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Martinique general strike ends in victory: Mobilisations, victories in overseas colonies set example for French workers

Demonstration in St-Denis, La Réunion, March 11.

By Richard Fidler

March 18, 2009 -- Life on the Left -- A 38-day general strike in the Caribbean colony of Martinique ended March 14 with the signing of a protocol between the government and the February 5 Collective, a coalition of trade unions and other social movements named after the day the strike began. The agreement grants the coalition’s key demands. About 20,000 people celebrated the historic victory in a march through the streets.

AFP reported that “the signing ceremony drew a crowd of thousands who gathered outside the island’s head administrative office. They repeatedly chanted a slogan ‘Matinik leve,’ or ‘Martinique stand up’ in the local Creole language.”

On the day before, thousands marched through the capital, Fort-de-France, chanting slogans directed at the békés, the wealthy white descendants of colonists and slaveowners who dominate Martinique’s economy. Most of the island’s population is descended from African slaves brought to work on its colonial-era sugar plantations.

The draft agreement, reached early in the morning of March 11, calls for a €200 ($250 US) monthly wage increase for 47,000 low-wage earners, with smaller increases for those with higher incomes. Workers will get retroactive pay to March 1. Major business owners had already agreed to lower prices on roughly 400 basic necessities by 20 per cent one month after stores reopen.

These and other terms are similar to the agreement that ended a 44-day general strike on the neighboring island of Guadeloupe on March 4. See “First Victory” in Guadeloupe general strike; Movement spreads to other French colonies.

Michel Monrose, the head of the February 5 Collective, told AFP that the collective “reserves the right to re-launch the strike if the accords are not respected”.

Strike movement spreads to La Réunion

In the Indian ocean colony of La Réunion, a coalition headed by trade unions continues to press for an accord similar to those reached in the Caribbean colonies. In recent weeks, the island of 800,000 inhabitants has seen huge demonstrations of up to 35,000 marching in support of their demands. So far, however, ongoing negotiations with representatives of the employers and French government officials have stalled, achieving only a freeze on rents in social housing.

The coalition has called for another massive mobilisation on March 19 in solidarity with the general strike scheduled for that day in France.

At a mass rally in St-Denis on March 5, Gilles Leperlier, a leader of COSPAR, the organising coalition, described what it is and what it wants.

“COSPAR”, he said, “is above all a genuine collective, a coalition of trade unions, political organisations and community movements, a coalition without precedent in the recent history of La Réunion. COSPAR is the Collectif des Organisations Syndicales, Politiques et Associatives de La Réunion. It was formed at La Possession on February 5, 2009, and quickly was joined by les forces vives — the bone and sinew — of Réunion society, a total of 45 organisations come together to defend a set of immediate demands and develop, consensually, a platform of demands to end La Réunion’s economic dependency and put an end to the social injustice that prevails... COSPAR belongs to the Réunionnais and to no one else!”

Leperlier noted that 52% of the population of La Réunion lives below the poverty line, and 24% of the workforce is unemployed. COSPAR has advanced 62 specific demands as “an initial basis” for action. It echoes many of the demands, now won, in Guadeloupe and Martinique: an immediate €200 increase in the lowest wages and pensions, the minimum wage and student bursaries; a 20% reduction in the prices of basic consumer goods; a freeze on rents and the construction of social housing; equal wages for women; taxation of the wealthy (some 800 rich families currently pay no income taxes).

“But the COSPAR sees further”, Leperlier said. “Something is developing in the Overseas Territories (France’s name for its colonies), a vast movement challenging the situations of privilege, a social and political movement that will not stop until the overseas territories have taken in hand their own destiny and put an end to the iniquity of a system that maintains them in economic dependence.”

Guadeloupe strike leader facing legal assault by French government

In Guadeloupe, where the 44-day general strike ended March 4 with a “first victory” on the major demands of the organising coalition, the LKP, the employers’ federation MEDEF, a local branch of the one in mainland France, is attempting to renege on the settlement signed by its representatives and the French government.

Some MEDEF members left the negotiating table before the deal was signed, and are now challenging its legality. Addressing a mass rally on March 13, LKP leader Elie Domota read off a long list of major employers that had signed the final accord, and denounced French officials — including the local prefect (governor) and a cabinet minister who signed it — who are now challenging certain aspects. “The comrades were right to mobilise in their companies to demand enforcement of the accord”, he said. Some workers are still on strike in industries where the bosses have not signed.

