Tim Newman, Campaigns Assistant, International Labor Rights Forum
As unions in France launch another major strike, workers in the French "overseas departments" in the Caribbean have also launched massive struggles for economic justice.
A 44-day general strike in Guadeloupe ended on March 5th when unions signed a deal with authorities to increase wages and other improvements. The strike was launched by a coalition of organizations, especially trade unions on the island and was in part sparked by low wages and the high cost of food and other basic necessities. Guadeloupe is technically part of France and the European Union, but there is about 23 percent unemployment (more than twice mainland France's rate) and the cost of living is very high for the mostly poor population. The struggle was also against a system of exploitation on the island where descendants of white former plantation owners control many of the businesses and positions of power. As the activists celebrated their victory, they clearly remained ready to take action if the agreement was not implemented and to take their struggle further. Elie Domota, a leader of the Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (LKP) coalition that led the strike, said, "Today, our struggle has paid off... We must remain mobilized and continue to fight." It seems that the employers' association is already reinterpreting parts of the agreement and there is concern that the French government might try to target Domota as a leader of the union movement.
In nearby Martinique, a 38-day general strike ended on March 14th with the signing of an agreement by the February 5 Collective (a coalition unions and other organizations) to increase wages and cut prices of 400 basic necessities. Supporters chanted "Matinik leve" (Martinique stand up) as they celebrated the agreement and vowed to stay mobilized in case the agreement is not implemented.
In Reunion, an island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar that is also controlled by France, thousands of protesters have also been calling for wage increases and a cut to the price of basic goods.
It seems that the massive mobilizations in Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion have not gotten much coverage, at least in the US press. However, they are inspiring examples of how workers are responding not only to the impacts of the present global economic and food crisis, but to centuries of exploitation. I think it is important for labor rights supporters in the US to stand in solidarity with workers in these countries as they fight to ensure that improvements are implemented on the ground and that union members are able to organize without harrassment or even violence.