who were

prepared to lead them into political action. Yet the two variables mentioned

thus far were only necessary and not sufficient conditions in the politicization

of the May Movement because they were present in the society for a long time

without generating significant political action on the part of labor. The

final ingredient in the equation that led to the politicization of labor

appears to have been its initial economic mobilization which brought together

large numbers of workers. Once mobilized, the labor movement began to perceive

a political role for itself that was generally unrecognized prior to the crisis.

As long as labor was composed of isolated and competing factions, even with the

existence of the background variables mentioned above, it did not engage in

direct political activity. However, as a result of the sense of solidarity

and power felt once they were mobilized at the beginning of the May Movement,

the workers were encouraged to engage in collective political activity. This

activity was fairly unstructured initially, but assumed a more organized

character later. And as was the case in its confrontation with the business

groups, the polarization bet:-een the labor movement and political authorities

furthered the growth of solidarity within the former.

Finally, once the political protest activity of the May Movement was

started, it was furthered at certain points by the actions of external groups.

For example, in some cases this involved receiving support from similarly

dissatisfied groups, and in others this entailed the nature of the response of

social control authorities. We will now turn to a discussion of those phases

of the May Movement whose objectives became increasingly political in nature.


Proto-political sub-movement

The strike began to assume political significance as Papa Godett and other

labor leaders called for a march on the government at Fort Amsterdam some miles

away in downtown Willemstad. The gathering had grown to about 5,000 as it moved

out toward the center of Willemstad led by Papa Godett and several other labor

leaders in a jeep. e.-ever, the political objective of forcing the government to

resign was never to be achieved by this particular group as it was later to break-

up and engage in generally uncoordinated protest characteristic of proto-political

social movements, i.e., movements that represent an early or initial form of

political action.

Proto-political movements, or what some scholars have referred to as anomic

movements,14 occur among groups in a society that feels that the more traditional

means for bringi, about change are either closed to them or are no longer
effective. Segments of the labor movement in Curacao were dissatisfied with

the response of the government to the plight of workers and were also discouraged

by the prospects for changing the government's approach to the problem. It was

within this context that the proto-political sub-movement phase of the May protest


As the crowd moved toward downtown Willemstad ostensibly to register its

protest with the government, cars were pushed aside and turned over. Stores

were looted and a large quantity of liquor was taken and consumed by some of the

marchers along the way. Many youths also joined the march. It appears that the

inability of the under-manned police to enforce its authority facilitated the

escalation of the violence.16 The first attempt to stop the march failed as the

small number of police involved were soon surrounded and attempts were made to

run them down with some of the cars in the march. The police made a second stand

with about sixty men. The officer in charge talked to the labor leaders who were


leading the march. About this time, one of them, Papa Godett, was shot in the

back when according to some observers he was attempting to talk to the crowd.

The police reported that they were being heavily stoned and threatened by the

marchers at the time. The confrontation escalated. A car was over-turned and

burned and one of two fire engines that had been sent to support the police was

set afire and pushed in the direction of the police lines. The man at the

steering wheel, later identified as an employee of WESCAR, was shot and killed.

The pitched battle continued; the police suffered injuries from thrown rocks and

three police cars and another firetruck were damaged. A Red Cross ambulance sent

into the area was also stoned.

hMen the union leader was shot, he was taken immediately to the hospital by

the other union leaders who had been with him. Some of the marchers also

followed to the hospital. During the next several hours, there were a number of

rumors that hle was dead. Because of the nature of his injury, he had to spend

several hours in the operating room. Afterwards, several of the union leaders

were allowed to see him to give them assurance that he was alive. With the

shooting of the labor leader, and the absence of most of the other leaders who

had accompanied him to the hospital, the bulk of the crowd of marchers quickly

moved into the business district on what is locally referred to as the Punda

side of the picturesque St. Anna's Bay which divides downtown Willemstad. The

rioters broke up into smaller crowds moving down the narrow streets where retail

stores were located breaking windows and looting. Some of them moved across the

famous pontoon bridge which spans the bay to the other side, Otrabanda, where

they looted shops. About noon, the first fire was set on the Otrabanda and the

fire soon spread to other buildings in the area. Back on the Punda side of the

bay a number of fires were set in stores which had been looted.

Security forces were bolstered in the downtown area and a curfew was

enforced Friday night. The curfew stayed in effect over the weekend and the


exhausted local security forces of police, marines, and militia were

supplemented on Sunday, June 1 by 300 Dutch Marines flown from the Netherlands.