Domota also denounced attempts by MEDEF to reinterpret the accord. The accord provided that the €200 increase on low wages would be paid on a shared basis by the employers, local government and the French state for three years, after which it would be paid in full by the bosses. The latter are now claiming the wage increase would cease after three years, despite a clear provision to the contrary!

And French officials and politicians, debating the accord in the French parliament, are now challenging the language in the preamble to the accord, which calls for a “new economic order” to end the “plantation economy” model that blocks “endogenous economic and social development”.

More seriously, Elie Domota himself has been charged by the French attorney-general for French overseas departments and territories with “fomenting provocations and promoting the use of force to extort the signing” of the accord. And he has threatened legal action against the trade union leader for “provoking discrimination, hatred and violence against a category of persons based on their ethnic origin”.

Guadeloupe - main strike leader

Elie Domota.

A US-based solidarity group, the International Liaison Committee, explains:

This announcement of possible legal action by the French authorities came in response to a statement made by Domota to a celebration rally on Thursday, March 5 — the day after the Jacques Bino agreement was signed. (Bino was the trade unionist killed the night of Feb. 16 by bullets now widely believed to have been fired by masked government provocateurs who infiltrated one of the barricades on the outskirts of Pointe-à-Pítre.)

In response to a question from the crowd as to whether the French government and the white ruling elite in Guadeloupe, the Béké, could be trusted to live up to the signed agreement and to pay the 200 euro monthly increase in the minimum wage, Domota stated: “Either they respect and implement the agreement, or they will leave Guadeloupe… We have to be very firm about this. We will not allow a band of Béké to re-establish slavery on our soil.”

The attack by the Attorney General against Domota is an attack against the UGTG, which was the backbone of the general strike movement. It echoes the racist diatribes in the French media against the people of Guadeloupe and the LKP Strike Collective, in particular. The media portrayed the French government as the victim of “mob violence” that had compelled the government to sign an unjust agreement under duress and in violation of all conventional labor relations.

This reference to a “mob” — a reference to the overwhelming Black majority on the island — is not only racist to the core, it shows the total contempt by the colonial authorities for the democratic aspirations of an entire people. It reveals the deep fear of the Béké, as the ATPC communiqué puts it, that their stronghold over political power and their privileges have been greatly undermined by the powerful general strike movement that swept the entire country.

The question that arises is this: Does the announcement by the Attorney General against Domota foreshadow an attempt by the French government to invalidate, through the courts, the agreement signed officially by all the concerned parties on March 4th at 8 p.m.? Given the wording of the charges, it appears that this may be the intent. We urge you to join us in demanding of the French government: “Hands Off Elie Domota! Implement the Jacques Bino Agreement!”

In France, the major trade unions have called for a day of general strike and mass mobilisations on March 19 to protest private and public sector layoffs and support demands for major increases in minimum wages, pensions and other social benefits to confront the developing economic and social crisis. A supporting statement issued by the major left parties cites the strikes and victories in the colonies as an example of the kinds of mobilisations that must be built in the metropolis.

Further information and updates (in French):

La Réunion

Témoignages, http://www.temoignages.re/

Guadeloupe

LKP: http://lkp.e3b.org/dotclear/index.php?

UGTG: http://ugtg.org/?lang=cpf_gp

Martinique

Collectif 5 février: http://collectif5fevrier.org/

France

Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA): http://www.npa2009.org/

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L'Humanite: The Enduring Legacy of Slavery

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE : L’esclavage en héritage

By Rosa Moussaoui

The Enduring Legacy of Slavery

Translated mercredi 25 mars 2009, par Isabelle Metral

In the French Caribbean "départements", the "békés" (white natives) try to vindicate themselves by passing themselves off as “scapegoats”.

In a controversial debate in Paris, representatives of the Carribean white natives rather unsuccessfully tried to persuade the audience they were not the heirs of the rich slave owners of the colonial era.

To show that "Békés" are unjustly demonized : such is the mission that Patrick Karam has set himself, and it is a hard task indeed. Last Thursday at the state secretariat for the overseas départements and territories in Paris, the Félix-Boué conference room was exceptionally packed full for a debate organized by the inter-ministerial delegation for equal opportunities for France’s overseas populations. The theme was : “The ’Békés’ place in French Caribbean society : myth and reality.”

