The Spark

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

Guadeloupe:
Where Is the Movement Going?

Feb 9, 2009

After two weeks of general strike, the workers of Guadeloupe, an overseas department of France, have engaged in a struggle to improve their situation.

The general strike began on January 20. This strike was prepared and launched by the LKP collective, made up of 49 organizations. They include the UGTG, CGTG, CTU, FO and CFDT unions, political organizations including the Communist Party, Combat Ouvrier, Guadeloupe National Alliance, UPLG among others, as well as cultural associations that are very popular in Guadeloupe, including Akiyo, Kamodjaka and Voukoum.

The strike has shut down all the big enterprises. In the smaller firms, like certain insurance companies or the BNP (bank), a number of white-collar workers went back to work. Only the bank employees of BFC in the CGTG are on total and permanent strike. In other establishments, some go on strike one day and go to work another.

The two great superstores, Carrefour in Abymes and Carrefour in Baie-Mahault, are closed due to the strike. The workers of EDF (Electricity of France) are on strike and carry out rotating power cuts. The same thing is happening with General Water.

The hospital workers, who can strike only with difficulty, set up a tent in front of the Central Hospital of Pointe-à-Pitre (the capital) and rallied there after doing what they must for the sick. They joined the demonstrations in large numbers, and come to meetings.

The journalists and broadcasters of RFO have also joined the general strike. The programs are interrupted, but the strikers decided to transmit the negotiations on television.

The entire industrial zone of Jarry, which includes hundreds of little businesses and almost 8,000 workers, is almost dead, thanks to the strikers.

The truck drivers are also on strike. There is no public transit. And besides, no gas stations are open. The workers are on strike, allies for the moment with the managers of the service stations. Workers object to the opening of new automated service stations that use credit cards and self service. The managers don't want it due to the competition and the workers don't want it either, because it could mean laying off the attendants and store employees. In Guadeloupe there are still attendants who pump gas for drivers and that work is done by hundreds of young workers.

The teachers are also on strike. The high schools and universities are closed. In the University of the Antilles-Guyana, the teachers and workers created a strike committee. Exams have been put off to a later date.

City workers are on strike, all of them in Abymes, the biggest city of Guadeloupe, or partially in other places. In Goyave, the strike of city workers included everyone for several weeks, well before the beginning of the general strike. In many towns, the offices are shut.

In all the big enterprises, the workers massively renewed the strike each day in general assemblies, declaring that they won't go back to work while their immediate demands aren't satisfied. In other enterprises without general assemblies, there are hundreds of workers who rally in front of the Mutual building in Pointe-à-Pitre, voting to renew the strike by a voice vote at the request of representatives of the collective.

Around the island the days seem like Sundays: the streets and roads are almost deserted and everything is shut.

The force of the ongoing movement is indisputable. Several demonstrations put thousands of people into the street (up to 20,000 on certain days, and on January 30 there were between 30,000 and 50,000 demonstrators, about a tenth of the entire population of the island.) The permanent presence of hundreds of people each day around the headquarters of the LKP, the maintenance of the strike in many big centers of employment (retail centers, the Jarry industrial zone, public services, gas stations, etc.) shows that this movement is well rooted in the working class.

The majority of the organizations making up the LKP continue to call for the strike and to fight. After 15 days of strike, everything rests on the tenacity of the workers. A great meeting was called for February 3, in front of the Mutual building.

The LKP maintains its 18 demands. In a leaflet of February 2, it demands the increase of 200 euros, the immediate lowering of the price of gasoline, water, electricity, public transit and basic necessities. On the freezing of rents, Minister Jégo publicly said he was for it. The LKP also demands the end of taxes on fertilizer, herbicides, seeds, cattle feed and diesel fuel. And to aid the fishermen, it demands an end to special taxes affecting them.

The first achievements

The general strike and the popular movement have already had positive effects in different areas.

Negotiations that had seemed impossible in various areas have already produced results.

Of course, we still don't have a complete account of everything. But the climate created by the mobilization has, to some degree, modified the relation of forces between the bosses and the workers. The big sticking point is the increase in wages, which, in the end, will only cost the bosses 70 euros since the State will give them 130 euros! But this demand still isn't won, for the bosses of Guadeloupe, made up of the white Béké capitalists (the direct descendants of the old slave owners) and the black medium and small sized bosses who move in their shadow, are voracious, tenacious and warlike.

The struggle of the Guadeloupean workers continues. And as Jean-Marie Nomertin of the CGTG said: "We have already gained something essential in the present struggle, which is confidence in ourselves. We have seen that in our ranks exist men, women and youth totally ready to fight in order that things change in Guadeloupe. We can't change our material and moral conditions of existence in one fight. But we can fight up to the end in the current movement to snatch the maximum number of demands and, it could happen if there is more force, more consciousness, more militants and then more organizational capacity. Then we will demand still more than this time, to arrive at true changes in our lives."

On February 5, the workers of Martinique are also going to have a general strike, putting forth the demand of a wage of 300 euros for everyone. Many workers wish that this strike continue by means of a vote every day.