When the rioting ended, two persons had been killed, 79 reported injured,

including 57 police officers, and the total dollar damage was in the multi-

million dollar range.

At 4:30 p.m. on May 30, the head of the C.F.W. announced by radio that the

union had reached a one year agreement with WESCAR and that the principle of

equal wages for equal work on Shell sites had been accepted. He also announced

that the strike at Shell by the P.W.F.C. was ended. Thus the agreement with

WESCAR meant that the initial economic goal of the May Movement had been achieved.

However, this did not mean that the end of the movement had been reached because

the second phase, i.e., the proto-political sub-movement, had signaled political

as well as economic discontent on the part of the workers in Curacao.

Such outbursts as the one that occurred in Curacao can be viewed as a

primitive or rudimentary form of political activity. By themselves, because the

demands they articulate are vague and concerted action limited, they do not

directly achieve long-range goals. However, unplanned outbursts may evolve into

more organized protest thus developing the capacity for recalling a government

and making other changes.7 Thus in Curacao several unions recognizing the

political significance and potential of the outburst formed a coalition to state

in specific terms that which was expressed in vague terms by the rioters, i.e.,

the need for political change. At this point, the May Movement entered a third

phase -- a political strike sub-movement phase.

Political strike sub-movement

During the height of the outburst on May 30, unsuccessful attempts were made

by some moderate labor leaders who had not been in the march to arrange a meeting

with the government to discuss the growing crisis. Finally, a meeting was held


by labor leaders from several of the unions in Curacao, both moderate and

radical, during which it was decided to send an ultimatum to the government

calling for its resignation and new elections, otherwise a general strike would

be declared.18 This ultimatum was signed by the union leaders and sent by

messenger to the government around 8:00 p.m. About 9:00 p.m. the unions'

ultimatum was also delivered over the radio by the head of the C.F.W. and the

secretary-general of the dock workers union. This later resulted in the latter's

arrest, but pressure from the unions led to his subsequent release. In

accounting for their unprecedented actions, the unions declared that they were

convinced that the government's social and economic policies had failed and that

the rights of the workers had not advanced along with the development of the

country. As a result, they reasoned, the workers had become frustrated and this

frustration resulted in the outburst. Thus the new consensus among the labor

unions was that significant change could occur only through political action.

This emerging ideology clearly marked a break from the traditional stance taken

by most trade unions in Curacao.

At 2:00 p.m. on May 31, the union held another meeting and this time

representatives from several unions from Aruba, the second most populous island

in the Antilles, were in attendance. Also present were representatives from the

chamber of commerce. The latter were invited to the meeting to essentially

serve as the channel of communication between the unions and the government. The

utilization of such a go-between further demonstrated the isolation the unions

felt from the government.

At this important meeting, the Arbuan unions indicated their support of the

call for the government's resignation that had been made the day before. Then

a joint statement was issued by the two groups of unions declaring that a general

strike would be called in both Curacao and Aruba if the government did not agree


to step down within 48 hours. Thus with this joint action, the boundaries of

the May Movement were extended beyond Curacao and at the same time its power

was enhanced. Finally, the union leaders explained to the chamber of commerce

representatives why a general strike was going to be called so that they could

relay the mood and position of the unions to government officials. The chamber

of commerce representatives agreed to talk to the government to determine if it

would resign as demanded by the coalition of unions or make other concessions

that might end the crisis.

On June 1, the unions again met with the chamber of commerce representatives

which brought the government's reply that it was willing to talk only after there

was complete order in Curacao, and before that it would do nothing. The next

action taken by the union coalition was to request that they be allowed to come

before parliament which was to meet the following day, June 2. That night the

unions received word from the president of parliament that their request was

approved and so they decided to postpone the general strike until they saw what

the consequences of their meeting with parliament would be. The next day the

unions met with parliament and reiterated their lack of confidence in the govern-

ment and again called for its resignation. On the following day, June 3, parlia-

ment voted to dissolve the government and to set new elections for September 5,

1970. Thereafter the prime minister resigned and an interim government was set

up with a new prime minister to carry out routine governmental activities and to

arrange for the September elections. Thus there was no need for the unions to

put into effect the general strike plans they had drawn up during their several

days of meetings which included the disruption of such essentials of electricity

and water services.

In sum, the political or general strike sub-movement, which grew out of the

proto-political sub-movement phase of the May Movement, marked the first time in


the Antilles that a coalition had been formed by the various segments of labor

who were more accustomed to conflict and competition than cooperation. In the

political strike phase, the unions organized the protest of the rioters and

articulated it in specific political terms which led to the recall of the govern-

ment. However, this third phase of the May Movement was to give way to another

one, the political party sub-movement.

