The victory obtained by the people of Guadeloupe, united against the exploitation and injustice that they have endured, shows that it is possible to find a way out. To do so, it is necessary to dare to move forward in a different way.
On December 5, 2008 at the initiative of the General Workers’ Union of Guadeloupe (UGTG), the country’s leading trade union, a first unity meeting took place in Guadeloupe.
On December 16, 2008, 7,000 people answered the call of 31 union, political and social associations to march in the streets of Pointe-à-Pitre against the high cost of living. The Préfet (top government official appointed by the French government) refused to receive the leaders of the organisations. But the movement is underway. A platform of 146 demands was drawn up by the collective, which has taken the name Liyannaj kont pwofitasyon (LKP), literally “Alliance Against Abusive Profits”. The name expresses the goal of the collective and, at the same time, its determination in the face of exploitation. The LKP brings together the unions but also cultural movements and associations of tenants, consumers, defenders of the environment, and anti-colonialist political parties like the Communist Party of Guadeloupe and the Popular Union for the Liberation of Guadeloupe (UPLG). Forty-nine organisations quickly joined the LKP. All segments of society in Guadeloupe are participating, except for those who share political power, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP, the French ruling party) and the Socialist Party (PS). The LKP represents a level of mobilisation that involves all of civil society. It functions democratically. All decisions are debated by the 49 organisations. The collective is holding together despite differing points of view. There is a call for a general strike January 20, 2009.
The struggle against “pwofitasyon” has led to an historic mobilisation at the heart of society as a whole in Guadeloupe. What led to this federation was the feeling of injustice, the poverty suffered by the majority. In everyday language, “pwofitasyon” means the abuse of power that the powerful practice on the weak, in order to make them even weaker. It is a question here of all the abuses laid on the backs of the people by the political authorities, the giants of mass distribution, and the big “béké” industrialists, descendants of slave owners, who have been able to preserve their domination of the economy.
The demands constitute a veritable indictment motion that covers absolutely every aspect of society: the high cost of living (as much as 100% higher than prices in France), education, professional training, union rights and freedom to organise, public services, environment, agricultural production, urban and rural planning and infrastructure, culture and, finally, “pwofitasyon” (with demands for measures to control prices from now on). The media have focused on demands for an increase of 200 Euros (for the lowest salaries) but have ignored the other demands and the degree of authenticity this social movement has.
In answer to the call of the LKP, demonstrations drew 100,000 people, out of a population of 460,000, all linked by “Liyannaj”, the concerns that they share, regardless of age. When the strike was settled, LKP representatives went to negotiate accompanied by large crowds of demonstrators with whom they shared the content of all discussions.
The people of Guadeloupe organised themselves. Popular marches allowed fishermen and farmers to sell their products. Never before has so much local produce been consumed locally! Nicolas Sarkozy and his government have treated the struggling people with total disdain. They ignored the movement and remained totally silent for nearly fifteen days!
There were efforts to discredit the movement by calling it racist when it clearly is not. Certainly the weight of colonial and slave-owning history can be felt. The society is pyramidal and the higher you go towards the top of the pyramid, the lighter complexions become.
The slogan taken to heart by the demonstrators: “La Gwadloup sé tan-nou, la Gwadloup sé pa ta yo. Yo péké fè say o vlé, adan péyi an-nou” (“Guadeloupe belongs to us, it does not belong to them. We will not let them do whatever they want in our country”) expresses the rejection of Guadeloupe as a simple market where anyone can do whatever they want with impunity, a place where the law does not apply. “They” refers to the “profiteers”, those responsible for the pwofitasyon. As for “us”, it augurs something completely new: the strength and recovered pride of the people of Guadeloupe who have joined forces in order to effect change.
After a six-week strike, the people of Guadeloupe won a formidable victory. On March 4, 2009, the LKP signed an agreement that contains 165 articles and reflects the progress achieved on the 146 initial demands. An annex contains the agreement that provides for a ? 200 increase for low wage earners.
Government and employers are multiplying their manoeuvres to weaken the scope of the successes won by the people of Guadeloupe. The MEDEF has launched an attack on the 200 Euro increase.
Even though the agreement concerned was signed in the presence of the Préfet and state mediators, the government, under pressure from the MEDEF, is playing a double game. It has declared that the state does not support the protocol of the agreement. Bolstered by their six weeks of struggle, the wage earners of Guadeloupe are determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure that every company implements the agreement.
The government turn-around is part of a counter-offensive that includes the opening of a legal investigation of the LKP spokesman, on grounds of incitement to racial hatred and extortion. The theme of ostensible anti-white racism is exploited to discredit the movement. This legal summons reflects the will of Nicolas Sarkozy and his government to take revenge and also to intimidate those in Guadeloupe who dare to stand up.
Today, the foundation of society in Guadeloupe is on the move and the movement shows no sign of subsiding. Dysfunction and injustice have been exposed to the light of day. Feelings of powerlessness and fatality have been disparaged. Faced with the indifference and disdain of the political powers, the society has taken its problems in hand and shown its ability to resolve them. The people of Guadeloupe know this. That is how they have been able to recover all their dignity.