`First Victory' in Guadeloupe general strike; Movement spreads to other French colonies

By Richard Fidler

March 8, 2009 -- Life on the Left -- The general strike in Guadeloupe ended March 4, when an accord was signed between the LKP Strike Collective and the local governments, the employers’ federation and the French government that granted the strikers their top 20 immediate demands and provided for continued negotiations on the remaining 126 mid-term and long-term demands. The LKP, or Lihannaj Kont Pwofitasyon – Collective Against Super-exploitation, is a coalition of 49 unions and grassroots organisations.


Signing the Accord, March 4

The LKP Strike Collective voted to end the strike, its member unions and community groups declaring this a “First Victory” after 44 days of general strike, repeated mass demonstrations, and negotiations. Some strikes are continuing, however, where the bosses’ associations have not signed the agreement on wages: for example, at the Gardel sugar refinery and in the supermarkets belonging to various béké families (the békés are the white elite that controls most industry and agriculture on the island).

And on Saturday, March 7, 30,000 persons marched through the streets of the capital, Pointe à Pitre, to celebrate the victory achieved to this point.

Guadeloupe - manif 7 mars 2009

Victory march in Pointe à Pitre, March 7, 2009

The accord on wages, reached initially on the night of February 26-27, provides for a €200 monthly increase for workers with a gross income of between €132 and €1849 per month (i.e. the minimum wage or up to 40% higher than the minimum); a 6% increase for those between €1849 and €2113; and a 3% increase for those with higher incomes. This agreement is called the “Jacques Bino Accord” in memory of the union activist who was killed during the strike. The cost of these wage increases is allocated between the employers and the French and local governments, with small business employers responsible for only a quarter of the increase.

Other concessions accepted by the bosses and the French and local governments, after lengthy and difficult negotiations, included:

  • an average 6% reduction in the price of water;
  • hiring of 22 Guadeloupian teachers on the waiting list;
  • €40,000 in compensation for truckers and bus operators left out when urban and inter-city transportation was reorganised;
  • various measures to aid farmers and fishers, including the setting aside of 64,000 hectares of farmland for future use, and a grant of €350,000 for the modernisation and renewal of fishing gear for full-time fishers;
  • an emergency plan for young people (jobs and training for 8000 youth aged 16-25);
  • lower bank service rates on certain products for individuals and small businesses; lower interest rates on loans are still being negotiated;
  • a housing rent freeze and ban on evictions;
  • some improvements in union rights, appointment of mediators to resolve outstanding conflicts in some major industries; and
  • provisions for cultural development.

A parity commission with equal representation of unions and employers will oversee implementation of the agreements.

Leading the militant general strike, which shut down most businesses, schools, government offices and services, were the General Union of Workers of Guadeloupe (UGTG) and the various affiliates of the major French union federations. The mass demonstrations, often mobilising tens of thousands, were led by large disciplined contingents of marshals dressed in the LKP T-shirts. The strike collective held frequent mass meetings to report to the people on developments in the strike. A popular website included constant update reports, photos and video presentations of speeches at the major rallies and demonstrations. See http://ugtg.org/?lang=cpf_gp.

Guadeloupe - victory meeting

Mass meeting hears report on negotiated Accord, March 3

Reporting on the draft accord at a mass meeting on the night of March 4, the 43rd day of the strike, union leader Rosan Mounien said: “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!”

The bosses and the government, he said, had overlooked the fact that “when a people arises, 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.”

Asked by a French newspaper why the bosses had proved so resistant to the workers’ demands, LKP leader Élie Domota said: “To them, it is out of the question that the nègres (the negroes) would rebel and demand increases in their wages.”

The underlying conditions and issues in the strike movement were indicated in the preamble to the Jacques Bino Accord that ended the general strike. It states that “the present economic and social situation existing in Guadeloupe results from the perpetuation of the model of the plantation economy”. This economy, it says, “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”. The Accord calls for an end to these obstacles “by establishing a new economic order enhancing the status of everyone and promoting new social relationships”. (See Journal officiel de la République Française, March 7, 2009.)