The document distributed at the entrance door immediately set the tone : the European settlers’ descendants, it read, are not inheritors. “Very few béké families succeeded in handing down to their present descendants any legacy they might have received.” Indeed (so the introduction ran) “békés now constitute a heterogeneous group, since its members will be found in all social and economic walks, whether among doctors, lawyers (…) or minimum wage earners, even people on welfare.”

The panel of debaters itself was a heterogeneous lot : Willy Angèle, president of the Guadeloupe employers’ association, béké entrepreneur Roger de Jaham, agriculturalist Jean-Louis de Lucy, the Guadeloupe white native and famous rhum baron Hervé Damoiseau, Philippe Lavil, a popular singer, and José-Marraud-Desgrottes, an accountant. Besides these, Serge Romana, president of the committee for the 98 march, Daniel Dalin, president of the overseas départements and territories collective, and Pierre Pluton, mayor of Evry-Grégy-sur-Yerres were invited to question the “ békés’ representatives”.

Willy Angèle, president of the Guadeloupe employers’ association, shrugged off Alain Huyghes-Despointes’s notorious racist statement, which has met with indignant protest. “You’ll always get people who’ll speak of race purity. I just am not interested, I just zap them,” he declared. “What I’m interested in is Guadeloupe’s economic development.” And he went on to praise “an open creole identity”, quoting Edouard Glissant, and exhorting the audience to “turn to the future”. “There is nothing we can change about our past, but we can do something about our future.”

Next, entrepreneur Roger de Janham, who founded the “Tous créoles !” (we are all of us creole) association, made a highly risky start : ”Suppose that in all that has been said here, we replace the word ‘béké’ with the word ‘Jew’…” but before he could finish the sentence, the obscenity of the parallel had drawn shouts of indignant protest from the audience, forcing him to make a fresh start, though never deserting his role as supposed victim. Speaking of “ethnic cleansing” in 1794, he evoked the execution, in Guadeloupe, on the Convention commissioner‘s order [1], of the settlers who balked at the abolition of slavery. “In Martinique,” he says, “it was thanks to the English protectorate that békés escaped being slaughtered.”

Then, but only then, Roger de Jaham reminded the audience how, as early as 1998, he recognized that slavery was a crime against humanity, adding that on every 22nd of May his association takes part in the celebrations of abolition. But he nevertheless insisted he “could not change his past.”

José Marraud-Desgrottes inveighed against the “myth” that békés are rich, and that they supposedly dominate the islands’ economy. He estimates their weight in the economy at only 14%. Unemployment among Martinique’s qualified young people is “much below the French average”, he claimed, without mentioning the number of those compelled to leave the island in order to seek jobs elsewhere. As to the high cost of living, “that has been largely a subjective feeling.” The fact that the price for a kilo of bananas is higher in Fort-de-France [2] than in Paris does not shock him. His creed is that work is the key to individual success. “I did not inherit my land. I bought it from my uncle, on credit,” he argued. “The money that the state gave békés to compensate for the abolition of slavery is not what permitted this social group to thrive,” another speaker insisted [3]. “Békés are not inheritors,” argued Roger de Jaham, “the land has changed hands several times.” “But the houses were handed down from one béké to another !” an infuriated RFO reporter exploded.

The picture of a social group whose modest, unassuming members worked their ways to prosperity by their own merit carried little weight with the audience. “Nobody is going to believe that békés are not a privileged group, that all of them have repudiated the racism handed down from the days of slavery,” broke in Serge Romana, and invited the speakers to listen to and understand the sufferings, and to open their eyes to the distortions and painful wounds left by that period in history.”

A hot dispute ensued, with distinct overtones of bitterness and resentment throughout the exchanges, showing the crisis to be a social, rather than a “racial” crisis. A man summed up the wall of misunderstanding that divides the people from the rich owners’ class in the Antilles in the following terms : ”whether real or imaginary, békés stand for economic power. Who owns Martinique ? Certainly not my father…”

Translator’s notes :

[1] The National Convention (1792-1795) voted the abolition of slavery on the initiative of an abbot, l’abbé Grégoire, a great historical figure. Slavery was made legal again under Napoleon, despite Grégoire’s opposition and eventually abolished in 1848 under the Second Republic.

[2] Fort de France is Martinique’s capital.

