Wednesday, February 18, 2009

General Strike Against the Economic Crisis Hits Guadeloupe and Martinique

General Strike Against the Economic Crisis Hits Guadeloupe and Martinique

French colonies in the Caribbean demand decent pay, end to racism

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

Guadeloupe, a French colony in the Caribbean, has been brought to a standstill as a result of trade union actions over last several weeks. The underlying reasons for the work stoppage stems from the global economic crisis and the total political control of Guadeloupe by the French imperialist state under the leadership of the Conservative President Nicholas Sarkozy.

The strike began on January 20 amid rising prices and worsening living conditions among the masses in these islands located some 600 km from the Dominican Republic and Haiti and 7,000km away from mainland France. On February 14, the leader of the Collective Against Exploitation (LKP), a coalition of unions and political parties that have carried out the strike, has accused the French government of sending riot police to Guadeloupe in order to assasinate its organizers.

In fact on February 17 the French police opened fire on trade union activists, killing one. There have been expressions of outrage throughout the world in regard to the failure of the colonial power in France to settle the strike in a manner that is satisfactory to the workers.

"Today given the number of gendarmes who have arrived in Guadeloupe armed to the teeth, the French state has chosen its natural path: to kill Guadeloupeans as usual," says Elie Domota. Domota, who is the leader of the LKP, is also the Secretary General of the General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG).

Domota's statement came amid the forced re-opening of petrol stations and supermarkets where armed French police units stood guard to protect the properties from striking workers. The workers have demanded that escalating fuel and food prices be lowered. The French government conceded to some of these demands and utilized these concessions to justify the re-opening of the gas stations and food stores.

Citing the historic role of France in maintaining political and economic control of the tropical islands, Domota said that "Every time there have been demonstrations in Guadeloupe to demand pay rises, the response of the state has been repression, notably in May 1967 in Pointe-a-Pitre where there were 100 deaths of building workers massacred by the gendarmes."

On February 16, the French colonial authorities arrested approximately 50 organizers and leaders of the LKP. In an appeal issued by the strike committee leadership, they convey the determination of the Sarkozy government to break the strike:

"As he had promised, Jego (the French Minister appointed to end the strike) has decided to slam down on LKP and on the people of Gwadloup. In this sense, the repressive forces are hitting as hard as they can. They have already arrested some ten people in the town of Gosier and two in Sainte Rose, whether they were demonstrators or just passers-by.

Besides, an entire battalion has been detailed to surround some fifty people, (demonstrators or passers-by) still in the town of Gosier; they are closing in, obviously meaning to hit them and arrest them."

On February 14, thousands of workers demonstrated in the town of Le Moule. The marchers walked through the area chanting "Guadeloupe is ours, it's not theirs."

This slogan, of course, related to the economic dominance of the white French minority known as "Bekes." It is this class of the population that excercises effective control over the more than 400,000 Africans who were brought to the islands during 18th and 19th centuries as slaves.

Social Apartheid in the French Colony

A French member of parliament with the overseas department of French Guiana on the South American continent, said on February 15 that the conditions in Guadeloupe is "not far from social apartheid. In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, Christine Taubira stated that "the leaders of the LKP are not anti-white racists. They are exposing a reality...a caste holds economic power and abuses it."

The strike has closed most shops, restaurants, schools, banks and government offices. France has adamantly refused to grant the majority of the demands of the LKP, which consists of a monthly raise of EUR200 ($259US).

In neighboring Martinique, workers have joined their counterparts in Guadeloupe in a general strike that began on February 5.

On February 14, a mass demonstration in the capital of Martinique demanded greater economic and political power for the African majority. The French elite who are the descendants of the former plantation owners in Martinique, still control the economic institutions that make up the basis of the domestic and foreign trade.

The "Bekes", who only comprise 1 percent of the population, which is officially stated at 401,000, still controls the economy as a whole. An Associated Press article on February 16 points out: "Many working class families are struggling to make ends meet amid a global economic crisis, exposing racial tensions 160 years after slavery ended in Martinique."

In addition, the article notes that "Police say the protests remain peaceful, and 130 riot police arrived from France this week to keep order."

This nonetheless goes on to emphasize that although the situation has not become seriously violent, "But racial sentiments were inflamed after a one-hour documentary, 'The last owners of Martinique,' was shown on TV last week. The program focused on how the white minority group has dominated the economy."

