For Independence and a Socialist Federation of the Antilles!Guadeloupe on Strike!
Demonstrators in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe during October 26 strike and mobilization called by LKP
demanding implentation of accords that ended historic 44-day general strike in 2009. If their demands
are not met, unions vow to launch a new general strike starting December 14. (Photo: UGTG)
PARIS, October 27 – Today’s papers report on a strike and protest in France’s Caribbean colonies of Guadeloupe, Martinique and Guyane. According to the accounts, the demonstrations were largest in Guadeloupe, where a historic 44-day general strike took place in February-March 2009. This time, some 20,000 demonstrators came out in the capital of Guadeloupe, Pointe-à-Pitre, according to the unions (6,500 according to the police), in response to the appeal of the Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (LKP – Collective Against Superexploitation), and it was mainly public sector workers such as the post office that struck. The main demands of the mobilization were for carrying out the settlement reached at the end of the 2009 strike, named after Jacques Bino, a trade-unionist shot to death on the eve of that strike.
The Bino Accords called for a wage increase of 200 euros a month for the lowest-paid category of workers, as well as for controls on inflation for basic necessities, most of which (including foodstuffs) are imported and cost much more than in metropolitan France, even though income levels are at least 50 percent lower. According to Élie Domota, the spokesman of the LKP and general secretary of the General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG), the government has tried to shortchange the agreed-upon wage increases. Moreover, the employers’ association, the Medef, representing the local ruling class descended from the white settlers (known in Creole as békés), who own a number of sugar refineries and superstores such as Carrefour, refused to sign the agreements in the first place.
In the union-led mobilization yesterday, demonstrators sang the theme song of the 2009 general strike, “La Gwadloup sé tan nou, la Gwadloup a pa ta yo” (Guadeloupe belongs to us, it doesn’t belong to them). While the militancy and consciousness of that struggle remains, the March 2009 Bino accords have remained pretty much a dead letter. A commission was set up to oversee the implementation of the accords, but it hasn’t met since November 2009 and government officials refuse to even talk with representatives of the LKP. If there is no change by December 5, Domota declared, an open-ended general strike will begin on December 14. The LKP supports the struggle of French unions against the pension “reform” law, Domota said, but he would rather have seen a ten-day strike against it than ten separate “days of action.”
In an interview published in today’s L’Humanité, Domota called the LKP “an anti-capitalist and anti-colonialist organization.” The popular-front-type coalition is led by the UGTG, which calls for independence for Guadeloupe, and includes the CGTG union federation (historically linked to the Communist Party and headed since 2002 by Jean-Marie Nomertin, a supporter of Lutte Ouvrière), CFDT, F.O., and a host of petty-bourgeois nationalist political and cultural groups. The LKP’s demands include the right to use Creole in official matters. Recently, judges refused to hear union officials in their own language after being arrested in protests. “It’s as if we were back in the days of the Code Noir [the Black Code, which held sway in French colonies prior to the abolition of slavery in 1848] when you couldn’t speak, sing or express yourself in your own culture without the permission of the master,” commented Domota.
In Guadeloupe, after upsurges of nationalist struggle following the massacre of dozens of workers in May 1967 and in the mid-1980s, overtly anti-colonial protests died down. In 2003, a referendum on increased autonomy for local governments was defeated. However, Guadeloupe and Martinique remain colonies, and pro-independence unions have increased their strength – mainly the UGTG, which has majority support, but also the CTU (United Workers Federation). Even the Guadeloupe Communist Party (PCG) calls for “support for independence for the people of Guadeloupe.” PCG general secretary Alain Flémin told a gathering in Cuba last year, “France tries to make-believe that Guadeloupe is not a colony but a French department. Our people has never been consulted about its political status and therefore has not been able to exert its right to self-determination” (Pambazuka News, 4 June 2009). The supporters of Lutte Ouvrière, are more reticent, saying only that “workers will not counterpose their own goals to anti-colonial and national aspirations, if they appear” (Combat Ouvrier, 18 April 2008). How big of them!
