Introduction by Richard Fidler
February 26, 2009 -- Life on the Left -- The general strike in two French colonies
in the Caribbean is firm, with no end in sight. It began in Guadeloupe
on January 20 and spread to neighbouring Martinique on February 5 as a
protest against the high cost of living and, more generally, the gross
inequality between the conditions of the black population and a tiny
white elite, descendants of slaveholders, who control most industry
The two islands, each with a population of about
400,000, are officially designated overseas departments of France, and
the repression of the strikers by the French government, which has
flown in more than a thousand gendarmes from the metropolis, has
underscored their colonial oppression.
The islands, along with
two other French colonies — French Guiana in South America and La
Réunion in the Indian Ocean, both of which are experiencing mounting
unrest — have the highest unemployment rates in the European Union,
double those of metropolitan France. Also, prices of basic commodities
and food staples, most of them imported, are much higher.
strike in Guadeloupe is led by a coalition of about fifty organisations
under the aegis of the General Union of the Workers of Guadeloupe
(UGTG): Lihannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (LKP) in the local creole, or the
Collective Against Super-exploitation. It has issued a platform of
almost 150 demands for higher wages and improved social benefits, lower
taxes and prices on necessities and transportation, construction of
social housing, environmental decontamination, job training and
priority hiring for Guadeloupians, no more layoffs, workers'
participation in management, trade union rights including collective
agreements and occupational health and safety protection, creation of
public services in strategic sectors, land reform and agricultural
development, development of media and other facilities in the local
language and culture, and investigation and prosecution of those
responsible for the massacre of striking construction workers in May
1967, etc. Similar demands have been raised by the strikers in
In response to the strike, the French government sent
a junior minister, Yves Jégo, to Guadeloupe. He proposed a deal to
increase the salaries of 45,000 workers but was suddenly recalled by
Paris. He returned a few days later after massive protest
demonstrations across the island, but continued government resistance
to its demands has forced the LKP to suspend negotiations.
strike has closed the airport, gas stations, schools, banks, government
offices and the tourist industry. It has so far claimed one victim:
Jacques Bino, a tax agent and union member who was shot, apparently by
provocateurs. Dozens of demonstrators have been arrested, including
leaders of the LKP, although most have since been released.
Funeral of murdered striker Jacques Bino.
February 16, the LKP issued a call to the international workers' and
democratic movement for solidarity with the strike. But the strike has
received little attention in the international media, especially
outside France. A notable, albeit modest exception in Canada is the
publication of a number of articles on the strike in the current issue
of the on-line Quebec publication Presse-toi-à-gauche. I have
translated the introductory article, by Dimitris Fasfalis, below.
mass trade union movement in France has given only lukewarm support to
the strikers in the country’s Caribbean colonies. An initial
demonstration of support in Paris was held February 16, at the
initiative of some left-wing organisations including the Nouveau parti
anticapitaliste (NPA, New Anti-Capitalist Party), a broadly based new party to the left of the
French Socialist Party and the Communist Party of France (PCF). It attracted many young protesters from the
immigrant communities, many chanting in the Creole language. A second
solidarity action has been called for February 28 by Caribbean
associations in France, with the support of some union and political
organisations. The NPA has sent its leading spokesperson, Olivier
Besancenot, to the Caribbean colonies to report firsthand on the
mobilisations. [The NPA's solidarity statement is the final article below.]
One of the organisations in France expressing the
strongest support for the Caribbean strikers is the Sans Papiers, an
organisation of immigrants who lack the documentation to become full
French citizens. I have translated its message of solidarity, below. It
draws special attention to the anti-imperialist, anticolonial
implications of the strike movement, as does the PTàG article by
For further information on this inspiring strike
movement — one of the first such mass actions in response to the
developing global economic and social crisis — readers may wish to
consult some of these links:
Official web site of the General Union of the Workers of Guadeloupe (mainly in Creole and French): http://ugtg.org/?lang=cpf_gp
2009 French Caribbean general strikes (wikipedia, updated daily): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_French_Caribbean_general_strikes
Carib Creole One news: http://www.caribcreole1.com/breves.php
Photos of the mass protests and other activities:
Guadeloupe: A people arise
By Dimitris Fasfalis, translated by Richard Fidler
February 24, 2009 -- For
more than a month now, Guadeloupe has been providing a tremendous
lesson in social resistance to the local bosses and the French
government. Its people have responded to the growing insecurity with an
historically unprecedented general strike. What is behind this
mobilization? The answer would seem to lie in the capacity of the
social movement to embody the peoples’ aspirations for emancipation.
