May Day Demonstrations in Guadeloupe

guadeloupe

Carrying banners with the theme for this year’s May Day–“Un Premier Mai Unitaire, Kont Tout Pwofitasyon” (A United May Day Against All Profiteering)—10,000 to 15,000 workers (some estimates claimed 30,000) representing thirteen trade unions marched down the streets of the small town of Petit Canal, Guadeloupe, the home village (and now burial place) of slain trade unionist Jacques Bino who was fatally shot during the 44-day strike in Guadeloupe that lasted from January 20, 2009 to March 5th. The thirteen unions that organized the events are members of Lyianaj kont pwofitasyon (Movement against Outrageous Exploitation, LKP), which led the general strike. They protested the continued high prices for imported food (Guadeloupe imports about 95% of its food) and the rise in unemployment, which has increased markedly since the strike. The local newspaper, France-Antilles, described the manifestation as a fitting tribute to Jacques Bino and to the movement’s agricultural foundation. “One after the other, workers’ organizations of all sorts—education, health, telecommunications, energy, construction, security, environmentalists, theater workers, banana workers, postal workers, tourism workers, companies on strike, retires, even a delegation of deaf people. All marching with dignity and with a sure step. Flags waving high and well-tempered slogans.”

Since the official end of the strike on March 5, one reporter states, “life has not been the best on the French-speaking Caribbean island.” Workers are still seriously concerned about the continued high cost of living and the lack of a final agreement on the promised increase in salary by 200 Euros for minimum wage workers. Some employers are still reluctant to sign the Jacques Bino Accord for the increase in salary, while the reduction in prices expected on certain basic items has not been enough to make a significant impact on workers’ access to food and consumers goods. Unemployment has risen by 7.4 percent in the six weeks since the strike ended and the island’s hotel sector has taken a major blow since the beginning of the year, because the country was essentially closed to tourism during the peak of the winter tourist season. A popular Creole proverb has made a comeback in the present circumstances: “Sos la ka kouté nou pli shè ki pwéson la” (The gravy is costing us more than the fish).

The marchers were joined by Olivier Besancenot, leader of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France. Besancenot, a far-left politician who has become the most serious challenger to Nicholas Zarkozy’s policies, characterized his presence as “hats off” to the movement. He marched in the contingent made up of militants of the independent trade union CTU (United Workers Center). Answering a question from a journalist, he stated that his presence was meant to “say hats off to the mobilization here and give a wink to the mobilization in France, which would do well to take inspiration from what was accomplished here by assembling forces at the same time at the same place.”

The 13 trade unions that organized the march are planning a big day of protests on Thursday, May 7. The question being asked by many is “whether paralyzing the country for 44 days had been worth it?”

For a complete report (in French) and numerous photographs of the demonstration go to http://www.guadeloupe.franceantilles.fr/actualite/societe-social-emploi/1er-me-kont-tout-pwofitasyon-02-05-2009-32793.php

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