Guadeloupe: General strike in the French-speaking Caribbean

The workers of Guadeloupe and Martinique are showing the way!

Full support for the workers of Guadeloupe and Martinique! For the victory of the strike movement!

NO to repression!

For a month now, Guadeloupe has seen the most important general strike in its history. The statistics of poverty, of unemployment or the scandalously high cost of the living are not enough to explain the strength of this movement. It is above all the degree of organisation of the LKP, initiated by the main trade unions of the island, gathering the whole of the labour movement and the organisations of struggle together on a fighting platform and its strategy (day of action in December, meetings and debates on the platform of demands and what needs to be done) which made it possible to call an indefinite general strike from January 20th.

Strikes are often long and hard because the central State takes advantage of Guadeloupe’s distance from Metropolitan France to turn a deaf ear and forces the workers to step up their actions in order to make themselves heard.

The current strike represents a revolt against increasingly difficult living conditions in the context of the worldwide crisis of capitalism. How can the workers and youth of Guadeloupe accept more sacrifices when an increasing number of them are already in an insecure situation (the incidence of poverty is twice as high as in mainland France and an unemployment rate is 27%…)? In this context, the announcement of the exorbitant profits made by Total (which has the monopoly of oil refining), when the price of the gasoline and gas are soaring sounds even more like a provocation.

This social hurricane reveals the colonial attitude of the French state in these ‘departements’, where the racial question is combined with the class divide, since the ruling class in Guadeloupe is white and either come from Metropolitan France or are the descendants of former slave traders (the so-called ‘Békés’). As for the black bourgeoisie, they are not concerned with the colour of those they exploit, but are determined to retain over the people of Guadeloupe the few advantages they derive from their rich Metropolitan cronies.

The strength of the strike: the united front of the LKP

This strike movement is only partially spontaneous. Its success is due to the intervention of the LKP (Lyannaj kont pwofitasyon: union against exploitation), bringing together 50 or so political, trade union and cultural organisations in a united front against the rising cost of living. By developing a strategy and broad and democratic support it has mobilised the majority of the people of Guadeloupe. The common platform of demands made it possible to draw together different sections of the population in a single movement against the same problems. Particularly its constant presence on the ground with the workers and the long work of mobilising for weeks before the start of the strike allowed it to build a strong and determined strike movement aiming to win. Day after day, through meetings and rallies, bringing together different sections and in daily actions (demos, blockades) the LKP has built the movement and broadened its support among the general population.

The French state confirms its colonial attitude

The State certainly underestimated the depth of anger and the levels of preparation and mobilisation. The silence of Sarkozy, who is normally so quick to dive in front of the cameras to pretend he is interested in our fate, speaks volumes. The usual tactic of waiting for the movement to become bogged down and to offer vague promises or gimmicks (like the creation of an inter-ministerial cabinet for the overseas territories or organising a summit meeting in 8 months) have only strengthened the determination of the strikers. At the same time the government continues its politics of intimidation and repression, on two occasions calling in 4 squadrons of mobile guards to reinforce the ‘manblos’ (police). The arrests on 16 February could well be the start of a new state tactic to raise tension and thus create divisions in the LKP and reduce its support among the population. The instantaneous appearance of barricades all over the island on that day suggests that such swing in opinion is always possible in the struggle.

It is the State which is responsible for the violence which has taken place and which has led to the death of one trade unionist. The colonial attitude of the State was confirmed once more by the blatant contempt and racism of the mobile guards and the CRS. One CTU activist said of his arrest: ‘When they were kicking me in the stomach and I was dragging myself along the ground, this is what they said to me: “We saw your ugly mug on TV, we’re going to smash it up so as you won’t be able to show it again. We’re going to smash you, you filthy blacks!”’