In an Associated Press article published on February 10, it highlights the mass demonstrations and work stoppages that have been taking place in Martinique. "University students and artisans in the French Caribbean island of Martinique are protesting the high cost of living," the AP article reports.

"All major commercial centers, gas stations and businesses remained closed on Tuesday (February 10) as the protest entered its sixth day. Government officials have met with protesters, who demand a 30 percent overall reduction in prices. Union leaders have said they would agree to a 10 percent reduction among some products. No agreement has been reached.

"Police have said that 11,000 protesters crowded the streets of Martinique's capital. Union leaders say it was more than double that number." (AP, February 10)

In Guadeloupe since January 20, forty-seven trade unions, associations and political parties have refused to work and attend schools. A demonstration of 25,000 people was held on January 24.

Some of the 146 demands put forward by the LKP includes the reduction of fuel prices by 50%, the lowering of prices for transport services and water, an immediate freeze on rents, more job security for temporary employees, greater educational opportunities for youth and an end to racism in employment pratices.

Guadeloupe has been a French colony since 1812. Although the island was ostensibly integrated into the French state after World War II in 1946, the country has remained in poverty.

Unemployment stands officially at 23 percent and the price of necessities are anywhere between 30 and 60 percent higher than what prevails in France. In a report issued on February 16 by the European statistics agency, Eurostats, it documents that the French Overseas territories had some of the highest unemployment rates in the European Union.

In this regard, "The Indian Ocean island of Reunion topped the list, with 25.2%, followed by Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana, all in the Caribbean region.

"The two Spanish enclaves in Morocco - Ceuta and Melilla - came next, with rates of 20.3% and 18.2%, respectively." (BBC, February 16)

Guadeloupe is a recognized region of France and is controlled by the local council dominated by the French Socialist Party (PS). Even though the PS is in opposition to the Conservative government of Sarkozy, no real solidarity efforts have been forthcoming for the workers in Guadeloupe.

Cynthia McKinney, MXGM Expresses Solidarity

In the United States, former Congresswoman from Georgia and Green Party candidate for president in 2008, Cynthia McKinney, issued a statement of support to the workers in Guadeloupe on February 7.

McKinney said in part that: "I call on the authorities in Guadeloupe and in France to heed the workers' and people's just demands--and I urge the authorities to refrain from using any form of intimidation, pressure or repression against this powerful movement."

The former Congresswoman continued by pointing that: "The eyes of the world are focused on Guadeloupe. Israel has shown the world that the massive use of force does not ensure victory. Indeed, it is counter-productive."

McKinney also states that "Any use of force by the authorities against people excercising their rights is not acceptable. It is not by repression and the deployment of police and shock troops that a solution will be found."

Another organization, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) also issued a statement on February 13 in solidarity with the people of Guadeloupe and warned the French government to refrain from inflicting human rights violations on the workers engaging in economic and political struggles.

The statement reads: "The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) denounces in the strongest terms the threatening posture of the French government to the peoples of Guadaloupe and Martinique. We will not sit idly by and let the French government continue to treat our brothers and sisters as colonial subjects, or worse."

The organization says that "We stand in full support of the just demands of the people's movements of Guadaloupe and Martinique for economic, social, and cultural rights, human dignity, and self-determination.

"MXGM serves notice to the French government that the resolution to the crisis in Guadaloupe and Martinique can only be addressed through diplomatic means in full accord with international law."

The Need for International Solidarity

Although the one day strike by French workers on January 29 received some press coverage in the United States, the events in Guadeloupe and Martinique have gone largely unnoticed by the corporate-controlled media. Both of these actions represent the workers' response to the burgeoning economic crisis engendered by capitalist overproduction.

In specific reference to Guadeloupe and Martinique, both of these territories are still subjected to colonial rule and its concomitant exploitation of labor as well as institutional racism. The peoples of Guadeloupe and Martinique have an inherent right to self-determination and national independence.

Despite the disadvantaged conditions that the masses in Guadeloupe are struggling against, they are pointing the way for the coming struggles of working class people throughout the capitalist world. The building of a united front, the coming together of trade unions and peoples' organizations is key in any process aimed at fighting against the current crisis in world capitalism.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. Azikiwe has been following the current situation in Guadeloupe and Martinique over the last several weeks.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I think that at some times, it is good to rebel against the power, for instance, I do not know what would I do I couldn't get Cheap Viagra anymore, I think I would strike too!