[3] Concerning this compensation money : The French text says the very opposite, that the békés gave the state money for the abolition of slavery ("Les indemnités offertes à l’État par les békés ") ; but clearly, this a mistake in the text. It is a well-known fact that the slave owners were compensated by the State for the emancipation of their slaves.

L'Humanite: Class struggle in Martinique in historical context

Translated Sunday 4 October 2009, by Kieran O’Meara and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Born in 1925, the author of a "History of Martinique" in three volumes, as well as numerous works about the French Carribean, the Martinican historian Armand Nicolas gives us an analysis of the general strike in Martinique.

How would you analyze the general strike taking place on Martinique and Guadeloupe?

Armand Nicolas. I believe that we have just experienced the most significant social movement ever to take place in Martinique. The Martinican working class has a strong tradition of struggle behind it. A number of strikes, involving bloodshed for the most part, have marked its history. That of February 1900, or the great civil service strike of 1951... We have a tradition. But a movement as large, as diverse, and as powerful as this one is exceptional. One cannot say definitively today what the consequences of such of such a phenomenon will be. It has very strongly affected people’s minds. Beyond the trades unions, who took the initiative in the struggle, other social groups joined up with it. They allied themselves to the movement, which they saw as their standard-bearer. That gave rise to the Collectif du 5 février which brought together almost every section of society, except for the wealthy. Its demands have made it a very broad anti-capitalist movement. It’s also a very deep movement, in the sense that it has not limited itself to one or two major demands but has instead raised all the questions which working people, in their diversity, are faced with. It has, moreover, a platform of demands which lists most of the problems faced in Martinique right now, whether they might be economic, social or cultural problems. This is a new phenomenon. We had been accustomed to the classic approach. Relatively limited, quite precise demands. But in this case, however, it’s as if everyone who had thought about their problems rallied together, and found themselves engaged in a common action. What was most striking was, despite the diversity involved, how cohesive the movement was.

What other Martinican social movements does the present movement bring to mind?

Armand Nicolas. The movement of February the 5th 2009 calls to mind the one that took place in February 1935, with the sheer force of the working masses, with the added meaning of the organization of its struggle through the setting up of trade unions. It was at this time that most of the big unions were set up. It was the period of the Popular Front in France, which was marked in Martinique for several months by a number of social movements which carried with them wide sections of both the public and private sector workforce. Strikes and demonstrations, which saw the organized Martinican working class come into being along with the trade unions. Different sectors fought for the same aims: higher wages and salaries, the forty-hour week... However, they didn’t rally together. Each sector fought from its own corner at the same time. In any case, this led to a series of victories by the working class such as paid holidays and the family allowance... February 1935, February 2009. February is a favourable month for social upheavals which bring about quite far-reaching change. The most important characteristic of this strike was its strength. Its organization. Discipline and cohesion carried through to the end. The tactics were sound despite the difficulties which began to appear towards the end. You felt that the movement was beginning to slacken. Its opponents, whether they might be the state or the employers, tried to use methods of attrition. Causing the negotiations to drag on at length to tire people out. It wasn’t by chance that the békés entered the fray with their tractors. One more provocation could have really set things off.

How did the remarks made by the béké Huyghes Despointes go down after the Canal Plus documentary "Les Derniers Maîtres de la Martiniques" (The Last Masters of Martinique) was broadcast?

Armand Nicolas. The social movement was galvanized, in a way, by the positions taken up by some of the more backward and reactionary sections of the békés. The Despointes family, the Hayots, who are in fact still the great feudal masters of the country, were trying to bring about a violent situation. They had everything to gain from it. To cause things to explode. To lead people to resort to violence. They would have fallen on their feet if they could have blamed the people for the resulting unrest. It is, moreover, quite a new thing to see the békés take to the streets, to join in by setting up barricades. It shows how isolated they are. Because if they take to the streets, it’s because they can’t find anyone willing to do it for them. The Collectif movement was well organized. Well structured. The risk that, as time elapsed, the struggle would be given up because of the belief that most of what needed to be done had been achieved, turned out to be empty. However, such a long strike is not to be taken lightly. Not only do people lose money, life itself becomes difficult. A great deal of what was most important was won by the Collectif. This shows that when you fight you can win.

With the actions that are still going on right now, is the movement going to quietly fizzle out or will it burst out again?

