Socialist Worker

Mass strikes spread across Guadeloupe and Martinique in response to crisis

General strikes that are taking place in French Caribbean islands are part of a global battle to stop workers paying for the crisis, writes Ken Olende

Issue No. 2139

General strikes have brought the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique to a halt.

People have also taken action on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion. All are demanding an increase in the minimum wage and lower food and fuel prices.

The rebellion started in Guadeloupe on 20 January, where it has closed shops, cafes, banks and schools and hit the tourist industry. Fuel is scarce, and much transport has ground to a halt.

Strikers are demanding a 200 euro increase in the minimum wage, and rises in payments to people on benefits.

The strike in Guadeloupe is run by the Collective Against Exploitation (LKP) – a committee including trade unions and community activists.

Two weeks ago the action spread to neighbouring Martinique. This scared the French government enough to send a unit of 130 riot police into the island.

Prices

Strikers in Martinique have added the demand for prices on a range of goods in supermarkets to be dropped by 20 percent.

As Socialist Worker went to press supermarket owners appeared to be conceding this, but were disputing whether this should be on all types of certain products, such as rice, or just certain brands of them.

 Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion, are French “overseas territories”, legally part of the country. Their residents are French citizens and the islands use the euro.

But in Guadeloupe GDP per head is only about half of that of metropolitan France, and the unemployment rate is 25 percent, rising to 50 percent for young people.

Workers and the poor in these islands feel that the rich are trying to make them pay for the recession.

This sentiment links them to the strikers in France who are continuing to organise against the Nicolas Sarkozy’s neoliberal policies.

Though it is part of the same anger against the recession that is powering the general strike in metropolitan France, local protest leaders are emphasising the history of racism that the majority of islanders have faced.

LKP leader Elie Domota said in a recent interview, “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 – building workers massacred by the gendarmes.”

Last weekend thousands of workers marched through the city of Le Moule chanting, “Guadeloupe is ours, it’s not theirs.”

They were referring to the white minority which holds economic power on an island where most of the 400,000 residents are descendants of slaves.

Christiane Taubira, a French member of parliament for another “overseas territory” French Guiana, recently told journalists that the situation in Guadeloupe was, “not far from social apartheid.”


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International
Tue 17 Feb 2009, 18:16 GMT
Issue No. 2139
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