Political party sub-movement

Even more structure and conscious emphasis upon long-range political goals

developed in the May Movement when it served as the basis for the formation of a

new labor party. With the formation of the party, a political ideology had to be

formulated, candidates selected, and a campaign organized. As has often been

true in other developing societies, those persons whose experiences had provided

them with considerable political concern joined in the effort to make the May

Movement a truly organized political form. This included radical union leaders

as well as intellectuals in the Vito movement who had returned to Curacao after

studying in Dutch universities. As Oppenheimer has noted, the latter have

historically played leading roles in the transformation of movements from

proto-political to organized political enterprises such as independence

The new political party, called the May 30th Labor and Liberation Front, was

formed in June. Forming the cadre of this political party were three men who

had played key roles in earlier phases of the May Movement: Papa Godett and

Amador Nita of the dock workers union, and Stanley Brown, publisher of the

radical Vito paper. These men had a large following among the laborers in

Curacao before the May Movement, and their actions during it only served to

enhance their appeal. All three men had been arrested as a result of their

activity during the crisis, and Brown, who was sentenced to jail for a term of


several months on a charge of agitation, was in confinement during the party's

election campaign. In addition to being arrested like the other two leaders,

Godett was wounded during the outburst on May 30. These three men had high

visibility, then, and became symbols of the May protest.

Godett, Nita and Brown headed the list of candidates offered by the

Liberation Front for the special September 5 elections. The campaign message of

the new party was similar to the one that had been stated in vague terms by the

rioters. It was anti- Dutch, emphasized the need for black pride and a positive

Antillian identity, and called for the establishment of a government which would

be responsive to the needs of the laboring class rather than to what was referred

to as a business and colonial elite. Finally, it called on the workers to turn

away from the established parties and join in the effort to develop a mass-based

labor party.

Due in part to the influence of Brown, the Liberation Front received the

backing of many radical teachers and intellecutals. Some made speeches in behalf

of the party during the campaign and made financial contributions. Support also

came from a dissident group that had broken away from the third largest party in

Curacao, the Union Reformista Antillano, because it was felt that the party

was pursuing policies that were too moderate. Finally, efforts were made to

organize support for the Liberation Front by some persons not because they

favored its political program but because they saw an opportunity to end the

fifteen year reign of the Democratic Party and thereby create a fluid political

situation which they might later be able to use for their own advantage. Such

external support re-inforced the continued movement of the May protest in a

political direction.

For a new party, the Liberation Front achieved unprecedented success when

the elections were held nn September 5. It won 3 out of 22 seats in parliament.


Godett, Nita and Brown occupied these seats and continued to serve as visible

symbols of the May Movement by their unorthodox styles and rhetoric. It also

turned out that the cooperation of the new party was needed to form a new

coalition government and as a result the Liberation Front was given two

ministerial posts.

The formation of the political party was an attempt to routinize the

consensus which emerged among the ranks of labor during the crisis that signifi-

cant change could be realized only to the extent that it directly entered the

political arena. Over-all, this development follows the pattern of most

developing nations, with the possible exception that in Curacao it occurred in a

very short time span.


We have described and explained the transformation of the labor movement

in Curacao during the period we have labeled the May Movement. In this final

section, we will discuss some of the more general implications of our findings.

That is, we will indicate some of the positions, concepts, and propositions in

the field of social movements and collective behavior this case study illustrates

or supports.

Internal and External Variables

First, this study underscores the necessity for considering both endogenous

and exgenous variables in attempting to account for social movemement change

and transformation. An incomplete picture, at best, would have been obtained of

how and why the labor movement in Curacao was transformed had the focus of this

study been on the movement's internal character and processes at the exclusion

of its structural setting, and vice-versa. As others have suggested, then, we

have found in this study that conditions both internal and external to a social


movement determine the nature of its development and transformation.20

Internal Conflict

It was noted at the beginning of this paper that the labor movement in

Curacao had for a long period been characterized by fragmentation and internal

conflict. There is a tendency to define such conflict as maladaptive for a

social movement. However, our study supports the position taken by Gerlach and

Hines that conflict in a movement is often adaptive. They note, for example:

When the success of movements is reported as having occurred "because of"
rather than "in spite of" organizational fission and lack of cohesion, we
have come to understand the nature of movement dynamics auch more clearly.
Organizational unity is functional in a steady-state social institution
designed to maintain social stability and the status quo. Segmentation and
"internecine dogfighting" are functional in a social institution designed
for rapid growth and the implementation of social change.21

