Guadeloupe: he that sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
November 22, 2021

Strong protests against the health pass and mandatory vaccination have been going on in the French Caribbean since this summer. In Guadeloupe, they have just turned into a movement of general revolt.

During the day, workers group together on picket lines and around road blocks. There are healthcare workers, hotel and restaurant employees, firefighters, teachers, nursing home workers, as well as ArcelorMittal factory workers who’ve been on strike for more than two months. At night, gangs of young people set out to challenge the police by setting fires or looting.

The spark that ignited the powder keg was the decision to suspend unvaccinated healthcare workers without pay. In mainland France too, many healthcare workers consider mandatory vaccination, and the threats and sanctions that go with it, as yet another humiliation. Which is more than understandable!

The state sent them to the front line putting their lives and health at risk. They were expected to fight Covid without any basic protective equipment. The state never granted hospitals the essential material and human resources that were needed, and now the government is lecturing us about being responsible and punishing workers who aren’t willing to be vaccinated by suspending them without pay!

Vaccination is a powerful way to fight the epidemic, but the authoritarian methods that are being used along with it serve no sanitary purpose. They are highly political and serve above all to make workers and the general population obey. The fact is that not being vaccinated has become a new reason for dismissal. It is yet another anti-worker attack, and that is precisely what healthcare workers are up against in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Their fight is legitimate.

How can anyone be surprised that health authorities are not trusted in the Caribbean? For decades, they allowed the owners of banana plantations to use chlordecone, a carcinogenic pesticide that has poisoned farm workers, soils and groundwater.

The current revolt is being fueled by the same things that led to the 2009 social upheaval “against profitation” (as is said in French Creole): extreme poverty, low wages, the high cost of living, the deterioration of public services, serious problems affecting younger generations, such as the lack of job and education opportunities.

Ministers and journalists keep on blaming what they call gangs of young thugs for sowing the seeds of "anarchy" and "chaos". But when there is no electricity or street lights for months, when garbage collection is sporadic, isn’t that also a form of chaos? And that’s chaos for which the state is responsible! Water cutoffs have become part of everyday life, so much so that to find water some inhabitants are forced to move out of their neighborhood and fetch it wherever possible: from a school, a park, roadside facilities, etc. This has been going on for years. Could that have happened in mainland France? Of course not!

People in the Caribbean are treated with a form of colonial contempt that is simply unacceptable. What is considered a minimum in mainland France never applies to Guadeloupe or Martinique. The government claims it has reduced unemployment to 8% in mainland France; well, it stands at 17% in Guadeloupe! When poverty affects 14% of the population in France, it’s 34% in Guadeloupe. And how can young people in the Caribbean not feel despised when they cannot find jobs or training nearby?

Prices in the French Caribbean islands are increasing so quickly it’s dizzying. Bread alone has increased by 68% while wages and pensions, like in metropolitan France, remain frozen, or are even lower because certain bonuses have been cut.

If the pressure cooker has indeed exploded, Macron is responsible for it, and by sending special army and police forces (the Raid and the GIGN), he is only adding fuel to fire.

For now, anger is being expressed in different ways, but it can and should be directed against the government and employers. The workers can make it happen if they go on strike. By organizing in the workplace, by stopping production and interrupting the flow of profits, the working class can bring forth its demands, demands which would mean progress for the entire population: more jobs, higher wages indexed on prices, investments in run-down public services…

Yes, such a social revolt would be a source of inspiration for all of us over here!

Nathalie Arthaud