Guadeloupe and Martinique: ‘Stand Up Against The Profiteers’!

La Forge

‘Lyannaj kont Pwofitasyon’, in Guadeloupe

LKP: ‘Collective against Exploitation,’ ‘Collective against Super-Exploitation,’ ‘Collective against Abusive Exploitation’… The press agencies and metropolitan media are bad at translating Creole! But one thing is certain: this collective of 49 organisations, which includes nearly all the trade unions, parties and cultural associations of Guadeloupe, has successfully carried out one of the most extraordinary mobilisation that the island has known since the 1970s.

The general strike began on January 20.

One week after his arrival there, Y. Jégo [France’s Minister for Overseas Territories – translator’s note] could only note that each time he or Michele Alliot-Marie [France’s Interior Minister– translator’s note] announced an imminent return to normalcy, new sectors or new enterprises joined the strike.

Schools and department stores closed. Port activity was completely blocked as well as road transport. The television channel RFO Télé Guadeloupe reduced its broadcasts to a minimum service of an half hour per day. Although they were briefly reopened after concluding an agreement between their managers and Jégo, the gas stations were blocked again almost immediately by their employees.

Demands of the LKP against the high cost of living

The Collective LKP has a platform of more than one hundred points which it is firmly negotiating with the local employers, the State representatives and the local authorities.

These demands are in response to the dramatic situation that the population is experiencing. At the head of list is the demand for an ‘immediate and continuing relief of at least 200 Euros (€), for the low wage workers, retirees and the social minima’. Instead of these 200 € net per month demanded by the LKP, the employers, grouped in the Movement of Businessmen of Guadeloupe (MEG) only propose 200 € gross added to the annual salary for companies with more than 20 employees (and negotiations company by company for ones with less than 20 employees).

The LKP also demanded ‘a minimum wage for Guadeloupe calculated on the real cost of living in Guadeloupe.’ Although the cost of living is very high, the national minimum wage, just as that of the social services, is, in fact, lower than the amounts in force in the metropolis.

Since housing is another crucial question (with many unsanitary dwellings, high rents and many real estate foreclosures), Y. Jégo only promised an alignment of the housing assistance with that of the metropolis!

There were the same employer and governmental provocations in the negotiations around the price of fuel. The SARA (Refinery Company of the Antilles), a subsidiary of Total that controls all refining and distribution of fuel in Guadeloupe and Martinique, keeps on charging monopoly prices.

Just as with the great distribution, the negotiations are also very complicated! The collective does not accept a decrease in prices of 10% for 100 products of general consumption that Jégo boasts that he had negotiated. They call for a general and immediate decrease in prices of 30%.

The negotiations are not taking place in isolation, as Jégo would like, but with an active involvement of the movement.

On Saturday February 7, with the appeal of the Collective LKP, several thousand people converged on the town of Basse-Terre to ‘take part’ in the negotiations in the chief town of Guadeloupe.

The movement spreads to Martinique

The economic and social situation is no better in Martinique which has, as does Guadeloupe, an unemployment rate of more than 20% (50% in certain areas).

The policies which economically favour ‘overseas’ investments have led to an artificial development of real estate which has benefitted only the richest people – mostly Europeans.

The same colonial logic is at work in these two ‘overseas territories’. Thus, for example, the Carrefour group sells bananas grown in Martinique for more in Pointe à Pitre (1.95 €) than in the metropolis (1.52 €)! The trade unions which called for the strike of February 5 published a study which shows that milk is 44.7% more expensive there than in the metropolis and pasta are nearly 80% more expensive.

‘70,000 people in Martinique live below the poverty line and the purchasing power continues to decrease’ while we are witnessing an ‘increase in layoffs and precariousness,’ a situation which ‘affects employees in all branches of industry and all categories, pensioners, the unemployed and people with handicaps’ stated the union federation which was joined by other associations to form the ‘February 5 Collective.’

Solidarity with the people of Guadeloupe and Martinique!

In Martinique as in Guadeloupe, the workers and popular masses are refusing to pay for the crisis of the capitalist system whose consequences for them are made worse by the bonds of dependence with the colonial metropolis.

Like the LKP of Guadeloupe, the ‘February 5 Collective’ is demanding a wage increase (300 Euros), pensions and social minima for all and indexed to inflation, as well as price controls.

These popular movements, which have aroused two of the last French colonies, are taking part in the general refusal of the workers and the people to pay for a crisis which is not theirs.

They also bring major political questions back into debate:

‘Nou péké konstwi on sosyété nef si nou rété anba dominasyon é pwofitasyon kapitalis é kolonyalis’ [‘we cannot build a new society if we live under capitalist exploitation and colonialist domination’ – translator’s note], states the Collective LKP at the end of its platform. To build this ‘new society,’ which is so necessary, there is no other way, indeed, than to attack the colonial domination and the capitalist exploitation!

In his speech of February 5, Sarkozy completely concealed this movement which is paralysing two French ‘territories’ and mobilised his Secretary of State for Overseas full-time on the ground. This silence is more than contempt; it is fear. The manoeuvres of Jégo and the UMP [Union for a Popular Movement – translator’s note], which is trying to take advantage of this crisis to retake control of the regional Council of Guadeloupe from the PS [Socialist Party – translator’s note] are only more ridiculous.

All those who ‘stand up against the profiteers’ and the French State, be assured of our solidarity and support!

La Forge #493
February 2009.

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