Thursday, April 16, 2009

Worker Victories in Guadeloupe and Martinique Resonate through French Empire

by Justin Panos
Basics Issue #13 (Apr/May 2009)

A leader of the League Against Profiteering (LKP) in Guadeloupe.

On January 19th, 2009, Guadeloupe’s League against Profiteering (LKP) organized workers, youth, and the women’s movement to shut down the small French Caribbean island’s industries, refusing to budge unless the French government dealt with the longstanding economic and cultural issues of the small nation. France’s domination over its colony, Guadeloupe, became intolerable for the island’s 450,000 residents earlier this year when masses of people closed down roadways, schools, gas stations, public transportation and the entire tourist infrastructure that services the rich elite from France and other richer nations.

Guadeloupe’s economy is regulated in euros as imposed by the French government. In 2007, the escalating prices of food, oil, and gas led to a rapid decline in the living conditions for most of the island’s population. As the financial crisis that began in the US expanded to all sections of the world economy, official unemployment rates in Guadeloupe reached as high as 30%.

The LKP, an umbrella group of 49 unions and grassroots organizations, took the initiative to launch its strike in January. The protestors immediately demanded a 200 Euro monthly wage increase, bringing the minimum wage up to 1,321 euros a month, significant raises for better paid workers, a 20% decrease in the price of student meals and public transportation costs, a moratorium on all foreclosures, evictions and utility cut-offs, and official recognition of the indigenous language on par with French.

The Guadeloupean protests threatened the French government to such a degree that they granted the strikers their top 20 demands and continue to negotiate on the remaining 126 mid-term and long-term demands. The LKP declared the accord signed on March 4th as an immediate victory, but only the first of its kind. Demonstrations still continue against the island’s white elite who control the majority of supermarkets, sugar mills, and agriculture.

Within weeks of its own mobilizations, the revolutionary impulse of Guadeloupe spread to its neighbouring country, Martinique, which unified its movement on February 5th and mobilized for the same demands that the Guadeloupeans were making. In Martinique, 25,000 protestors took control of the capital, Fort-de-France. The strike in Martinqiue, lead by the February 5 collective, shut down the island’s industries for 38 days. Like Guadeloupe, the majority of their demands were met, such as a $250 USD increase in monthly wages and a 20% lowering of the prices on 400 basic necessities.

And then came the wave of mobilizations in a third French colony on the other side of the world in the Indian Ocean, La Réunion, which had similar mass actions to protest the 52% poverty rate and 24% unemployment on the island. The movement’s leader, Gilles Leperlier of the Collectif des Organisations Syndicales, Politiques et Associatives de La Réunion (COSPAR) 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.”

Monopoly corporations in Canada, such as GM and Chrysler, who continue to demand concessions from Canadian workers, quiver at the thought of the revolutionary surge that could be projected by the some 225,000 CAW workers being threatened with plant foreclosures and pension cuts. The mobilization of the Caribbean population should serve as a lesson to all those negatively affected by the current crisis of monopoly capitalism and imperialism, that only militant organization and mobilization can achieve a better future for the people.

Demonstration on March 11 in St-Denis, La Réunion, a French colony in the Indian Ocean.