Monday, March 09, 2009

LKP Votes to End Strike in Guadeloupe, While Negotiations Continue in Martinique and La Reunion

LKP Votes to End Strike in Guadeloupe, While Negotiations Continue in Martinique and La Reunion

More violence erupts in Martinique while France makes concessions in La Reunion

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
News Analysis

A 44-day general strike has ended in the French-controlled Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe. The Collective Against Exploitation (LKP) signed an agreement with employers on March 4.

Beginning on January 20, the LKP coalition, led by the General Union of Workers of Guadeloupe (UGTG), engaged the bosses and French colonial authorities through work stoppages, mass rallies, and the dissemination of regular reports through a web site that supplied photographs and daily briefings on strike developments.

In a statement relating to the Jacques Bino Accord, named after the trade unionist killed on February 16, which was signed by the LKP and a number of employers in Guadeloupe, union leader Rosan Mounien stated that: "From now on, things will no longer be done as before! That's over! We have come to realise that when we are together, we are stronger! So there is only one thing to do: stay together." (Links, March 8)

Mounien said that the action of the organized working class was decisive in the struggle. "When a people arise, when it develops awareness, when it is convinced of the rightness of its actions...there is nothing that can stop it. The people sweep aside all obstacles placed in their path, like a whirlwind cleaning out all the dirt in a country." (Links, March 8)

The LKP leaders and Secretary General of the UGTG, Elie Domota, said in a press conference that "To them, it is out of the question that the blacks would rebel and demand increases in their wages." (Links, March 8)

Despite the agreements signed on March 4, the preamble to the Jacques Bino Accord indicate what the LKP perceives as the underlying reasons for the strike. The Accord states "the present economic and social situation existing in Guadeloupe results from the perpetuation of the model of the plantation economy."

The Accord goes on to say that: "This economy is based on monopoly privileges and abuses of dominant positions that generate injustices that affect the workers and the endogenous economic actors and block endogenous economic and social development."

Finally the Accord calls for the end to these problems "by establishing a new economic order enhancing the status of everyone and promoting new social relationships." (Journal officiel de la Republique Francaise, March 7)

Details of the Jacques Bino Accord consist of the following: a 200 euros wage increase per month; an average 6% reduction in the price of water; the hiring of 22 Guadeloupian teachers on the waiting list; measures to aid farmers and fishers, inclulding the setting aside of 64,000 hectares of farmland for future use; lower bank service rates; lower interest rates on loans are still being negotiated; a housing rent freeze and ban on evictions; improvements in union rights, through the appointment of mediators to resolve outstanding conflicts in some major industries; and provisions for cultural development.

Martinique Strike Continues Amid Rebellions

In neighboring Martinique, the February 5 Strike Collective, is continuing with its negotiations to end the work stoppage. On March 6, a convoy led by the employers, most of whom are the so-called Bekes, descendants of French slave-owners who in conjunction with the mainland imperialists control the economy, sparked anger and violent outbursts from the workers and youth on the island.

Striking workers clashed with the business owners prompting the French riot police to launch tear gas against the people. The rebellion resulted in the injuring of four police officers.

Martinique workers set up roadblocks to halt a convoy of automobiles owned by the business owners who are demanding that the French authorities end the strike and force employees back to work. Strike leaders described the business owners demonstration as a provocation by the elites.

"Business owners and salaried employers who want to work do not have the right to protest!", according to Juvenal Remir, the president of Codema-Modef, a large agricultural workers union.

"The provocation of the beke employers, in wanting to come to Fort-de-France, has produced these predictable effects and that translates into the same arrogance they express in the negotiations," said Philippe Pierre-Charles, a member of the CMDT union that encompasses hundreds of workers. (International Herald Tribune, March 6)

An agreement reached earlier in the week, set a 200 Euros pay increase as was done in neighboring Guadeloupe. However, other issues involving support for farmers and increased funding for education are still outstanding.

La Reunion Workers Strike on March 5, Concessions Granted

In another French-controlled territory in the Indian Ocean, La Reunion, a general strike took place on March 5. As a result of French police provocation, youth began to pelt the gendarmes with rocks and set up road blockades.

According to the French Press Agency (AFP); "Hooded youths set up a roadblock near Reunion's capital, Sanint-Denis, and a separate demonstration in the city forced a supermarket to close when protestors tried to burst in." (March 5)

On March 5, thousands of workers and students marched in Saint-Denis and the town of Saint-Pierre to express their outrage over high prices, rising unemployment and the reduction in wages.

"Our objective has largely been fulfilled," said Jean-Hugues Ratenon, president of Agir Pou Nou Tourt (Act For All of Us), which is a part of a coalition consisting of 36 groups (COSPAR) that are fighting for better living conditions and wages. "Reunion is united, unified and together." (AP, March 5)

The strikers submitted a list of 62 demands to the French colonial authorities. The most prominent on the list was a wage increase similar to what was demanded in the Antilles territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique, that is a 200 Euros monthly pay increase.

The French prefect of La Reunion stated during the strike on March 5 that there would be a decrease in the cost of bottled gas beginning on March 12 and a reduction in the price of fuels starting on April 1. However, the workers were not satisfied with these concessions and pledged to fight on.

"We will lean on the victory in the Antilles to satisfy the biggest number of our grievances," said Ivan Hoareau, a trade union leader. "If we continue herem, it is to help our buddies in the Antilles." (AP, March 5)

The strike collective in La Reunion announced that if there demands were not met immediately there would be another general one-day work stoppage on March 10.

Actions in the French colonial territories since late January have highlighted the impact of the economic crisis in the western capitalist countries. The conditions of the workers have become acutely dire since because of the structural inequalities, people residing in these islands are subjected to higher prices for food, rents and other services, while their salaries are far lower that what prevails in mainland France.

The need for national independence and a break with French imperialist policy underlines the struggles in La Reunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. The writer has published a series of articles on the current situation in the French-controlled Caribbean and Indian Ocean territories.

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