Workers Vanguard No. 937
22 May 2009
French Caribbean Colonies Shaken by General Strikes
For the Right of Independence! Down With French Imperialism!
The following article is translated from Le Bolchévik No. 187 (March 2009), newspaper of the Ligue Trotskyste de France, section of the International Communist League. The article was originally published at the close of the general strikes that shook the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique for 44 and 38 days respectively. Ever since, the French colonial overlords and the local capitalists have been striving to overturn the key gains won by the workers in the “Bino Agreement” (named after the trade unionist killed during the strike), notably a 200 euro wage increase for the lowest-paid workers and price cuts for basic necessities. In response, the working masses of Guadeloupe and Martinique have been carrying out localized strike action to defend the 200 euro agreement, including on plantations where owners, heavily subsidized by European Union and French government grants, are pleading poverty. The workers are also waging a fight to reopen negotiations on the price of water and bread and to oppose the hundreds of layoffs.
At the time of the strike settlement on March 4, only 17,000 of the 80,000 workers set to gain the wage increase had obtained their bosses’ formal agreement to maintain the raise once the state ceases to subsidize most of the increase in 2012. Further class struggle and workplace occupations in the wake of the general strike have extended that agreement to 50,000 workers. To what extent the agreement will be honored in 2012 depends on the relationship of forces between the working class and the capitalists. In early April, the French government reneged on its promise to make it mandatory for the bosses of the major capitalist enterprises in particular to pay up once the state subsidies end. The Sarkozy government in France obscenely argued hard times for their billionaire cronies. But the French government’s main reason for scrapping the agreement is to undermine the strikes’ popularity in France. These strikes showed that sharp class battles are crucial to fight back against the capitalist onslaught as well as against state repression meted out to an increasingly embittered and angry proletariat in France, as well as in the colonies.
The other key demand won in the strike settlement was an agreement by the government’s colonial representative to lower the grossly inflated prices of basic necessities. But many of these reduced-price items have simply disappeared from the supermarket shelves and have been replaced by similar products whose prices have actually been marked up. The agreement to freeze rents in state-subsidized housing is not being fulfilled either.
Just days after the strike agreement was reached, the attorney general in Guadeloupe brought charges against strike leader Elie Domota. He was charged with “provocation to extort the signing of an agreement by force concerning the so-called Jacques Bino agreement” and, grotesquely, “incitement to racial discrimination, hatred and violence against categories of people based on their ethnic origin
notably and specifically people known as békés [the descendants of the original slave owners] and the companies led by them.” This alludes to an interview Domota gave on March 5 in which he said of the bosses unwilling to sign the agreement: “Either they implement the agreement, or they will have to leave Guadeloupe.... We are very firm about this. We will not allow a bunch of békés to restore slavery.” The charges against Domota must be dropped immediately. The workers movement, particularly in France, must defend him. An injury to one is an injury to all!
These attacks by the French imperialists and the local capitalists so soon after the strikes and protests in Guadeloupe and Martinique as well as in the other French colonies underline that the bourgeoisie will always seek to reverse the gains wrenched from it in class battles. While the gains of the strikes must be defended down the line, the perspective has to be the fight for socialist revolution, as our comrades of the LTF lay out in the article below. To this end, especially given the small size of the proletariat in Guadeloupe and Martinique, the mobilization of the French workers to defend their class brothers’ fight to lift the yoke of colonialism and the legacy of slavery is key. In so doing, the French proletariat will also be fighting to defend its own historic interests—that is, the overthrow of this rotten, racist capitalist system.
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MARCH 5—The Ligue Trotskyste de France stands in full solidarity with the general strikes in Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion against the economic and racial discrimination suffered by the populations at the hands of the French imperialist colonial masters. The struggle began on January 20 in Guadeloupe, which was paralyzed for 44 days. Last night an agreement was finally signed between the coalition leading the strike, Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon [Alliance Against Profiteering—LKP], and the [French] government’s local representative; the LKP then called for an end to the strike. The strike was a victory, but it remains to be seen just how far the prices of basic necessities will really fall and how widely one of the key concessions to the strikers—a 200 euro increase for low-wage earners and welfare recipients—will be implemented. The 200 euros consists of a state subsidy of 100 to 150 euros a month for a three-year period. The local MEDEF, the main organization of the bosses, refused to sign the agreement [to pay the remaining 50 to 100 euros], merely recommending that its members, depending on the relationship of forces at each workplace, pay a bonus of 50 to 100 euros, rather than a wage increase. They will do everything possible to avoid paying it or will renege on it as soon as possible.
The strikes were initially met with silence and racist contempt by the Sarkozy government, paralleling the French rulers’ contempt for the working class, the poor, and, especially, minorities and immigrants in mainland France. But in the context of the world economic crisis, the ruling class became increasingly concerned that the struggle would spread to mainland France. The government responded to the strikes as every colonial administration has always done when facing major resistance movements in the colonies: by wielding the iron fist of state repression (remember the atrocities of 1952 and 1967). [In 1952 the French riot police killed four people in Guadeloupe during a strike. In 1967, following a strike in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, French cops killed at least 87 people, as acknowledged by the Minister of Colonies in 1985.]
