Kanaky (New Caledonia): Anti-capitalism and independence

Workers march in Noumea, Kanaky, May 1, 2008. Photo USKTE.

By Bernard Alleton, translated by Sam Wainwright for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

Rouge, issue 2280 -- December 25, 2008 -- One year after its founding by the Kanak and Exploited Workers Union (Union syndicale des travailleurs kanaks et des exploités:USTKE[1]), the Kanaky Labour Party (Parti travailliste: PT) held its first congress in November 2008 in Noumea. The Revolutionary Communist League (Ligue communiste révolutionnaire: LCR[2]) sent a representative who conveyed a message of fraternal solidarity.

The balance sheet of first year of the Kanaky PT is largely positive. In the municipal elections in March, four months after it was formed, the PT ran candidates in fourteen of the territory’s thirty-three communes resulting in thirty elected representatives. This demonstrates its genuine implantation. More generally, the PT knew how to take on the lethargy of the other parties that claim to struggle for independence. They have been integrated into the institutions of colonial administration, set in place in Paris through the Matignon-Oudinot Accords of 1988 and the Noumea Accords of 1998. This has led them to favour the defence of these institutions and the place of individuals within them as the creation of structures for a future independent country. For several months now independence has been put back into the political debate in a way that does not treat it like some distant dream.

This also explains the radicalisation of the local pro-colonial right-wing forces, which according to Pierre Frogier (UMP)[3] want “to purge this question of independence, which people don’t talk about anymore, so we can move onto other things”. They propose to finish with the “Kanak problem” with the 2014 referendum on independence. This is also the line of the Socialist Party (PS), for whom “the concept of independence no longer has meaning in a multipolar world and a globalised economy”. They all effectively deny the fact that since 1986 New Caledonia has been on the UN list of territories to be decolonised and the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The PT congress was an opportunity to make an assessment of the twenty years of the “transfer of competencies” which required Kanaks to be drawn into the centre of governmental machinery. For the most part the promises made by the colonial state have not been kept. The training which was supposed to allow Kanaks to reach every level of societyhas failed, to the extent that not one is a lawyer, judge or state prosecutor; and only one has become a doctor! Dozens of young Kanaks have studied in France. On return they cannot generally access jobs corresponding to their qualifications, so they opt for self-exile in neighbouring countries or France.

Ecological issues

In both secondary and tertiary education the transfer of competencies is promised to be “on the way”. In the meantime, young people continue to learn in earnest about the geography of the Alps and the machinery of the European Union. What happened in Kanaky before France “discovered” the territory in 1853? Who was Chief Attaï[4]? What is the code de l’indigénat[5] that governed the lives of their parents and grandparents until 1946? So many questions the answers to which Kanaks only find outside of school. The Kanak languages still have no place in the schools, the French Senate even voted on June 18, 2008, that they have no place in the constitution of the republic. The PT proposes an education system that takes the needs of young Kanaks as its starting point and that is adapted to their culture and environment.

Economic policy, notably the development of downstream processing of nickel by multinational corporations, has been implemented largely excluding the local population.[6] Les Métropolitains (French expatriates) have come to make the most of the boom and been hired in big numbers. In the south the construction of the Goro processing plant has brought with it years of struggle against the destruction of the environment caused by the new industrial processes.[7] Several million euros have gone to carefully chosen politicians because of these environmental battles. Right in the thick of these struggles, the PT has not taken a backwards step. It puts its demand for the respect of the territory’s ecological future at the centre of its resolutions.

For the multinationals, their approach to the exploitation of this ore centres on the fluctuations of the price of nickel on the world market, dropping from US$50,000 a tonne in July 2007 to less than $10,000 today. What might happen “post-nickel” is not really their concern. The local deposits are estimated to last for about another one hundred years. What will become of the territory when its mineral resources have been exhausted for the benefit of the multinationals and not invested in the country’s long term development? The PT asks these questions and demands, for the future of Kanaky, an overall mining plan of action and a new distribution of the wealth produced.

If ecology has an important place in the program of the PT it is because it is a necessary condition for the continuation of Kanak culture, in which humans draw their life force from the earth and the natural world. It is also a pressing necessity in the French colonies in which, by deliberate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol is not applicable. Some twenty pesticides, banned in France because of the danger they pose, are allowed and used. There are no laws relating to the protection of the coastline. The PT is the only party to have written into its constitution that “the protection of the environment is an integral part of its struggle”.

