WW NEWS ANALYSIS
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
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
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
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