Guadeloupe: A People Arise

The scope of this revolt refutes those who would dismiss it as the action of a few agitators seeking notoriety. The call for the general strike, issued on January 20, has been met by a massive mobilisation of the population in the streets.

On February 18 alone, between 60,000 and 80,000 demonstrated in Le Moule to commemorate the assassination of five sugar cane workers in 1957. That’s a demonstration of 13-17% of the island’s total population of 460,000.

Initially a challenge to the price of gasoline, the social movement is demanding measures to fight the high cost of living and social squalor.

Not surprisingly, the 149 demands of the movement are popular in a nation with an “official” unemployment rate of 22.7% (the actual level is estimated at close to 40%) and twice the rate of poverty than in mainland France.

Apart from expressing the people’s aspirations for emancipation, the revolt in Guadeloupe also draws its strength from an anti-colonial consciousness that is fuelled by a long tradition of contestation.

Faced with the columns of cops hastily dispatched by Paris to repress the movement, the demonstrators chant in Creole: “Guadeloupe is ours, Guadeloupe is not theirs, they shall not do what they want in our country.”

Discrimination in hiring, monopolisation of positions of responsibility by the French, monopoly rents extorted by the companies owned by the bekes (the minority descendants of the French colonists), the government’s repressive response – Guadeloupe looks more like a colony than a department belonging to a republic with the motto of “liberty, equality, fraternity”.

This neo-colonial reality is bitterly denounced by the current movement. And this political consciousness is a major asset, for the ruling classes of the metropolis have precious little control over the situation, or ability to give a veneer of legitimacy to their domination.

Lastly, the general strike fully embodies the meaning of the Creole word lyannaj: to win over, to bring together, to unite in solidarity, unity and strong attachment. The Collective Against Super-exploitation (LKP), which is leading the social movement, includes 49 organisations and its spokesperson, Elie Domota, is proof of a leadership committed to speaking truth to the metropolitan power and the local business class.

Asked by the French daily Liberation, on February 17, if he would continue to call for mobilisation, Domota answered: “Yes, for we have no choice. Yves Jego [French overseas secretary of state] says everything is settled, but he has lied to us and the government is not keeping its word or respecting its undertakings.

“The only thing that interests us is the signing of our draft agreement with the government and the bosses, which provides for an increase of 200 euros for the lowest wages. But since no one is listening to us, we are forced to be in the street …

“For four weeks, the government has been chartering planeloads of cops to casser du negre – break the niggers. I remain open to dialogue, but today the government has chosen repression and the Guadeloupians are going to resist.”

It is not hard to understand why the “Guadeloupe” case upsets the Elysee [the French presidency]. The French government and bosses fear that Guadeloupe will become an example for the workers in the metropolis.

And that fear is warranted, for the French colonies of Martinique and La Reunion are showing that this type of movement is highly contagious, particularly in a time of crisis and after a quarter-century of neoliberal offensive.

[This article was originally published by Presse-toi-a-gauche, It has been translated by Richard Fidler.] From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #786 11 March 2009.

Photo from Perth Indymedia