Colonial justice

The provincial elections in May will be the last before the referendum on self-determination foreshadowed by the Noumea Accord. Ratified by a vote in 1999, the accord set a referendum for 2014. Consequently, the next elections will be very important for shaping the future of the country. The view of the PT is clear: Kanaks are ready for independence. If they wait until the colonial power is ready to give it to them (as it keeps telling them, in a paternalistic way) then they must wait several more decades to be trained up and reap the benefits of colonisation. The French minister for education Xavier Darcos declared again in October 2008 that he was still “personally in favour” of “school curricula recognising the positive role of the French presence in the overseas territories”. He did not specify how long he thought colonial rule should continue.

The PT is firmly in favour of a move to complete independence in 2014. The French colonies that won independence after the Second World War were no more ready and often had fewer natural resources.

The PT’s claim to independence has got the pro-colonial right wing especially worried. This explains in part the increased repression of the USTKE unionists. Police and judicial harassment of union leaders, early morning searches and interrogations, attacks on picket lines, and sentences by the colonial justice system of several months in prison and tens of thousands of euros in fines are all signs that the colonial state is taking a tougher line.


Unfortunately in this context the parties of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (Front de la libération nationale kanak et socialiste: FLNKS[8]) have not shown any solidarity at all, preferring to continue to soak up the spoils of their deal with the state. The basic principles of the independence struggle, reaffirmed by the PT, have long since been packed away by the FLNKS; despite its status at the UN as the legitimate representative of the Kanak peoples’ right to independence. The appearance of the PT on the electoral scene has pushed the Union calédonienne (Caledonian Union, UC) and the Parti de liberation kanak (Palika-Kanak Liberation Party), the main components of the FLNKS, to add a dash of pro-independence talk to their rhetoric, but without questioning the essentials of a society founded on such an inequitable sharing of wealth.

For the PT challenging the social and economic system that continues to make the very rich even richer while driving the poor into further poverty, especially the indigenous Kanak people, is the basis for a viable independent country. The challenge is not one of cutting themselves off from the world or throwing non-Kanaks into the sea, it is about really allowing the people to decide how they want to live, on what economic basis and in what framework of international relations. The PT congress decided to keep Kanaky as the name of an independent country and that the flag should still be the one popularised by the FLNKS since 1984.

The PT congress also adopted several motions detailing the program that it will campaign on for the upcoming elections, including: the protection of local jobs and control over immigration (the number of settlers has increased by 20% in the last ten years); to reopen a discussion on housing policy (significant shanty towns have grown up around Noumea); the development of regions where there is no nickel; the future of the fishing industry and fish farming.

In France the PS today, just as when it was in power, does not support independence. It only speaks out to defend the generous retirement benefits of public servants in the territory, in a place where the minimum wage is way less than the France’s own indexed guaranteed minimum wage. The New Anti-Capitalist Party, like the LCR before it, supports the Kanak people’s right to self-determination and their right to live with dignity in their own land. It will lend its support to the PT candidates in the provincial elections next May.

[Rouge is the newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist League (Ligue communiste révolutionnaire: LCR) in France.]

[1] Kanak and Exploited Workers Union (Union syndicale des travailleurs kanaks et des exploités: USTKE), founded in 1981; has always seen the necessity for its struggles and demands to have a political expression.

[2] Revolutionary Communist League (Ligue communiste révolutionnaire: LCR), Frances’s most influential far-left political organisation, soon to dissolve into the New Anti-Capitalist Party (Nouveau parti anticapitaliste: NPA).

[3]Union for a Popular Majority (Union pour un mouvement populaire: UMP), the political party of French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

[4] In 1878 Chief Attaï led armed resistance in a revolt that ended with the colonial forces massacring 5% of the Kanak population.

[5] The administrative system applying to the indigenous populations of French colonies before 1945.

[6] Nickel is the country’s largest natural resource (the second largest reserves in the world), which is used in the production of stainless steel.

[7] In the first project effluent from the refinery, which inevitable contains heavy metals, recorded levels of manganese 100 times greater than usual.

[8] Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (Front de la libération nationale kanak et socialiste: FLNKS), founded in 1984 and formerly uniting all the pro-independence parties.