Armand Nicolas. It’s quite hard to say. If you take the experience, and what has been done right up to the present, into account, there’s a point at which, in the case of long movements, they become tiring. And a general strike isn’t going to start up again in the next fortnight! Unless something serious takes place. For example, if the employers refuse to pay the wage increases. Certain conditions could bring about a revival of the movement. But, on the whole, I don’t think that’s going to happen very quickly. The risk is that the consequences of ongoing actions at individual firms could intensify. Some people, who don’t believe they have got what they had demanded, might continue their individual struggles. However, we won’t end up with another general strike.

Opponents of the movement have spoken of an independence movement with racist aspects. What do you think of this?

Armand Nicolas. As far as the question of racism goes, it’s not difficult to answer. It is the békés who have brought it into the equation. And that might well be a manoeuvre to make public opinion, especially public opinion elsewhere, believe that the movement is a social movement in appearance only, but that in reality we want to slit the throats of the whites. A way to arouse a solidarity movement against black savages ready to cut the heads off their white fathers. Huyghes Despointes was pouring petrol onto fire with his statements. There again we have the worst-case scenario. Forcing the other to take up attitudes and to make gestures that go against the interests of the people. When the békés tried to form barricades with their tractors and the demonstrators wouldn’t let them through, they claimed straightaway that weren’t being prevented from moving around the island. It was an attack on their freedoms. The racial aspect introduced into the movement, by the békés themselves, notably through Despointes’s statements, had no sequels. Moreover, the presence of white people in the demonstrations showed that the Martinicans hadn’t fallen into the trap. To say that separatists had pushed for the strike wasn’t true. The slogan, "Matinik cé ta nou cé pa ta yo!" (Martinique is ours, not theirs!), is not necessarily a separatist slogan. The Martinican would like to take back her past, her culture, her world, her consciousness and her personality. She has affirmed this. In its struggle for progress, the people is aware that it is facing a white aristocracy, with békés among them much of the time. And that aristocracy is exploitive and profiteering. Hence the term "la pwofitasyon".

There is an aristocracy which is white, béké, and capitalist, but there is also black capitalism too...

Armand Nicolas. That which has appeared in Martinique as a crisis of capitalism makes the capitalists responsible for it. Two camps stand out. The opponent which needs to be overturned is capitalism. White for the most part in Martinique, even if the others shouldn’t be forgotten. What the Collectif showed was that it fought the opponent no matter what colour it was. One mustn’t delude the Martinican into thinking that black capitalism would be any better than white capitalism. At the moment, there is a section of the békés who are trying to reach out to people of colour through the Tous créoles (All creoles together) association. [1] This movement, which gathers together elements of the Martinican petite-bourgeoisie along with a small group of békés, is nothing new. "All creoles", that’s Bissette in 1848 (Cyrille Bissette, a Martinican abolitionist elected to the legislature in the election of 9 August 1848- Editor’s note). When faced with the upheaval of the abolition of slavery, as at all great turning-points in history, the ruling class didn’t put all its eggs in one basket. A way to make a small sacrifice. In appearance. Hypocritically. Today Tous créoles exists in a different context. It’s a movement which is in no way surprising because this is the kind of move that the ruling class always makes, in order to hold on to its power to the greatest extent possible, when change is underway. That’s also the reason some békés have opposed Huyghes Despointes.

Is there a connection between the strike movement and the legacy of slavery?

Armand Nicolas. Yes and no. When the Martinican says: "péyi a sé ta nou cé pa ta yo" ("This country belongs to us, not to you") - "yo" means the békés of today. But we think that it has always been them from the very beginning. In my opinion that’s the sole connection between the past and the present. It’s a struggle with the same people pitted against the same adversary. (C’est le combat des mêmes contre les mêmes. Literally- "It is a struggle of the same people against the same people.). It’s true, on the whole, but it’s not exactly true. Today’s society is not that of 1848. The social structures are different, and many other things are different as well. But when you have an expression like "C’est le combat des mêmes contre les mêmes", it means, in the broadest sense, it’s a struggle of the exploited classes against the ruling classes, which have been the same for a long time. With the exception that the latter are no longer slave-owners but are now capitalists. In my opinion, that’s the connection that was made. Undoubtedly, this movement has brought about a profound state of reflection among the people of Martinique. How to leave their demands aside to think about other fundamental problems: the Martinican character, identity and culture... It had struck me well before the movement arrived. The last ten years have been heading towards this evolution.

