Feb 23, 2009
The workers of Guadeloupe are beginning their fifth week of a general strike. Their comrades in Martinique have joined them.
Jégo, the French government Overseas Minister, who in negotiations promised wage increases, appallingly pulled back and today adopts an aggressive tone. He’s rediscovered the typical language of the bosses and the government about these strikers who,“take the population hostage.” In this situation, the argument isn’t only shocking, it’s ridiculous. The strike enjoys the support of almost the entire population, other than a few profiteers. Demonstrations of 20,000, 30,000, indeed 60,000 people follow one another in Guadeloupe, which has a total of only 450,000 inhabitants!
The strikers enjoy profound support from everyone, because everyone suffers from high prices. Prices in general, including those of food and basic necessities are 20% to 50% higher than those on the continent, where they are going up in an intolerable fashion. Those responsible are easily identifiable. The majority of the big stores, the local food industry and the export-import businesses are in the hands of a dozen great families who enjoy a monopoly and who literally extort the population with the blessing of the state authorities. These are the same people who own a large part of the land and who, after enriching themselves in sugar cane production, continue to enrich themselves with banana cultivation.
The majority of them are the békés, that is to say, descendants of the old slave masters who live in unbelievable luxury, dominate social life and who have friendships extending to the top of the French state.
If the strike is waged over material demands and above all for a wage increase of 200 Euros ($260) a month in Guadeloupe and 300 Euros ($390) a month in Martinique, it is also a strike for dignity, in this Caribbean society where men and women who are of African or Asian origin constitute the poorest part of the population: workers, white collar employees, and the unemployed. On the other hand, the higher one goes on the scale of wealth or in the state administration, the more places are occupied by the European minority.
This struggle for dignity represents an entirely legitimate aspect of the struggle which is developing over there. But those who insist on the specifically Guadeloupean and Martiniquean aspects of the movement diminish its importance and meaning. The békés aren’t the only ones responsible for the price increases. Alongside them, above them, are the big European and French companies, among them the oil company Total. This business, the richest and most powerful in France, completely controls the provisioning of oil in the French Caribbean through a subsidiary. Now, let’s recall, it was the price of gasoline which was the spark which ignited the social fire.
So the struggle of the workers and the population against price increases is also the struggle against these big French businesses which steal from and exploit those on the island, but who also steal from and exploit us here in France.
A minority pillages and exploits the majority in Guadeloupe and Martinique, but also in continental France. Of course, there isn’t the weight of the slave owner past on the continent! And the luxury of the great fortunes of France is more hidden than that of the békés. The richest béké family with 390 million dollars in wealth is only in 136th place in the ranking, very far from Bettencourt, Arnault, Pinault, Dassault, Lagard re, Bouygues, Bolloré, etc., who exercise a still greater power over society and over the State.
The workers of Guadeloupe and Martinique aren’t setting an example only for the other overseas departments. They are setting it for all workers.
Their fight for wage increases and an end to price increases concerns all workers. They are a part of our class who have chosen to struggle and who are showing us the way. It is in the interest of everyone, workers over there and here, that the struggle be carried out at the level of the entire working class, for then, we will multiply our chances of changing the relationship of forces between exploiters and exploited.