The aspiration for human dignity
scope of this revolt, in the first place, refutes those who would
dismiss it as the action of a few agitators seeking notoriety. The call
for the general strike, issued last January 20, has been met by a
massive mobilisation of the population in the streets. On February 18
alone, between 60,000 and 80,000 demonstrated in Le Moule, a town in
the east of the island, to commemorate the assassination of five sugar
cane workers by the repressive forces in 1957. That’s a demonstration
of 13 to 17 per cent of the island’s total population of 460,000.
Imagine what it would mean if five million demonstrators gathered day
after day in Ottawa to demand higher wages.
Demonstration in Le Moule, February 14.
a challenge to the price of gasoline, the social movement is demanding
measures to fight the high cost of living and social squalor. Key
demands include: an immediate increase in wages, pensions and social
benefits of 200 euros [about $320 Canadian]; price controls on
essential goods; an end to prices set artificially higher than those in
France; social housing; jobs for youths; adequate social services, etc.
Not surprisingly, the 149 demands of the movement are popular in a
population with an “official” unemployment rate of 22.7% (the actual
level is estimated at close to 40%) and twice the rate of poverty in
Rejection of colonial domination
from expressing the people’s aspirations for emancipation, the revolt
in Guadeloupe also draws its strength from an anticolonial
consciousness that is shared and fueled by a long tradition of
contestation. Faced with the columns of cops hastily dispatched by
Paris to repress the movement, the demonstrators chant in Creole:
“Guadeloupe is ours, Guadeloupe is not theirs, they shall not do what
they want in our country.” Discrimination in hiring, monopolisation of
positions of responsibility by the French, monopoly rents extorted by
the companies owned by the békés (the minority descendants of the
French colonists), the government’s repressive response — Guadeloupe
looks more like a colony than a department belonging to a Republic with
the motto of ``Liberal, Equality, Fraternity''. This neocolonial reality is
bitterly denounced by the current movement. And this political
consciousness is a major asset, for the ruling classes of the
metropolis have precious little control over the situation, or ability
to give a veneer of legitimacy to their domination.
A united and fighting collective
the general strike fully embodies the meaning of the Creole word
“lyannaj”: to win over, to bring together, to unite in solidarity,
unity and strong attachment. The Collective against super-exploitation
(Lyannaj kont prwofitasyon, or LKP), which is leading the social
movement, includes 49 organisations (associations and unions) and its
spokesperson Elie Domota is proof of a leadership committed to
speaking truth to the metropolitan power and the local business class.
Asked by the French daily Libération, on February 17, if he would continue to call for mobilization, Domota answered:
for we have no choice. Yves Jégo [French overseas secretary of state]
says everything is settled, but he has lied to us and the government is
not keeping its word or respecting its undertakings. The only thing
that interests us is the signing of our draft agreement with the
government and the bosses on February 8, which provides for an increase
of 200 euros for the lowest wages. But since no one is listening to us,
we are forced to be in the street... For four weeks, the government
has been chartering planeloads of cops to casser du nègre — break the
niggers. I remain open to dialogue, but today the government has chosen
repression and the Guadeloupians are going to resist.”
It is not
hard to understand why the “Guadeloupe” case upsets the Elysée [the
French presidency]. The French government and bosses fear that
Guadeloupe will become an example for the workers in the metropolis.
And that fear is warranted, for Martinique and La Réunion are showing
that this type of movement is highly contagious, particular in a time
of crisis and after a quarter century of neoliberal offensive.
Translated from Presse-toi-à-gauche, http://www.pressegauche.org/.
The Sans Papiers struggling for equality through regularisation are in solidarity with the colonies fighting for the equality of peoples!
of solidarity from the National Coordinating Committee of the Undocumented (CNSP–Coordination nationale des sans-papiers).
Paris, February 23, 2009 -- Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyane, Réunion and soon Kanaky — the colonies that extend the surface of France from 550,000 km2 to 10,26,000 km2
— are engaged in an extended general strike to get the rich colons
(Békés) and the monopolies of metropolitan finance capital to pay for
The workers of the second-class peoples in what remains of the French colonial empire in this early 21st
century united all of their organisations and associations around a
platform of 131 demands that was signed by Yves Jégo, the overseas
colonies secretary of state, before the French government reneged on
its word after his recall to Paris.