LKP leader Domota told the French daily L’Humanité that although the strike movement had not advanced demands for institutional changes in Guadeloupe’s colonial status as an “overseas department” of France, “the people of Guadeloupe are demanding more respect, more dignity, work, an end to racial discrimination, increased wages and training to ensure the future of our youth.”

Guadeloupe - main strike leader

LKP leader Élie Domota

Guadeloupe is one of four French overseas departments or territories now convulsed by major social conflicts. “These societies”, said Domota, “are built on a colonial model. They are countries that want, in the future, to be recognised in full dignity, in full respect.”

The UGTG itself calls for independence of Guadeloupe. On March 8, the day after the mass victory march of 30,000, the union published on its website a resolution to this effect adopted at its 12th Congress in April 2008. See translation below.

In neighbouring Martinique, a general strike that began February 5 around demands similar to those in Guadeloupe has also mobilised the population of some 400,000 in demonstrations of up to 25,000 in the capital, Fort-de-France. It has already produced a provisional accord with the Collectif du 5 février (an organising committee like the LKP) that contains many of the same provisions as the one in Guadeloupe — and it includes a 20% reduction in the price of some basic consumer products. But the strike movement continues in that island.

A similar mass movement appears to be developing in another French colony, La Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean with a population of about 800,000. A coalition of 25 trade unions, parties and other mass organisations (the Collectif des organisations syndicales, politiques et associatives de La Réunion – COSPAR) has mobilised up to 30,000 in the streets in support of a platform of 62 demands, many of them similar to those in the Caribbean colonies.

Does a Guadeloupian people exist?

[Text of the resolution adopted by the Union Générale des Travailleurs de Guadeloupe at its 12th Congress, April 2-5, 2008 (excerpts).]

To this question, the French Constitution replies “NO”, considering that we, the sons and daughters of slaves and others who have come from various continents, are but a population, a component of the French People, thereby integrating its last colonies within the French bosom; in a word, the red green yellow [colours of Guadeloupe], a component of the blue, white, red [colours of the French flag].

And yet, we Guadeloupians... we have a history, a language, a land, beliefs, social and cultural practices... All indicators that make us a People....

To this question, the response of the French State cannot be different, for Guadeloupian society is built on relations of colonial domination in accordance with a “natural” order established for centuries: at the top of the scale, the whites, and at the bottom, the nègres.

Department, Monodepartmental region, French Department of America, Ultraperipheral region, Overseas Department, Ultramarine regions, so many terms to try to hide a glaring reality: Guadeloupe is just a colony of France, a country occupied by the French State.

And a colony lives, survives only in order to serve the Metropolis, its Metropolis. ...

In this situation, what should we do? Let it be and disappear, or fight for the right of self-determination of the Guadeloupian people? An inalienable right, constantly reaffirmed and perpetually denied and invalidated by the various French and European policies through laws for adaptation and readaptation, orientation and programming, with the criminal complicity of the elected politicians.

The dynamism of the social movement and the political and symbolic implications of the demands, demonstrating the rejection of submission, of capitalist and colonial exploitation, the right to respect to all of its potentialities, including that of creating new social relations in a new, more just and more equitable society.

. . . We Guadeloupians are, along with the Martiniquais and the Guyanais [the people of Martinique and La Guyane], colonized and dominated, not through some curse or twist of fate but as the consequence of imperialist strategies that systematically attempt to dominate us.

The Guadeloupian people have the right to self-determination. The right of the Guadeloupian nation to full sovereignty and national independence is undeniable. The interests of the working class, of the Guadeloupian producers and creators, will be preserved only through their engagement in the struggle for the national liberation of our country.

The UGTG is and remains a class and mass organization convinced of the need to transform social relations for the purpose of achieving a more just society, securing for everyone his or her right to work, to health, to education, to culture, to life.

More than ever, we proclaim our adherence to the patriotic option, and we enshrine our style, our methods, our principles, values and conceptions within the perspective of affirming the Guadeloupian identity.

UGTG – 12th Congress, April 2-5, 2008

Published by Le Congrès, Sunday, March 8, 2009. Full text (in French and Creole) at http://ugtg.org/article_388.html