ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: En Guadeloupe, négociations sous la pression de la rue
by Rosa Moussaoui
Translated Thursday 19 February 2009, by
The movement is spreading to Martinique. In Guadeloupe, demonstrators denounce the President’s “contemptuous” silence during his televised interview.
From our special correspondent in Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe)
From the room in the Basse-Terre where on 5 February at midday negotiations opened with Guadeloupe’s Lyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (Collective Against Exploitation) or LKP, the bosses and Overseas Secretary of State Yves Jégo could hear the chants of demonstrators massed before the railings. The gathering lasted late into the night: waiting for the negotiators’ report, the crowd showed the inflexible determination of people confident that theirs is an historic movement.
Seventeen days into the general strike in Pointe-à-Pitre, the roller shutters of most shops are still down. Many schools are still closed. As for petrol stations, they opened only briefly then shut down again or had their access blocked by workers. Multiplying announcements that he would lend a willing ear, Yves Jégo was hoping that things would get smoothly back to normal. His hopes have been dashed. Negotiations opened on the 149 points of the LKP’s platform, all of which have been fully documented. Negotiations focused on the main litigious points: the cost of living, the price of petrol, and wages. As concerns the prices of basic goods, Yves Jégo promised to set up a “price control brigade” to track down abuses. But the implementation of a 10% overpricing ceiling (relative to prices on the continent) remains suspended to the assent of importers and mass marketers. As for petrol, the LKP firmly opposed the principle of once again using public money to subsidize a fall in prices. But on Thursday the SARA, a Total subsidiary, still refused to make a move, and even threatened to suspend deliveries.
The MEDEF employers’ association was just as inflexible over the claim of a net 200€ wage hike. Yet Yves Jégo politely invited employers to “shoulder part of the effort” by passing on to wages the suppression of the “professional tax” that Nicolas Sarkozy had announced on the very same day. Negotiations stiffened on that point after a document was distributed to the press in which the Overseas Secretary of State took up the employers’ proposal to negotiate on the basis of a 2% hike and suggested that workers on the minimum wage work four hours more a week to get a 217€ rise. “That takes us back to Nicolas Sarkozy’s ‘Work more to earn more’. We do not believe in that hoax. We shall stand up for our demand of a net 200€ pay rise,” warned Elie Domota, secretary general of the main UGTG confederacy and LKP spokesman.
Yves Jégo himself compared these negotiations “under the pressure of the street” to the ascent of a “very high mountain, the top of which has not yet loomed into sight.” It is all the farther from sight as the anger is spreading to Martinique, where 20,000 demonstrators marched on Thursday to demand “better living and working conditions”. At the end of that first day of mobilization, Martinique’s trades union coordination has renewed its call for a general strike. According to a union estimate over 70,000 people are living below the poverty threshold in Martinique. They too are almost suffocating.