The labor movement in Curacao was jolted from its position of accommodation with

long-established political realities in the society and transformed into an

instrument for social change in part because of the presence of competing

groups. Had it not been for the presence of the more radical labor leaders, the

moderate labor leaders might have been able to guide the labor movement through

the crisis without significant change occurring within the movement itself, as

well as the larger society. The moderate leaders of the important P.W.F.C. were

goaded into a more militant course of action, i.e., into supporting the strike

during the early phase of the May Movement, by the radical leaders. Further,

the P.W.F.C. leaders supported the May Movement out of concern for losing the

control of their union to the more radical leaders since many of their members

were clamoring for action. Our findings on this matter provide support for

Zald and Ash's proposition that: "Goal and tactic transformation of a 10O

L movement organization-/ is directly tied to the ebb and flow of sentiments

within a social movement. The inter-organizational competition for support leads


to a transformation of goals and tactics."22 The May Movement was the first time

that the P.W.F.C. had engaged in militant strike activity with other unions in

Curacao. This marked a clear shift in tactics for the organization, Finally,

the presence of the radical leaders in the labor movement was directly related

to the eventual political orientation that the May Movement took. Had it not

been for these leaders, labor's innovative political role might never have

materialized. The internal conflict within the labor movement, then, was in part

responsible for its large-scale mobilization for action during the May Movement

and transformation into an important political instrument.

Structural Setting

There is a broader issue of concern to students interested in the

development and transformation of social movements other than whether their

goals are economic, political, or otherwise. This is the question of what

determines the degree of change they seek. Smelser, for example, distinguishes

between norm-oriented and value-oriented movements. Norm-oriented movements are

those which call for only normative or reformative changes in a society, while

value-oriented movements are those which demand more sweeping or revolutionary
changes involving the very values of a society.23 And according to Smelser,

particular structural settings facilitate the formation of either norm-oriented

or value-oriented movements.

Despite the use of the term "revolution" by many of the participants in the

May protest in Curacao, it was never transformed into a revolutionary movement.

It began as and retained the character of a norm-oriented movement. This can be

in part attributed to the nature of the social setting in which the May protest

emerged, or more specifically to aspects of the social control situation. Thus

our findings support Smelser's general proposition that the operation of social


control is a major determinant of the form a social movement will assume.

Smelser suggests that two social control factors facilitate the development of

a norm-oriented movement and help it to retain this character during its

existence: (1) a high degree of institutional differentiation,24 and (2)

general encouragement of norm-oriented activities by political authorities and

the opening of channels for the expression of grievances and achievement of

normative changes.25 Regarding the first point, Smelser suggests that in the

absence of a high degree of institutional differentiation there is a tendency for

demands initially made by a movement for limited and normative changes to

generalize into demands for broader and more revolutionary kinds of changes. He

notes, for example:

In a society with a fusion between religious and political authority --
many medieval societies could serve as examples -- protest against
specific normative arrangements inevitably tend to generalize into
heresies. Under such conditions the mechanisms for insulating specify6
demands from challenges to legitimacy itself are not highly developed.

In Curacao, there appeared to have been less differentiation between the

political and economic spheres than in more developed societies. This

structural feature was one of the reasons why the May protest broadened to

include political as well as economic demands. However, perhaps from the

standpoint of social control, a more important form of institutional differen-

tiation did exist in Curacao which appears to have been involved in preventing

the May Movement from becoming a value-oriented movement. That is, in Curacao,

there was a clear separation between the government in power and the system of

government. Thus, in order to change the former, which constituted normative

change, the latter did not have to be changed or threatened, which would have

constituted radical change. When the coalition of unions went before parliament

and demanded that the government resign, they were attacking the policies of the


government in power rather than the legitimacy of the system of government itself.

That government officials also saw and accepted this distinction was indicated

by the fact that they resigned. Thus this differentiation prevented the need

for labor to seek a modification in the basis for the legitimacy of the political

system itself in order to change the government's economic policies.