The intensification of the repression could set light to the gunpowder and develop into an insurrection. The consequences of that could even go beyond Guadeloupe and spread to Martinique (on general strike for the last 15 (18??) days), not to mention Guyana and La Reunion where the workers clearly recognise their own role in the movement which is shaking Guadeloupe. But even more than this, the government fears the contagion spreading to Metropolitan France itself. The demands which have been developed in Guadeloupe echo the situation of the workers and youth, who realise that we are the ones who will pay for the crisis created by the capitalists and their governments. The so-called responses offered by the government will only increase the ‘pwofitasyon’, in other words the class domination, exercised by the ‘Békés’ and supported by a good proportion of the politicians in the Caribbean. There will be even more exemptions from paying insurance contributions, in other words direct presents to the bosses. The LKP is right to demand the implementation of the pre-agreement signed by Jégo (French overseas minister) at the beginning of February, which gave an increase of 200 euros. So the struggle is far from over.

So it is the responsibility of the working class and community organisations in Metropolitan France to support the struggle in Guadeloupe and Martinique against the French government and state, and also to counter any repression aimed at the movement. Demos must be organised and a move to strike action should be considered in the event that repression is intensified. The workers and youth in France have everything to gain from the victory of a general strike in Guadeloupe and Martinique. This struggle could well trigger a generalised response by the working class and the youth to the policies pursued by Sarkozy and his predecessors in the service of the capitalist class.

Faced with state repression the movement must organize its own defence

Up to now the democratic character of the LKP and its widespread support have made it possible to integrate into the movement all layers of the people and to organise joint actions.

But there is great frustration in the face of the often racist contempt shown by the State which seems to want to poison the situation so as to isolate the LKP and divide the workers and the people of Guadeloupe. The dramatic events of Tuesday 17th February which led to the accidental death of a trade unionist are a new challenge to the LKP. It is correct to call for unity against the capitalists. But the rising repression also demands the protection of the movement and of workers in struggle, especially since the reinforcement of the police presence could strengthen the most reactionary elements opposed to the movement. It could therefore quickly become necessary to form democratic defence committees to protect demonstrations, activists and meetings, and prevent the State from taking us back to the dark days of strikes drowned in blood as in 1952 and 1967.

Capitalism and its local representatives will never allow real development of Guadeloupe, Martinique and the other regions of the Caribbean. This system only works to the law of profit, allowing the exploitation of the workers and the super-exploitation of those in the Caribbean and elsewhere. These first steps taken in the struggle initiated by the working people of Guadeloupe should open up a discussion about the real control by the population of the riches and of production to really ensure the development of Guadeloupe and show a way forward for the whole region. The situation in Guadeloupe today demonstrates that it is the private ownership of the means of production which underpins capitalist exploitation. If the bosses are unwilling to reduce their profits to increase wages and lower prices then the factories must be nationalised under democratic workers control. The LKP and the peasantry have come together to agree the sale of cheap foodstuffs. This shows that working people are in a better position to meet their own needs than the bosses are.

The Socialist Party of Guadeloupe and those who, like Bangou, (the PPDG mayor of Point-à-pitre) left the PCG in order to set up parties which were more working class (and others) and who claimed to defend ‘the people’, are crazy. Their policy of ‘sucking up’ to the main parties in Metropolitan France, their position as a local purely clientist elite, has done nothing to improve the lot of the workers of Guadeloupe and is shown up by the movement of the workers. This can be seen in their inability to genuinely support the workers’ struggle. It is time for a new mass party which can really bring together the aspirations of workers, the youth, the small farmers and the poor masses of Guadeloupe who are engaged in the present struggle, which is clearly a struggle against capitalism and the remnants of colonialism. While pursuing the immediate struggle for economic, social and cultural demands, the LKP is now in a position to raise the possibility of a new mass party for the workers of Guadeloupe.

For a free, socialist federation of the Caribbean

Only a socialist economy, democratically planned by the workers themselves in conjunction with the population as a whole, extending throughout the Caribbean and at the heart of a free, democratic and socialist confederation can truly put an end to capitalism and colonialism.

We therefore give our wholehearted support to the struggle of the LKP and the people of Guadeloupe, as they show the way for all workers who demand a decent life. Gauche Révolutionnaire and the CWI will publicise the struggle of the people of Guadeloupe, in Metropolitan France and beyond. We will respond to the appeal for international support launched by the LKP and messages of support from our Caribbean comrades in Trinidad and Tobago have already been sent.

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February 2009