Parallel to this, the Élysée
sent thousands of repressive forces to put an end to the exemplary
mobilisation of the Guadeloupian people. There are disturbing reports
of provocative remarks that the sans-papiers unfortunately often hear
when foreigners are being hunted down in metropolitan France: casser des sales nègres, des bamboulas, des bougnoules, des fourmies [“break the dirty niggers, the monkeys, the wogs, the narcos”].
it was after more than a month of mobilisation, the success of the 2.5
million strikers and demonstrators on January 29 in France, and the
murder of a Guadeloupian trade-unionist, Jacques Bino, that the Sarkozy
regime deigned to emerge from its scornful silence and to suddenly
discover that the peoples of the overseas departments and territories
This significant silence has also been shared to a
large degree by the metropolitan media, which are now engaging in their
favourite sport: disinformation and lies.
Who remembers today
that the abolition of slavery was a deal that consisted in the
Republic’s indemnifying the slaveholder ancestors of the white Béké
colons, who thereby appropriated all of the wealth produced by the
descendants of the emancipated blacks?!
The CNSP bows before the
mortal remains of the murdered trade-unionist, presents its condolences
to the family and comrades of this martyr of the cause of equality of
The CNSP appeals to the unions, associations and political parties of France to
- Organise a work stoppage in every workplace and a minute of silence to the memory of Jacques Bino; and
- To demand that the French government satisfy the legitimate demands of the colonies.
CNSP recalls that the Constitution of France recognises that “humans
are born free and equal in law” and that the United Nations Charter
recognises the right of every people to self-determination.
CNSP calls on the French trade-union, democratic and progressive
movement to assume its full responsibility in the face of the present
serious crisis of finance capital, which forces us to create the
necessary relationship of forces to make the bosses pay for their
crisis so that the workers are not divided by the poisonous racism of
the French State and have to pay for the crisis in place of the CAC40
[the Paris stock exchange index].
The CNSP urges all the
undocumented to fight and demonstrate with all documented workers as an
antidote to the anti-social and colonialist strategy of the bosses and
the French government.
NPA: Let's do it, like the workers of Guadeloupe and Martinique!
The statement below was released on February 16 by the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in France, in solidarity with the workers of Guadeloupe and Martinique. The translation is by http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine.
* * *
The general strike in Guadeloupe began almost a month ago, and the
strike movement has spread to Martinique over the last two weeks. Yet
the government and management are still manoeuvring, stalling and
buying time, refusing to meet the strikers’ demands.
Backed by the entire population holding the largest demonstrations
ever seen in the Antilles, the strikers are demanding general price
cuts and wage hikes: 300 euros in Martinique and 200 euros in
Guadeloupe. Their representatives have reiterated the movement’s
The French Antillean situation has its peculiarities. Its economy
has in fact largely kept its old colonial structures. It is controlled
by the bekes,
descendants of slave-owning white settlers, who make fabulous profits
through their monopoly of exports to and imports from France.
But there are also a great deal of commonalities. Like everywhere,
the privileged want us to pay for their crisis. It’s this policy,
driven by President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Medef (French Business
Confederation), that is making the situation more and more unbearable,
forcing workers to wage battle to defend their conditions of existence.
The first solidarity demonstration was held on February in Paris at the initiative of the NPA and other organisations.
The second demonstration, to take place on February 28, has been
called by Antillean community organisations, with the support of many
trade unions and political groups.
The leadership of the trade union confederations should initiate
concrete actions such as fundraisers, rallies, walkouts — or rather
should have initiated them several weeks ago — in order to help bring
the general strike in the Antilles to victory.
Acting in solidarity with the workers and peoples of Guadeloupe and
Martinique also means strengthening our own struggles and buttressing
our own demands.
As stated by Alex Lollia, a leader of the Confederation of United
Workers (CTU) of Guadeloupe: “The government fears that the watchwords
of Guadeloupe and Martinique might be echoed by our fellow workers in
France and that France too might be paralysed, which would have
repercussions throughout Europe.
“We are holding out, waiting for French workers to join our battle.”
He is absolutely right! Nothing is more urgent than spreading this
strike, beginning with the struggles that are developing, connecting
all the links, local, regional, and national, among all trades and
professions, both in the public and private sectors.
Faced with the bosses and government who don’t want to listen, the
best way to express our solidarity would be to make sure we follow the
example of the Antilles, creating a new balance of forces to enforce
our urgent demands and to create a way out of the crisis consistent
with the interests of the popular classes.