Long live the workers’ struggle in Guadeloupe and Martinique!

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
November 29, 2021

The minister of the Overseas French Departments, Sébastien Lecornu, has been in the French Caribbean islands since Sunday. He has gone there with the aim of calming the rising social unrest in Guadeloupe and Martinique. And that’s precisely what it is: social unrest.

The media are presenting the events as riots instigated by young thugs who only think of looting, arson and robbing the population. Just as they did during the yellow vest movement, they emphasize all the violence and say nothing about the demonstrators’ demands.

Did they show any images or videos of the thousands of people gathered at last Saturday’s demonstration in Pointe-à-Pitre for example? Did they broadcast the workers’ demands or the demands of stay-at-home mothers, unemployed workers or of all those who have grouped together on the roundabouts? They aren’t just demonstrating against the arrogance of those in power or the authoritarian methods they’re using concerning vaccination. They’re also demonstrating against price rises for gas cylinders and bread, against poverty and unemployment.

They’re criticizing those in power who couldn’t care less about the population’s problems. Those in power were complicit in the chlordecone poisoning scandal and they haven’t done the slightest thing to decontaminate the soil. They have been completely incapable of supplying the population with clean water for years.

From over 4,000 miles away, the government continues to treat the French Caribbean islands like colonies and considers the Caribbean people as second-class citizens. In mainland France, the unemployment rate is 8% while in the French Caribbean it’s 20%. And there is less training for younger generations over there, fewer hospital beds and doctors... But, traditionally, there has always been more sugar in the drinks sold in the Caribbean – and therefore more people who suffer from diabetes – because it’s in the interests of the sugar-cane bourgeoisie. All the prices are higher too, even the price of bananas which are produced locally.

In short, all the problems that the working class faces here in France like low-paying odd jobs, low wages and inflation are even worse over there.

The reasons for this uprising are the same as those back in 2009 during the social upheaval “against profitation” (a French Creole expression). That revolt lasted 44 days and there were massive strikes which brought the people’s buying power to the center of attention. If the laboring classes are to have any chance of improving their daily living conditions, the workers must take the lead!

For now, the French government has made the same concession in Guadeloupe as it has in Martinique: mandatory vaccination will only take effect on December 31. The government has also promised to create 1,000 jobs for young people. That’s nowhere near enough! But these small acts prove that mobilizing is what makes things happen. So, let’s hope that those who have been protesting on roadblocks, demonstrating and on strike for the past two weeks continue to do so!

The minister of the Overseas French Departments said he was prepared to discuss autonomy. That’s obviously a diversion! A change in status may be of interest to the bigwigs standing aloof from the popular revolt or to certain nationalists, but neither autonomy nor independence will bring the poor people of Guadeloupe and Martinique out of poverty! Autonomy won’t force the Caribbean bourgeoisie or the “Békés”, heirs of plantation slave-owners, to be less ferocious with the exploited.

Nobody is fooled. Minister Lecornu has brought up the question of autonomy so as not to put more money into hospitals or repairing the water supply network. It’s so that there’s no talk of increasing wages and benefits and indexing them to prices.

Autonomy or not, the workers know that the only way they will be respected is by fighting to have their demands met. If Guadeloupians have lost what they won through their mobilization in 2009, it’s because the workers have let their guard down and the bosses have toughened their offensive.

Today, the laboring classes in the French Caribbean are in a position to reverse the tug of war because they are putting up a fight. For all of us here, this must be a source of inspiration!

Nathalie Arthaud