Masses in New Caledonia strike against French colonizers
Published Sep 10, 2009 11:23 PM
Since the beginning of August, the struggle of oppressed workers and youth in
New Caledonia has brought tensions to heights not seen since this South Pacific
island had an armed rebellion against France in the late 1980s.
USTKE strikers in the street confronting
Marches and street sit-ins have brought protesters into direct conflict with
the police. At least two cops have been shot, and RFI reported Aug. 6 that 30
had been wounded. The left-wing union leading the struggle is the USTKE, the
Union of Kanak Workers and the Exploited (Union syndicale des travailleurs
kanaks et des exploités).
Kanak is the official name of the Indigenous people of the island.
New Caledonia is in reality a colony of France, with some special privileges
due to a sharp struggle in the 1980s. Its economy, based on the production of
nickel, has done very well recently. Growth was 5 percent a year between 2004
and 2008, and Nouméa, its capital, has set a French record for the most
luxury cars per person. (Le Monde, Aug. 23)
The economic stakes for France in New Caledonia are high. It is the
world’s fifth largest producer of nickel, a vital ingredient for
stainless steel, and has the world’s second largest reserves. Wages in
the nickel industry are high. This is why 800 to 1,200 Europeans—mainly
from France—move to the island each month.
The Kanaks, especially the youth, leave school early and live on what the
French call “small jobs,” or temporary work at low wages, and on
what they can grow in their gardens. They are shoved into ghettoes with tiny
houses or buildings that need renovation, far from the better neighborhoods,
and lack the education and skills needed for better-paying, full-time jobs.
USTKE has community organizers who travel around to these neighborhoods,
especially to help families of those arrested in the protests. (Le Monde, Aug.
23) USTKE rejects charges that it has manipulated the youth into protest and
points to “colonial police repression” as the cause of the violence
New Caledonia has suffered during August.
The spark for the current conflict was the firing of an airline worker, a
member of USTKE, for “incompetence.” The union vigorously defended
him with marches, protests and runway blockades.
In the course of the struggle, Gérard Jodar, the leader of USTKE, and some
of his comrades invaded Nouméa’s airport runway and took refuge in
planes where they were attacked by the cops. His swift sentence of a year in
prison took into account what the court called his “previous acts of
vandalism and blockades.” (Le Figaro, Aug. 25)
Jodar’s sentence was recently confirmed, but he and a number of comrades
have an appeal hearing scheduled on Sept. 15. The USTKE called a demonstration
Aug. 22 to not only demand their leader’s freedom but also to protest the
high cost of living and the “colonialism” the French state is
exhibiting in Nouméa.
A demonstration was held in Paris on Aug. 24 where the French left expressed
solidarity with USTKE. Corrine Perron, a representative of USTKE in France,
told the protest, “We gather together to denounce the colonial justice in
Nouméa and the unjustifiable condemnation of union militants in New
Caledonia. It is necessary to alert the public that New Caledonia not only
faces the threat of swine flu but also the threat of police and judicial
repression.” (Libération, Aug. 24)
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe [email protected]
Support independent news DONATE