One group that explicitly does not call for independence for France’s Caribbean colonies is the Ligue Trotskyste de France (LTF, part of the International Communist League). In an article on the 2009 general strike, the LTF claims that it “would be in favor of independence” but … “we do not currently call for independence for Guadeloupe and Martinique, notably because the large majority of the population is currently opposed” to it (Le Bolchévik, March 2009). To back this up it cites a poll published in Le Figaro Magazine. So the position of these intrepid would-be Trotskyists depends on opinion polls, or perhaps a colonial referendum! The LTF says it is against “‘unconditionally’ imposing a separate state on a people.” This is a red herring. Just who is proposing to “impose” independence on the Antilles islands? The French government? Hardly. Leftists? Absurd. This “argument” is a cynical justification for its failure to oppose colonial rule.
The LTF is not alone. In fact, during a visit of Ségolène Royal in 2007, a local nationalist group asked the former Socialist Party presidential candidate how is it that she calls for independence for Quebec, but not for Guadeloupe? The LTF has the same policy as Royal. And while the question of independence for Québec, an oppressed nation in a multi-national state (Canada), is greatly influenced by the actual state of opinion, Guadeloupe and Martinique are colonies. Genuine Trotskyists and Leninists are duty-bound to oppose colonial rule anywhere and everywhere, and to support national independence from the imperial power. Once upon a time, the LTF called for “Immediate, total and unconditional independence for Guadeloupe, Martinique and the other French colonies” (Le Bolchévik, September 1985). But that was when it upheld revolutionary Trotskyism and before it discovered a supposed qualitative regression of workers’ consciousness, which it now uses as a “theoretical” excuse for its own opportunism.
Refusing to call for independence of France’s colonies is a betrayal of the class interests of the proletariat and a capitulation to imperialism. So was the abandonment in 1998 by the ICL’s U.S. section, the Spartacist League, of its previous call for independence for Puerto Rico. It only takes one more step to go from this “socialist” toleration of colonialism to outright support for imperialist invasion, as the ICL did in backing the U.S.’ “humanitarian” occupation of Haiti following the earthquake last January. After three months of loudly accusing the Internationalist Group of “nationalism” because we demanded that all U.S. troops get out of Haiti, the ICL did an about-face and admitted that its line was a betrayal, that we were right to call it “social-imperialism,” and that it had lied about the aims and actions of the U.S. military and even about the ICL’s own position (see the ICL’s 27 April 2009 confession, “A Capitulation to U.S. Imperialism”).
The class struggle is not like the Catholic church where you can confess to your sins and a priest grants you absolution. Who can trust a “leftist” group that supports an imperialist invasion, and then lies about it? Today the LTF argues that, “in Guadeloupe and Martinique the crucial task is to break the hold of nationalist false consciousness.” This is a key task, but what about the struggle against the national oppression inherent in colonial status? That oppression is very real and concrete. After the 2009 general strike, the French government charged Domota in court of fomenting racial hatred for saying that “we will not let the békés reestablish slavery.” Why did he say that? Because a leading spokesman for the béké bosses, Alain Huyghes-Despointes, said in a TV interview broadcast in February 2009 that “Historians only speak about the negative sides of slavery, which is regrettable,” adding that békés “want to preserve the [white] race.” Currently, the police are demanding DNA samples from unionists arrested during demos and strikes, as if they were criminals…or escaped slaves.
Struggle against colonial oppression: trade unionists in Guadeloupe who refuse to give DNA samples when arrested wear T-shirt with text of Article 38 of the Code Noir, dealing with threatment of escaped slaves. (Photo: UGTG)
The LTF and ICL have formally repudiated their admitted social-imperialist support for U.S. occupation of Haiti. Will they renounce their social-colonialist refusal to call for independence for Guadeloupe and Martinique? Don’t hold your breath.
To be sure, supporting independence of French colonies is no be all and end all. Some petty-bourgeois Guadeloupe nationalists adopt a frankly chauvinist hostility to Haitian refugees, who constitute as much as 10 percent of the island’s population. Some no doubt support independence because they want to reap the profits of the superexploitation of Guadaloupe workers. And while the UGTG and other indépendantiste unions have waged sharp class struggles (as in 2009), they do not advocate socialist revolution.
If many in Guadeloupe do not favor independence today it is because they rightly fear that under capitalism it would mean increased poverty, as they see in other small islands around them. Does this mean we abandon the call for independence? Not at all. Trotskyists, who stand for proletarian internationalism and permanent revolution, say that the liberation of the colonial peoples of the Caribbean poses the need for a voluntary socialist federation of the Antilles and extension of the struggle to the imperialist metropoles, France and the United States. ■
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