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Vol. 73/No. 10      March 16, 2009

Strikes in Guadeloupe,
Martinique win gains
(front page)
PARIS, March 4—Six weeks after a general strike began on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, an agreement was reached between the LKP (Alliance Against Exploitation), representatives of the French government, and a few bosses’ organizations.

“We expect to sign an agreement with some 170 points later this evening,” Nathalie Minatchy, an LKP spokesperson, said in a phone interview today. The LKP is a coalition of 48 unions, political groups, and community organizations that is leading the strike.

“After the accord is signed, we will tell people to go back to work, but to remain vigilant,” Minatchy said.

A similar agreement has been announced in Martinique. “The people of Martinique have their own leadership, the February 5 Alliance,” Minatchy said. “They won a wage increase and a rolling back of prices for basic food items.”

Guadeloupe and Martinique are French colonies that Paris describes as “overseas departments.”

The economy and government of Guadeloupe is dominated by a small layer of capitalists called békés, descendants of the white plantation slave owners of the colonial past.

The “Jacques Bino Accord,” named after a union leader killed February 17, grants a wage increase of 200 euros per month (US$250) to approximately 15,000 low-paid private-sector workers. Associations representing big businesses that employ 65,000 of the 85,000 employees in the private sector have refused to sign the agreement so far.

A 200-euro pay increase was the central demand of the strikers. The agreement also included the freezing of rents in 2009 and the creation of a “housing commission” in charge of stopping evictions, Rosan Mounien, who was part of the LKP negotiation team, told the press. Mounien said the LKP considers the negotiation on wages to be over even if the French Confederation of Business Enterprises doesn’t recognize the agreement. Elie Domota, a central leader of the LKP, said the group would ask for the extension of the agreement to all companies in Guadeloupe.

Socialist Party leader Ségolène Royal, a former candidate for president of France, visited Guadeloupe for several days to urge a settlement. In a statement riddled with paternalism toward workers in Guadeloupe, she said, “When parents cannot feed their children anymore, it usually comes to a bad end. Let’s remind ourselves of the French Revolution.”

In Martinique the central demand of the workers was for a monthly 354-euro wage increase (US$445).

In Fort-de-France, the main city on the island, clashes with gendarmes went on for two nights February 24-25. Cars and garbage were set on fire on Maurice Bishop Avenue. Earlier in the day, demonstrators clung to the metal gate of the building where negotiations between strike leaders, government officials, and bosses were taking place. They stopped the bosses’ representatives from leaving the building, shouting at them “Negotiate, negotiate!”

“This is a historic event,” LKP spokesperson Minatchy said, referring to the general strike. “Guadeloupe will never be like it was before. There are many more problems we need to discuss and then continue to mobilize.”

Seth Galinsky contributed to this article from New York.
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