The Martinicans, like the Guadeloupeans, say they have rediscovered solidarity with each other and the island’s own home-grown produce... What do you think of this?

Armand Nicolas. You could say that this happened out of necessity because nothing else was available. I don’t think one should be too optimistic. These questions won’t be answered at a deep level or in a short space of time. It’s a phenomenon which will progress and grow. The economy, that is to say the real economy, is organized in such a way that it has us within its grasp. We don’t produce enough. Not enough fish, nor enough meat. Not enough sugar. Too many bananas perhaps? This country’s economy is still a neocolonial economy. We’re inside it. And it hasn’t disappeared because we had this general strike, however great it might have been. When the supermarkets opened their doors, we had to go there to buy cooking oil. And other basic food items as well. Everyone knows that it’s more convenient to go to the supermarket than to twenty different little shops. For all sorts of reasons, we’re still very much caught within the system even if we’ve become reacquainted with our native produce. We now understand the factors which prevented us from dying of hunger perhaps. Moving on to another philosophy of consumption will be more difficult. But the fact must not escape us that, in our shared consciousness, the emergence of that idea was helpful to us.

What do you think of Sarkozy’s Estates-General of the Overseas Territories?

Armand Nicolas. Sarkozy’s Estates-General are not the Estates-General of the people of Martinique. Even if this consultative process tallies with our preoccupations as the Communist Party of Martinique have been calling for an Estates-General for years. We have sought responsibilities, not the kind of Estates-General on offer now, which are a means to call a halt to the movement. "I will grant you an Estates-General, where you can speak freely in whatever way you choose. In the meantime, however, get back to work." It’s a trick. These Estates-General are well supervised. With a super-prefect, who is black, of course. People will fall into the trap. But what kind of Estates-General is on offer? From the point of view of its structure and execution, the authorities and the servants of power are going to arrange something which will be acceptable to them. They will be Sarkozy’s Estates-General. With some new ideas which won’t get very far. The political organizations are, moreover, quite reserved as far as this subject is concerned. The Estates-General of the Overseas Territories? Sé ta yo! Sé pa ta nou! (Its theirs, not ours!).

What would you say to the Martinicans in regards to the 22nd of May (Abolition Day) and the commemorations of that event? And what would you say about the status of the Overseas Territories which might be of contemporary relevance?

Armand Nicolas. The 22nd of May is arriving on top of the period we’ve just lived through. This coincidence of events risks carrying more weight than it has in the past. But that would be nothing extraordinary. When the slogan first appeared, it was said that nothing in Martinique would ever be the same again. However, there hasn’t been a revolution. For as long as the colonial power stays in place unchanged, and the capitalist class remains unchanged, nothing will change. As long as power remains in the hands of the neocolonialists and the local aristocracy, Martinique will be as it always has been. The movement of the Collectif of February the 5th will not have been of much use. But if, little by little, our people becomes conscious of itself, if people who, at the beginning, were whining because things weren’t moving quickly enough for them, because an historic opportunity had been missed and time had been wasted, pull themselves together, we can be optimistic. Things will come about when they must come about. When the conditions are ripe. As many Martinicans as possible must be brought together around the problem of the change of status, as far as the Constitution currently permits. This possibility must be put to use, while fully conscious that it is not a definitive solution, or a panacea. A means, however, to work towards what we truly hope for. If people are not made aware that consultation on the change of status is in the spirit of the February movement, then we’ll have failed.

[1] An association with the aim of bringing blacks and whites together created by the béké Roger de Jaham.

The People of Guadeloupe demonstrate in the streets again

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les Guadeloupéens redescendent dans la rue

By Rosa Moussaoui

Translated Saturday 17 October 2009, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Derek Hanson

French overseas département. The demonstration called by the LKP on Saturday brought out 25,000 demonstrators in the streets of Pointe-à-Pitre. The trade unions on the island are demanding that the agreement signed on March 4, 2009, be respected.

The call for a mobilization issued by the Guadeloupe collective Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (LKP) met with complete success on Saturday. About 25,000 people, according to the organizers, staged a peaceful, festive and joyful march in the streets of Pointe-à-Pitre to demand complete respect for the agreement on prices, wages, and jobs that was signed on March 4, 2009, following a 44-day general strike on the island. The strike notice for a renewable 24-hour strike that was filed by the inter-trade union organization demands, among other things, “the abandonment of the gasoline price increase” of six euro-cents decided by the government in mid-September, “the adoption of an emergency plan for jobs, hiring, and job training,” “an increase of government-guaranteed minimum social benefits and benefits for the handicapped,” “adherence to the agreements on price reductions” or again “the reclassification of all temporary hirings as permanent hirings in both the public and private sectors.”

