The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Guadeloupe:
General Strike Continues Thanks to Workers' Mobilization

Jan 26, 2009

Guadeloupe is a Caribbean island of 400,000 people that is an overseas department of France. The following article is from the January 23 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

More than 40 Guadeloupean union, political and community organizations began a "renewable" general strike on January 20. It is a very broad popular mobilization.

More than 4,000 people, mostly workers, demonstrated that day in the capital Pointe-à-Pitre. The strike was massively supported in the workplaces. The Pointe-à-Pitre city hall was closed with 100% on strike. The same was true at the National Forestry Office, and in transportation, education and social security offices. A big hotel, Manganau, was completely shut, with 75% of hotel workers also going on strike; construction sites in Colas and la Sauri went on strike, as did 95% of the work force at the General Water company. There was a big rally at the University Hospital Center in Pointe-à-Pitre, and then hospital workers marched through the city to get other workers to come out on strike.

The organizations that began this movement presented a long list of demands. The most important are:

  • an immediate cut by 50 centimes a liter in the price of gasoline (about $2.60 a gallon);
  • lowering the price of basic necessities and a cut in all taxes;
  • an increase in the minimum wage to 200 Euros ($260) a month after taxes;
  • a decrease in the price of water and public transit;
  • action to make all temporary public and private sector workers permanent on their jobs.

Almost all the unions were involved: the CGTG, UGTG, FO, CTU, CFDT and the teachers union SPEG. The political organizations include the Guadeloupean Communist Party, Combat Ouvrier (Workers Fight), UPLG, the Greens and a number of trade groups for farmers, fishermen, and tenants. The organizations connected to Carnival (which is like Mardi Gras) bring together a lot of young people, such as AKIYO, Voukoum, Kamodjaka and others, who also became involved in the strike.

That morning, demonstrators built several roadblocks, which stopped traffic at many points on the island. The police force intervened to remove the barricades, but the roadblocks were put back as soon as the police left; the cops admitted they could do nothing.

In a great number of workplaces, the workers voted for a strike in a general assembly. Everywhere, the movement received support and sympathy from the workers and the population. In the Jarry industrial zone, very early on January 20, there were a lot of pickets in front of the workplaces.

There are many reasons for discontent, but the most important are the increase in the price of gasoline; the staggering rise in the prices of everything; low wages; layoffs and unemployment. Hotel workers in particular expressed their great anger at the closing of two big hotels, the Anchorage and the Kalenda, which led to 160 layoffs.

The collective protest movement began December 16 and 17. More than 5,000 protesters marched in the streets of Pointe-à-Pitre on those days and then in Basse-Terre.

The government's prefect, (an appointed national official) set a meeting with representatives for December 17 at city hall, and then refused to receive a delegation of 31 people, one representative of each organization. He insisted he would see only 15 people. His demand was refused, especially since the protesters could see that the gates of the prefecture were closed and guarded by the CRS (national tactical squad) in combat gear.

On January 19, this same guy also threatened the strikers, announcing that he gave "firm instructions to the forces of order," before saying that his "door was open." In other words, repression first, discussion after. His tone recalled the arrogant officials of colonial times.

Also on January 19, a meeting was held of over 400 people in front of the mutual insurance hall in Pointe-à-Pitre, which became the headquarters of the movement. On January 20, all militants had to be there at 9 a.m. On January 24, there will be a great street demonstration in Pointe-à-Pitre. On January 25, the usual carnival parade planned for this season will be transformed into a protest parade with scenes that show the protestors' contempt for the government and the bosses.

Service stations are closed for two reasons: because their employees are on strike; also their managers decided to close stations in protest at the creation of new stations. These managers affected by the strike have also sought to profit from the situation. Since January 16, there have been long lines at the stations as drivers try to fill up as quickly as possible.

The news we can obtain makes it seem that a progressive paralysis is winning over the entire island. Union representatives and others have said that the movement won't end until all the demands are satisfied. So it looks like the Guadeloupe strike will continue.

But, in the end, everything depends on the mobilization and determination of the workers, as well as the entire population, even beyond those in various organizations. For the moment, in any case, their determination remains strong!

On January 21, the unions called for a continuation of the strike. At the same time, in many workplaces, general assemblies were held that also decided to continue striking. And now, everyone is eager to prepare for the big demonstration on Sunday, January 24.