Guadeloupe: general strike spreads

After 22 hours of negotiations, on the morning of Feb. 8 management and strikers in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe reached a preliminary agreement that could form the basis for ending a general strike that has paralyzed the island since Jan. 20. Under the agreement, the 45,000 Guadeloupean workers who earn up to 1.6 times the minimum wage (SMIC, for Minimum Interprofessional Growth Salary in French) would get an increase of 200 euros (about $259) a month, while workers with higher salaries could negotiate with management for raises of 2.5% to 3%. Of the strikers’ 146 demands, the government and business owners have already met about 50, including measures to bring down the cost of fuel. (Nouvel Observateur, France, Feb. 8; Le Parisien, France, Feb. 8)

The strike has been led by the Collective Against Extreme Exploitation (LKP, Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon in Guadeloupean Creole), which includes 47 unions, along with political parties and grassroots organizations. The movement has received broad support from Guadeloupe’s 450,000 residents. Some 25,000 people demonstrated in Pointe a Pitre, the capital, at the beginning of the strike, and a demonstration held as negotiators met on Feb. 7 drew about 50,000 protesters.

Guadeloupe has an unemployment rate of more than 20% and a large disparity in wages between workers in the public and private sectors. The cost of living is a central issue: many goods have to be imported, and prices are sometimes twice as high as in France. Conditions are similar on the nearby island of Martinique and in French Guiana, also French overseas departments. On Feb. 5 a dozen unions held a one-day general strike in Martinique, shutting down transportation and businesses. Some 15,000-20,000 protesters marched through Fort-de-France, the capital. “Sarko, Fillon, we want work!” they chanted, referring to French president Nicholas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon. Encouraged by the strike’s success, the unions extended the job action to Feb. 6.

The General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG), considered the leading force in Guadeloupe’s strike committee, is distrustful of Sarkozy’s conservative government. On Jan. 26 UGTG secretary general Elie Domota charged that employers were “gearing up for a lockout, thinking that they can thus starve people, provoke confrontations and ask the colonial authority to suppress us. For that purpose, several hundred forces of repression arrived in Guadeloupe a few days ago, armed to the teeth.” Noting that in May 1967 the French government killed more than 100 Guadeloupeans following a construction workers’ strike, Domota appealed for international solidarity; e-mails can be sent to (Le Parisien, Feb. 8; UGTG Emergency Solidarity Appeal, Jan. 26;
Liberation, France, Feb. 6, some from AFP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 8

The Guadeloupe strike comes on the heels of a general strike in France.

See our last post on the econocataclysm.