FORT-DE-FRANCE, MARTINIQUE, February 7 — The general strike which began January 20 in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe spread February 5 to neighboring Martinique, 122 miles to the South. These workers — 90% African or African-white-Indian mixture (Indian from India) — are refusing to pay for the world capitalist crisis.
Over 20,000 people demonstrated here February 5, completely halting public transport. The marchers included all job categories from dockers to Catholic schoolteachers. They chanted, “Sarko [French President], Fillon [Prime Minister], we want jobs!” and “Jobs, yes! Precarity [poverty], no!” The twelve unions calling the strike united in a Collective, welcoming other unions and associations to join.
The Martinique strikers are demanding price cuts and higher wages for all, especially those in low-paying jobs. A Collective study shows milk costs 44.7% more and noodles almost 80% more on this island than in mainland France.
On Guadeloupe, the junior minister for the overseas departments, Yves Jégo, claimed agreement on about one-third of the 146 demands advanced by Lyiannaj kont pwofitasyon (Link Against Extreme Profiteering – LKP). In a clear maneuver to pressure LKP and Guadeloupe’s workers to end their strike, French interior minister Michèle Alliot-Marie immediately released a lying communiqué claiming “an agreement has been found on most of the questions raised.”
The people of Guadeloupe are super-exploited by capitalist monopolies and the Guadeloupe wealthy class. This island’s population of 405,000 is 69% African or African-white-Indian mixture.
A trade unionist told French radio that four or five families control imports to the island, so rice is almost twice as expensive here as on mainland France; a toothbrush costs four euros ($5.14).
Gasoline and diesel fuel distribution is effectively monopolized by the Caribbean Refinery Inc. (SARA), owned 50% by France’s Total company, with Exxon and Texaco also holding a stake.
Jégo claims to have obtained a one-year 10% price reduction for 100 staple goods in 60 supermarkets. He says he’ll “put heavy pressure” on the bosses to grant demands for higher wages. LKP wants an across-the-board, 200-euro-a-month wage hike. Jégo said before negotiations even opened that all workers would get at least a 2% raise. If accepted, a percentage-based raise would widen the gap between the highest- and lowest-paid workers, potentially dividing workers when the bosses inevitably move to eliminate the increase.
LKP is also demanding a rent freeze, improved health care, permanent jobs for all temporary workers and no racism in hiring. “The high rate of unemployment on Guadeloupe [35%] has to be taken into account,” said Jean-Marie Brissac, CGTG trade union general secretary. “Even though our young people are highly qualified, they can’t get a job here. The big corporations get their job applicants through Paris job agencies in order to exclude Guadeloupe youth.”
Jégo claimed LKP has asked him to be the “moderator” in negotiations. Posing as a “neutral mediator,” Jégo has induced the strikers to lower their guard. All gas stations were to re-open February 5, and two hypermarkets and a large number of shops have re-opened.
Meanwhile, in this good-cop-bad-cop routine, Guadeloupe bosses are dragging their heels at throwing any crumbs to the strikers. “Have a thought for the companies!” one local boss is said to have shouted at Jégo.
On the other hand, LKP called for a demonstration on Feb. 4 to shut the hypermarket and shopping center in Baie-Mahault, which had re-opened.
This apparent indecisiveness is reflected in the LKP platform: “People of Guadeloupe, workers, farmers, artisans, retirees, unemployed, entrepreneurs, young people, Lyiannaj kont pwofitasyon is our organization, our idea, our tool, our consciousness.” The inclusion of “entrepreneurs” — capitalists — in the Collective indicates confusion about the nature of the struggle. LKP apparently believes in unity with some bosses on a nationalist basis, because these bosses form part of “the people of Guadeloupe.” Such illusions are fatal in the class struggle.
It’s the job of communists worldwide to explain that the government is never “neutral” — it is always on the bosses’ side. The working class can obtain justice only by overthrowing the bosses’ government with communist revolution, in order to institute workers’ rule.