“Today we passed the test, the people of Guadeloupe remain highly mobilized,” commented Elie Domota, the LKP spokesman, in a telephone interview conducted during the demonstration. For Domota, “the ball is now in the government’s court. It has to keep its word and respect the agreement that was signed.” The trade unionists, association members and political leaders who make up the LKP collective have not ruled out hardening their position after this first day of mobilization in order to enforce the agreement and to reopen negotiations on such burning, unanswered subjects as the youth unemployment rate, which exceeds 50% on the island. “This demonstration, which many thought we wouldn’t be able to pull off, won’t be a one-shot affair. We will start over, we will down tools again if necessary, until we win satisfaction of our demands,” warned Jean-Marie Nomertin, the general secretary of the CGT-G trade union.

Meeting of the committee to ensure application of the agreement.

On the nearby island of Martinique the mobilization did not meet with the same response. A thousand demonstrators gathered in Fort-de-France to answer the call issued by the Collectif du 5 février. According to the CGT-M trade union, “27,000 people, out of 70,000 who are entitled to it” still have not obtained the 200-euro wage increase won in March.

The government’s fear of new social unrest on Guadeloupe is apparent. When on Thursday the junior minister for overseas départements, Marie-Luce Penchard, finally answered a letter from the LKP, which demands that the committee to ensure application of the March agreement meet soon, she said she received the request “with interest.” “I am asking the prefect of Guadeloupe to hold a meeting of all the signatories, if the social situation allows /.../ to draw up an objective account of the commitments that each has undertaken, that is to say, the national government, local governments, and labor and management,” she wrote in her answer, going to announce that "she herself, on a coming visit, will preside over a work meeting /.../ to take decisions that will make it possible to attain all of the goals that have been established.”

All of her promises have been received with suspicion by the LKP, which is waiting for concrete decisions. “We are waiting for the prefect’s call,” insisted Elie Domota. “We’re not going to let them tell us tall tales. It has been six months since this agreement was supposed to come into force.” One person’s word against another? To shed light on the broken commitments, Domota proposes the organization of a live television debate with Marie-Luce Penchard.

Police violence in La Réunion

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Violences policières à La Réunion

By Geoffroy Géraud

Translated Wednesday 21 October 2009, by David Lundy and reviewed by Henry Crapo

REPRESSION: A group of armed and balaclava-clad police officers looking for a communist activist caused panic in a working class district of Saint-Louis on Wednesday.

La Réunion, special correspondent.

Last Sunday, by-elections were held in La Réunion, following cancelations by the Council of State. In the four polls, it was progressives who won the day, confirming the successes of March 2008.

A strained climate hung over the campaign which followed the election cancellations. Tensions reached their height in Saint-Louis, confronting out-going Mayor Claude Hoarau, who heads the electoral list of the Communist Party of Réunion (CPR), and his adversary from the New Centre Party, Cyrille Hamilcaro. Supporters of the latter drew attention to themselves even before the beginning of the campaign, with a series of provocations and insults directed at Communists and members of other left-wing parties. This strategy was as much about intimidating voters as it was about provoking activists on the left. Surely with the overall objective to provide justification for recourse to the use of the police against their opponents.

Losing ground day by day, the New Centre candidate resorted to calling in the mayor of Drancy, Jean-Christophe Lagarde (New Centre). Having travelled more than 10,000 kilometres to provide support for his "friend", Lagarde threw a considerable amount of oil on the fire, insulting the communist candidate and the people of Réunion on more than one occasion, comparing the island to ’Colombia’ and ’Nicaragua’.

Blunders and brutality

It was in this tense atmosphere that the Saint-Louis local elections were held, eventually confirming the victory of the list lead by Claude Hoarau, with 53% of the votes.