Finally, Smelser's proposition that the opening of channels for the

expression of grievances and the achievement of normative change will encourage

a norm-oriented movement to remain as such is also supported by the findings of

this study. For example, after the government in Curacao was toppled and a

special election was set for September 5, the interim government permitted the

formation of the May 30th Labor and Liberation Front and recognized it as a

legitimate political party. This was the case in spite of the role the

founders of the new party had played during the crisis and the charges that

had been brought against them. The response by the government had the affect of

providing the radical leaders the opportunity to use more traditional or

legitimate means for bringing about desired change in the society. Thus the

protesters were not forced to work outside the established system or underground

in a revolutionary or insurrectionary movement. Indeed, some of the supporters

of the new party wanted to work outside the government. However, those who

preferred working within the system won out because the party was given the

opportunity to do so by the government. Furthermore, after the September

elections, the new government became more open to contacts with labor leaders

in an effort to reduce the latter's sense of isolation and powerlessness. As

Smelser suggests would be the case, such responses by political authorities

facilitated the non-revolutionary character of the May Movement.



1. Lewis Killian, "Social Movements," in R.E.L. Faris (ed.) Handbook of Modern
Sociology (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964), p. 440.

2. The data for this study were collected by the authors on three field trips to
Curacao in 1969, 1970, and 1971. The primary source of data were tape-
recorded interviews conducted with key persons in labor, government, and
business. Written materials, including newspapers, reports by a government
appointed riot commission, and other documents, were also collected and
analyzed and used as supplementary data.

3. Netherlands Antilles 1969 Statistical Yearboo (Willemstad: Bureau of
Statistics, 1970).

4. Harold Mitchell, Contemporary Politics and Economics in the Caribbean
(Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1968), p. 272.

5. Ibid., p. 271.

6. Investment Factors: Netherlands Antilles (Willemstad: Department of Social
and Economic Affairs, 1965), p. 22.

7. Ibid., p. 24.

8. For a comprehensive discussion of political unionism in developing societies
see: Bruce H. Millen, The Political Role of Labor in Developing Countries
(Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1963).

9. Paul E. Sigmund (ed.), The Ideologies of the Developing Nations (New York:
Praeger Publishers, 1967), p. 405.

10. Among others, Coser has noted that one of the consequences of external
conflict for a group may be increasing internal solidarity. Lewis A. Coser,
The Functions of Social Conflict (New York: The Free Press, 1962).

11. Amigoe di Curacao, May 31, 1969, p. 1.

12. Sidney C. Sufrin, Unions in Emerging Societies: Frustration and Politics
(Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1964), p. 24.

13. Structural conduciveness refers to the permissiveness in a given social
structural setting of the development of a particular type of collective
action. Neil J. Smelser, Theory of Collective Behavior (New York: The
Free Press, 1962), p. 15.

14. Lucian W. Pye, "The Politics of Southeast Asia," in Gabriel A. Almond and
James S. Coleman (eds.) The Politics of the Developing Areas (Princeton,
New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1960), p. 116.

15. Martin Oppenheimer, The Urban Guerilla (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969),
p. 36.


16. For a discussion of the role of social control as it relates to the
escalation of violence see Smelser, op.cit., especially pp. 261-269.

17. Joseph R. Gusfield, "The Study of Social Movements," in International
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences 14 (New York: Macmillan, 1968), p. 447.

'1 Blanksten has noted that the political or general strike has been used with
frequent success in underdeveloped countries in Latin America. He writes,
for example, "Since the 1930's the general strike has come to be a movement
of growing importance in Latin America. Having more of an organizational
base than the anomic movements discussed here, the general strike usually
rests on labor unions and associations of university students, frequently
acting in coalition. The general strike is especially important in Central
America, where it has been a major factor in the overthrow of governments,
particularly in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. George I. Blanksten,
"The Politics of Latin America," in Almond and Coleman, op. cit., p. 498.

19. Oppenheimer writes, for example: "Members of the subordinate culture
suffering various kinds of strain move away; they go abroad to a university
Everywhere they come into contact with new ideas, frequently
revolutionary ideas. They return home to infuse a proto-revolutionary
movement with modern political, nationalist, revolutionary ideas."
Oppenheimer, op. cit., p. 39.

20. For examples of students who have recognized the importance of both internal
and external forces in the transformation of social movements see: Mayer
Zald and Roberta Ash, "Social Movement Organizations: Growth, Decay, and
Change, Social Forces 44:327-341, and Harold A. Nelson, "Leadership and
Change in an Evolutionary Movement: An Analysis of Change in the Leadership
Structure of the Southern Civil Rights Movement," Social Forces 49 (March
1971): 353-371.

21. Luther P. Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, People, Power, Change: Movements of
Social Transformation (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1970) p.64.

22. Zald and Ash, op. cit., p. 333.

23. Smelser, op. cit., p. 272.

24. Ibid,. p. 280.

25. Ibid., p. 307.

26. Ibid., p. 280.


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