A 44-day general strike in the French Caribbean department of Guadeloupe ended with an agreement signed March 4 by representatives of the French government and the Collective Against Extreme Exploitation (LKP), which led the strike. In the Jacques Binot Accord—named for a union leader killed the night of Feb. 17—the LKP won its basic demand for a raise of 200 euros a month (now about $253) for low-wage workers. The agreement’s 165 articles also cover a wide range of economic demands: reductions in charges for school meals, in bank rates, in the price of water and auto fuel; lower real estate taxes; a 20% reduction in bus fares between towns; a rent freeze; and a freeze on the price of a loaf of bread.
The MEDEF—the Movement of Businesses of France, the most powerful French business association—refused to sign the accord. It is not clear how many workers local MEDEF members employ; estimates range as high as 30,000-40,000. But most Guadeloupeans seemed to consider the agreement a big win. Thousands of strike supporters celebrated with a demonstration in Pointe-à-Pitre, the departmental capital, on March 7; several hundred supporters also demonstrated in Paris. “The economy is on its knees,” an activist said in Pointe-à-Pitre when the accord was signed on March 4, “but Guadeloupe will never be the way it was before.”
On March 7 the local government announced it was starting an investigation of LKP spokesperson Elie Domota, secretary general of the General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG), for “provocation to discrimination, hate and violence against persons or categories of persons because of their origin.” The investigation refers to two remarks Domota made during a television appearance on Télé Guadeloupe on March 5: “Either [the employers] will apply the accord, or they’ll leave Guadeloupe” and “We won’t let a band of békés reestablish slavery.” Béké is a Creole term for the descendants of white slave owners.
A general strike which began on Feb. 5 in the nearby overseas department of Martinique was still in progress on March 8. Strikers, employers and the government had agreed on a framework for settling the strike on March 3; as in Guadeloupe, this would include a 200 euro raise for low-wage workers. But some unions refused to sign on, although talks continued. Nine people were arrested on March 6 after confrontations with the police, who said three agents had been shot and “slightly wounded.” The night of March 6-7 fire fighters put out numerous blazes set in rubbish and bus shelters. On March 7 some 4,000-5,000 people marched peacefully to support the Feb. 5 Collective, which has led the strike.
In an action clearly inspired by the strikes in Guadeloupe and Martinique, some 10,000-15,000 people demonstrated on March 5 in La Réunion, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean. (Nouvel Observateur, France, March 6 from AP; Ouest-France, March 6; Le Monde, France, March 7, some from AFP; AFP, March 8)
Activists in Guadeloupe and Martinique stressed effect their actions could have on continental France. Asked in an Internet chat on Feb. 27 why the government and employers resisted the 200-euro wage increase for so long, Guadeloupe union leader Domota answered: “Most certainly to prevent the idea from catching on in France.” Martinique’s pro-independence National Council of Grassroots Committees stressed the French government’s fear “of the extension of the mobilizations into France itself” as the world economic crisis accelerates. (MRzine, March 1, translated from Le Monde, Feb. 27; AlterPresse, Haiti, March 5)