Guadeloupe: New general strike on the horizon

From revolt to revolution?

Just one year after the general strike which shook Guadeloupe in 2009, demanding the end to “pwofitasyon” (Creole word meaning ‘profiteering’), the island’s problems are far from solved, and a new general strike is developing. The State is trying to reverse the agreements made at the end of the dispute, which were signed in April 2009, and is supporting the exploiters’ class more than ever. The workers’ struggle in Guadeloupe has continued unabated, particularly through the collective of organisations, the ‘LKP’ (League against ‘profiteering’), to force the implementation of these ‘Bino’ agreements (Bino is the name of the trade unionist killed accidentally during the strike). We must recognise that the key concerns which led to the development of the movement remain unsolved. Hence, now more than ever, it is necessary that the struggle takes a new step forward.

Capitalist policies

Since her appointment by French President, Sarkozy, as “French West Indies Minister”, Marie Luce Penchart has set the tone; declaring that petrol prices would once again rise, by 22 cents a litre, to compensate for the “losses” of SARA (Society of Refinery of the Antilles, subsidiary of Total), which had already received €44 million from the French state last July, to which €50 million must now be added. Nobody at State level has been able to give a serious explanation of the origins of these so-called losses, because the State pays for all the investments of this company and has accepted all price rises it has asked for since its creation. It is this particular status which has led SARA to become the most profitable French oil company. Its profit margins for petrol distribution have risen by 44% between 2001 and 2008. It is a real provocation from the State to demand that the profits of the SARA being paid for by the workers (from Guadeloupe as well as from France). After a price rise of €0.06 (per litre) in September, a new hike of €0.04 was implemented in the beginning of January. The LKP had warned that it would call for a new general strike if this was implemented. To this must be added the fact that the prices, far from dropping, have actually risen, and that the State has changed the means of calculation for the agreed pay rise of €200 for the lowest paid workers, which only encourages the bosses, who still refuse of apply the agreements. All the ingredients are present for a new conflict.

One year after general strike

Organise to win

Since the end of the strike, the LKP has spent a lot of time meeting the different representatives of the local communities, the regions and the department, but without achieving any real new steps forward. But the workers have shown that they are not ready to be duped, as was reflected by the significant participation in different meetings and demonstrations and the continuation of local strikes to push for the agreements to be concretised, and to organise against the bosses’ repression. Facing such an arrogant and provocative attitude from the State and the bosses, the time for negotiations is over.

To establish a balance of forces capable of making the State and the bosses bend, it is necessary to strengthen the organisation of the struggle from below. In addition to the numerous local meetings, General Assemblies must be organised, in order to allow the workers to discuss the strategy of the struggle and the political questions posed by a general strike. The development of the LKP in local areas and in the workplaces could allow the workers to participate in the movement in order to control their own struggle, and to elect a leadership for the movement, accountable to the working class. On the basis of such democratic local committees, an independent organisation of the workers could be born and lay the basis for the struggle to move from the social to the political stage.

The absence of democratic structures in the LKP, based on the maximal involvement of the workers and youth, is leaving the workers to play a passive role and is running the risk of orientating the struggle’s strategy towards the interests of small bosses and shopkeepers, to the detriment of the working class. Moreover, it runs the risk of weakening the struggle.

LKP – “When a general strike is insufficient, what is left?”, Marie Luce Penchart (see above) – “Revolution?”- LKP – “Correct!” – cartoon from L’Egalité, paper of Gauche Révolutionnaire (CWI in France)

From revolt to revolution

We can obviously see that nothing of worth could be expected from the French State, nor from its representatives in Guadeloupe itself, including the PS. Sarkozy, in his proposals for the “French West Indies” ‘departments’ intends to give a more active role to local elected representatives in order to silence them, involving them in multiple ‘commissions’ aimed at agreeing further plans to attack living standards. This mirage of greater “autonomy” being proposed by Sarkozy an attempt to portray attacks as coming from ‘within Guadeloupe’, in order to make them more easily ‘acceptable’ to the masses, and to keep the local elected representatives under the boot of the State, in order to assure that the conditions for the bosses continuing with business as usual are not jeopardised.

The only force capable of organising production locally to meet the real economic and social needs of all is the Guadeloupean working class. It is only by taking the means of exploitation out of the hands of the ‘Béké’ (term used to describe Guadeloupean ruling class) and the bosses, that production could be planned to avoid wastage and overconsumption. This necessitates the means of production being brought into public ownership, and real industrial development, adapted to the needs of people. It is through the democratic control of these means of production, through elected workplace and community committees, that the workers would be able to put into practice the famous slogan: “la Gwadloup se tan nou, la Gwadloup se pas ta yo!” (“Guadeloupe is ours, not yours!”). In such an economic and social framework, co-operative relationships with the other Caribbean Islands could develop, instead of competition between workers.

The struggle of the Guadeloupean people to control of their common fate could be victorious only on the basis of a socialist revolution. The tools to make this possible in the future must begin to be built now. The current struggle could be a new step towards this goal if these perspectives are discussed widely in the movement.

The CWI will soon launch a blog dedicated to the struggles in the Caribbean, to aid in building support for socialist ideas in the region.

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January 2010