Native Guadeloupeans campaign against high living costs, 2009

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Timing
Time Period:  
January 20,
2009
to
March 4,
2009
Location and Goals
Country: 
Guadeloupe
Country: 
France
Goals: 
The Collective against Exploitation (LKP) had a platform of more than 100 points negotiating with local employers, authorities, and State representatives. At the head of these demands were:

-An immediate and continuing relief of at least 200 euros for the low wage workers, retirees and the social minima, or residual benefits for persons not entitled to regular social security

-A minimum wage for Guadeloupe according to the true cost of living in Guadeloupe

-A cut to gas/petrol prices by 50 euro cents a liter.

-A general and immediate decrease in prices by 30%

 

Guadeloupe is generally a tourist-friendly French Caribbean island (a department of the French state, whose residents are citizens of the EU). The island's inhabitants rely mostly on imported goods sold in French-owned supermarkets at a significantly higher price than on the mainland, despite having a 23 percent rate of unemployment, more than twice that of France's. Disgruntled from the high cost of living, a coalition of trade unions called, ‘Lyannaj kont Pwofitasyon’ (LKP), (Collective against Exploitation in French Creole), organized a campaign to increase native Guadeloupeans buying power. LKP organized a general strike on January 20, 2009, with over 100 demands. These strikers accused the "békés", the white descendants of colonists and slaveholders, of profiteering and of exploiting their high positions in businesses to keep prices high in order to maintain a privileged lifestyle.

As a result of the general strike all schools and department stores were closed; public transportation was shut down; port activity, road transport, and gas stations were blocked. The national television station only showed the minimum of 30 minutes of programming per day. Garbage heaps piled into mountains after trash collectors walked out. Guadeloupe, a tourist hotspot, shut down hotels and canceled charter flights into the island. The LKP promised a state of "chaos" if the French state refused to listen to the unions' demands.

In late January, French President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to send the minister for French overseas territories, Yves Jego, to the island in order to negotiate with the unions and bring an end to strike. On February 1, Jego arrived and began to negotiate with the strikers. He vowed to go back to France only after an accord was reached. After his arrival, negotiations between two government appointed mediators and the strikers were attempted, but the LKP refused the proposals of the French government, walked out of the negotiations, and the negotiations were stopped. The general strike continued and on Saturday, February 14, thousands of workers supporting the continuation of the strike marched throughout the town of Le Moule and chanted "Guadeloupe is ours, it's not theirs," referring to the white population.

On February 18, tax collector and union activist Jacques Bino, was killed after leaving a union meeting in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe's biggest city. Armed youths, whom investigators believed to have thought Bino was a plain-clothes police officer, shot Bino while he was driving near a roadblock. Shops were looted and destroyed and roadblocks were burned by local youths. France sent French paramilitary gendarmes to patrol the island.

Pressured by the seeming contagious strike fervor (nearby French island, Martinique had begun a strike on February 5, and the unions of La Reunion, another Caribbean French department, were planning a similar campaign), the French state urged for negotiations to resume. On February 20, the strikers agreed to retake the negotiations. Meanwhile, on February 22, a group of 3,000 to 4,000 mourners gathered for Jacques Bino's funeral; these included family, coworkers, and politicians like former French socialist leader Segolene Royal. During the gathering, LKP leader, Elie Domota, stated that Bino's "death should not be in vain."

On February 26, French representatives and Guadeloupean strikers reached a tentative accord after overnight talks. LKP, however, declared their mistrust of the "bosses" and announced that the strike would continue. On March 4 strikers and French representatives signed an accord, a 17-page document listing a 165-point deal on measures to improve living standards on the island. LKP leaders, however, maintained that strikes would continue in any businesses that did not follow the agreement.

After the negotiations ended, businesses owners began to challenge certain aspects of the accord. Some employers, who had left the negotiating table during discussions, argued that the accord was not valid. At the time of writing, it remains unclear if these businesses ever followed the accord.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Influenced similar strikes in Martinique and La Réunion, other French departments in the Caribbean (See "Martinique workers campaign against high living costs, 2009" and "La Réunion Workers campaign for greater buying power, 2009") (2).

Sources: 
Nedeljkovic, Eddy. " General strike paralyses French Caribbean Island." Agence France Presse. 2 February 2009.

Sportouch, Benjamin . "Unions promise more action in Guadeloupe Strikes." Agence France Presse. 15 February 2009.

Sportouch, Benjamin . "Guadeloupe strike turns violent, one dead" Agence France Presse. 18 February 2009.

"Guadeloupe strike ends after 44 days." Agence France Presse. 5 March 2009.

"Guadeloupe strike leader agrees to resume negotiations." Agence France Presse. 20 February 2009.

"Tentative accord in Guadeloupe strike." Agence France Presse. 26 February 2009.

"Thousands mourn Guadeloupe shot unionist."Agence France Presse. 22 February 2009.

Fidler, Richard. "Martinique general strike ends in victory: Mobilisations, victories in overseas colonies set example for French workers."Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal. 5 Nov. 2009 <http://links.org.au/node/956>

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

Forge <http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv15/guadeloupe.htm>

Additional Notes: 
Edited by Max Rennebohm (17/05/2011)
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Aurora Muñoz 12/12/2009