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Guadeloupe strike’s shock waves hit Paris

Published Mar 4, 2009 3:34 PM

A general strike on the French-controlled island of Guadeloupe has spread to other French possessions and has rebounded back to France. The strike that began Jan. 26 continued into its sixth week after signs that an agreement might be reached proved false.

On Feb. 27, the Collective Against Exploitation (LKP), a coalition of 47 trade unions and political associations directing the struggle, announced that some local business owners had conceded to a pay hike of 200 euros per month.

LPK union leader
Elie Domota speaks
to the media after a
union meeting at the
Mutualite hall in
Pointe-à-Pitre in
March 1.

But the largest employer’s group in Guadeloupe, the MEDEF, refused to make the same concessions to the workers. By March 1, the LKP leadership announced that it would be compelled to increase pressure on the business community to sign a deal honoring the demands of the general strike.

“Not only are we going to ask for an extension of the agreement but we are going to go from factory to factory to get it signed,” said LKP spokesperson Elie Domota. (France 24, March 2)

In response to the MEDEF’s intransigence, the LKP called for a mass demonstration in the main city, Pointe-à-Pitre, on March 2. With regard to the talks on Feb. 27, Domota said, “About 46,000 employees are going to earn an extra 100 euros at least from the state, but we have to get the remaining 100.” (France 24, March 2)

Willy Angele, the leader of the MEDEF in Guadeloupe, tried to blame the strikers, saying the action was having a major impact on the country’s economic stability. “The liquidation of a number of small companies could mean 10,000 to 14,000 losses,” Angele told the Le Parisien-Aujourd’hui en France. “The unemployment rate could jump from 23 percent to 30 percent.”

But even French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, no friend of the strikers, cautioned the MEDEF to act responsibly and make decisions that would benefit the island’s economy as a whole.

Additional talks have centered around the need for major improvements in the education system in Guadeloupe. The French government has taken under consideration the demand for the hiring of additional teachers.

In Guadeloupe’s capital, Basse-Terre, the leader of the Les Vertes union, Richard Slessel, said on March 1: “Most of the points have been covered. It’s going down quite smoothly.”

Arrests made in unionist’s murder

Meanwhile the French police have announced the arrest of five people in connection with the murder of trade unionist Jacques Bino on Feb. 17. Bino was killed while leaving a meeting of the strike coalition. The French police have denied involvement in the murder even though most of the strikers have blamed the authorities for the escalation of tensions.

Judicial officials have filed criminal charges against a 35-year-old unidentified man who they claim fired the shots that killed Bino. France’s BFM TV carried a story on March 1 which showed the state prosecutor Jean-Michel Pretre saying that the individual was the suspected triggerman in the killing.

Martinique’s workers explode in rebellion

In nearby Martinique, another French “overseas department,” where workers have also been on strike since Feb. 5, anger over the refusal of the French authorities to meet the demands of the people sparked rebellions on Feb. 25 and 26.

According to the AFP: “Dozens of protesters gathered at city hall Tuesday night [Feb. 24] to demand results from slow-moving negotiations there over demands for pay increases. Around midnight, some began hurling rocks and bottles at police guarding the building, and officers responded by firing tear gas.” (Feb. 27)

People attacked stores, burned cars and threw bottles at French riot police. Firefighters on the island of Martinique reported on Feb. 26 that there had been more than 14 torched vehicles and 40 garbage bin blazes in the two days, most centered in the capital, Fort-de-France.

Discontent spreads to La Reunion

Another overseas French colony or “department,” La Reunion, in the Indian Ocean, is also on the verge of labor unrest. A work stoppage was planned for March 5 over the failure of the French government to implement policies to alleviate the impact of the economic crisis. Unemployment figures in these French-controlled territories are the worst in the entire European Union.

The Indian Ocean island has a population of 802,000 people. French colonial settlers came to the territory in the 17th century and imported Africans who were enslaved to work on the coffee and sugar plantations.

Over the last several months there have been demonstrations against the high rate of unemployment and exorbitant costs of food and fuel. A coalition of trade unions, political parties and mass organizations established Feb. 11 has raised four major demands, calling for higher salaries, increased social benefits, scholarships for students and the reduction in rents and fuel and food costs.

Shock waves from the strikes have been felt in Mayotte, a French territory of 187,000 people in the Indian Ocean, and Polynesia in the South Pacific, with a population of 265,000.

The rightist Nicolas Sarkozy government’s failure to resolve the strikes in the Caribbean has weakened his support in metropolitan France. A recent survey conducted by BVA/Orange showed 78 percent expressing sympathy with the LKP in Guadeloupe and finding the LKP’s demands justified. Meanwhile Sarkozy’s approval rating fell by six points in the last month.

Protests have also taken place in French-controlled Guiana on the South American continent. According to Michel Giraud, a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, “How France handles—or doesn’t know how to handle, or mishandles—its colonial heritage, this is the problem afflicting France’s suburbs.”

Developments in the islands are having a tremendous impact on the consciousness of African, Caribbean and Middle-Eastern communities in the suburbs around Paris. These areas have experienced periodic rebellions since 2005.

A communiqué from residents of the Paris suburbs says: “The people originating from the overseas territories are victims of racial discrimination and are deprived of political representation.

“Because we are Black, Arab or Moslem, our rights are ridiculed, our dignity is crushed, our cultures are scorned. In France, as in the departments and overseas territories, we all carry on the struggle against colonialism.”