However, Saint-Louis did not return to calm. Just three days after the defeat of the New Centre candidate, a group of armed and balaclava-clad police officers caused turmoil/ructions in a working class area of Saint-Louis, in their effort to arrest a communist activist. The person concerned had received no summons, nor had he received a scrap of information from the law. It was with a blunder that this heavy-handed arrest began. Before sunrise, in a veritable military operation, the special agents entered the home of Isabella Françoise, her daughter and her three-year-old baby. After three pump-action rifle shots at the front door, armed men ransacked the small apartment, breaking doors, turning over the furniture in search of "evidence". Pointing their loaded weapons at the occupants of the house, including the terrified young girl, who tried to escape through a window several metres above ground. Finally realising their error, the police officers then entered the adjoining home, repeating the same violent scenario. While three of them seized communist activist Roger Derfla without any explanation, the others pointed their weapons at his terrified wife and children.

Meanwhile, other arrests were made in Saint-Louis, all targeting activists from the Communist Party of Réunion. Is this an attempt to block the construction of an alternative to the crisis, an alternative promoted especially by the CPR, which more and more people are supporting? If this the case, who is it who is trying to w maintain of a status quo built on injustice and exploitation, by means of provoking a return to the violence of the past?

Another Plan for French Overseas Departements and Territories

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’Élysée bricole un plan de plus pour l’outre-mer

by Rosa Moussaoui

The French Presidency Cobbles Together Yet Another Plan for the Overseas Departements and Territories

Translated Thursday 12 November 2009, by Gene Zbikowski

On Nov. 6, French president Nicolas Sarkozy presented the measures put forward at the close of the fact-finding hearings on the French overseas départements and territories. The hearings were decided on last Spring. It was an opportunity to recycle old remedies: competition, tax breaks, and gifts to the employers.

It took ten long months, following the development of an unprecedented social crisis in the overseas départements, for the government to unveil its “plan to modernize the overseas départements and territories,” a plan the French president had promised in February. Yesterday, Nicolas Sarkozy presided over an inter-ministerial meeting on the question before presenting, at the presidential palace, the 137 measures put forward by the fact-finding hearings on the French overseas départements and territories. The hearings had been decided on as a measure to soothe anger following the 44-day general strike on Guadeloupe and the 33-day general strike on Martinique. In the French presidency’s view, these measures concern “the reinforcement of private-sector competition, the development and structuring of local industries, the modification of the rules of governance, a better integration of the territories in their regional environment, and concrete improvements to guarantee equal opportunity.” This amounts to taking note of the damning social and economic situation revealed by the labor and social movements in the Spring, while remaining within the bounds of the free trade policies whose consequences have been disastrous. This comes at a time when the social situation has worsened in the overseas départements and when the unemployment rate, already twice to three times the rate in continental France, has jumped by 15% in one year.

Thus Nicolas Sarkozy has promised “energetic measures” to “reinforce competition” in order to fight against “the high cost of living.” He pled for “a locally-developed economic model which is likely to favor the creation of wealth and of local jobs.” Finally, as regards politics, he defended the opening of a “historic new cycle, marked by a new and improved relationship with continental France.” But, he warned, “these territories are a part of France, and they will remain so.” The policies of tax breaks and gifts to the employers, which inspired the law on the development of the overseas départements and territories (Lodeom) which was voted in the Spring, remain the cornerstone of overseas policy. An example is the fact that, of the 118 million euros in additional credits that the French National Assembly voted Wednesday for the overseas départements and territories, 92.7 million euros will be devoted to state-funded social security contributions to offset exemptions for employers. On the other hand, the deputies decided to cut the bonus from the employment bonus the 200-euro wage increase won by the strikers in the overseas départements. Half of that wage increase is being paid by the government for a three-year period in the form of a modified Revenu de solidarité active (RSA). The RSA is a form of social welfare. “Dead calm! No meaningful change. This is what strikes you right off the bat when you read the overseas budget for 2010, and which is startling when you contrast its tranquility with the strength and sweep of the social movements which made themselves heard,” commented the communist deputy from Reunion, Huguette Bello, in the National Assembly.

For their parts, the Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (Alliance against profiteering) on Guadeloupe and the February 5 Collective on Martinique continue to accuse the French government of “not respecting the commitments” undertaken in March with regard to wages, prices, youth training and employment.

In sum, the promises of the Sarkozy plan remain far below the “restructure of relations between the overseas départements and continental France” which the senate commission on the overseas départements holds to be indispensable. In a report published in July, 2009, the senate commission criticized “the blind conduct of public policy” and called for “a struggle against false ideas and pernicious clichés” in order to embark on “the effective consideration of specific conditions” in the overseas départements.”

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