In the early hours of February 18, trade unionist Jacques Bino was shot and killed in Pointe-à-Pitre. His murderer has so far not been identified. The government’s version of events—that he was, in the words of French prime minister Fillon, killed by “petty criminals”—has in no way been proven. What we do know is that responsibility for Jacques Bino’s tragic death lies with the French capitalist class and its racist state apparatus, whose attacks and provocations produced this social explosion of historic proportions. We also condemn the savage racist cop attack against LKP strike leader and trade unionist Alex Lollia on February 16, causing him head injuries and heart problems. Four squads of riot cops were sent from France to Guadeloupe during the strike, as well as internal security police and an elite RAID [“anti-terrorist”] unit; two squads of riot police were dispatched to Martinique, joining the thousands of cops and soldiers already there on a mission to “restore order.” We demand that all protesters detained in Guadeloupe and Martinique since the beginning of the strike—activists, trade unionists and the dozens of young demonstrators predictably labeled “hooligans” and “delinquents” by Sarkozy (Le Monde, 20 February)—be immediately freed and that the charges against them be dropped. All French troops and riot cops out of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion and French Guiana!
While fighting for a proletarian leadership, we support struggles against colonial rule even when led by petty-bourgeois and bourgeois-nationalist forces. It is necessary to build internationalist Leninist-Trotskyist parties in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion [east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean] and French Guiana to fight imperialism on a proletarian program and in sharp political combat against the dead-end politics of petty-bourgeois and bourgeois nationalism. Colonialism has bequeathed a proletariat that is very small—except in construction and key services like transport, sanitation, etc.—as well as a thin layer of agricultural workers on the plantations. The proletariat from Guadeloupe and Martinique is mainly based in France, where it represents a living link for socialist revolution in both France and the West Indies. This makes it all the more important to turn to the French working class, directly posing the need for political struggle against the workers’ social-democratic leadership, which does everything possible to prevent the struggle from spreading to the French mainland.
Look at the role played at the height of the strike in Guadeloupe by the Socialist Party (SP), tailed by the rest of the left. In a recent interview in Le Parisien (13 February) SP leader Martine Aubry declared: “I am indeed afraid of the discontent felt by people of Guadeloupe and Martinique spreading here
. We must do everything we can to prevent this from happening.” The struggle against these traitors and those who tail them raises the need for a revolutionary party based on proletarian internationalism. This is what the LTF fights for.
Background to the Strike
The social upheaval in Guadeloupe was initiated by protests in Réunion and French Guiana last November-December where roadblocks and other demonstrations succeeded in winning a price cut for oil and diesel fuel. Less than a week after the price cuts were enacted in French Guiana, roadblocks went up in Guadeloupe; three days later the government agreed to a similar price cut. As poverty and desperation have worsened with the economic crisis, this modest success triggered wider protests against the high cost of living, followed shortly afterwards by a call for a general strike on January 20. The strike was called by the Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon, a broad coalition of trade unions, left groups and petty-bourgeois nationalist parties and organizations.
The upheaval had been brewing for some time. Some 25 percent of Guadeloupe’s population of working age is unemployed according to official (and thus underestimated) figures, with 22 percent unemployed in Martinique, compared to a figure of 8 percent for mainland France. Youth unemployment (among 15- to 24-year-olds) is at 56 percent and 48 percent for the two islands respectively (Le Figaro, 18 February). While the average income in Guadeloupe is about half that of France, prices are on average 50 percent higher than those on the mainland. These high prices are in part due to the fact that most basic goods—including fruit and vegetables—are imported from France. This prevents any kind of self-sufficiency, making it possible for the béké capitalists, the descendants of the original slave owners, to continue making enormous profits by retaining a quasi-monopoly on imports and distribution. In addition, in recent years thousands of jobs were lost directly and indirectly in agriculture and specifically in banana production following a sharp trade dispute between the European Union (EU) and the U.S., which removed the islands’ protected trade with EU states. As a result, material conditions on the islands have gone from bad to worse, only further increasing their economic dependency on French imperialism.
In 1946 Martinique and Guadeloupe, together with Réunion and Guiana, became the so-called “Overseas Départements of France” (DOMs—Départements d’outre-mer) under the “tripartite” (Gaullist-Communist-Socialist) popular-front government. This status has allowed their inhabitants to work in metropolitan France where they initially served, especially in the 1950s-’70s, as a source of cheap labor for the building industry; they then filled major labor shortages in the public sector—notably in the postal service, public transport and health care. Département status has also given the population access to the French national health care system, retirement and other social benefits and a vote in French national (and EU) elections. The French state’s vaunted “generosity” toward its “citizens” in the West Indies and the other colonies (who experience racist discrimination when they come to France) has supposedly been proof that under the Republic all men are “equal” irrespective of the color of their skin.
The existence of the DOMs, together with the recruitment of numerous black people from Martinique and Guadeloupe into the French police on the mainland during this period, was also used to conceal the brutal reality of racist oppression for France’s minorities and immigrants. Not only did successive French bourgeois governments seek to pit white French workers against immigrants and minorities to further their capitalist divide-and-rule policy, but they also sought to pit blacks moving to France from the West Indies—held up as “assimilated” French—against minorities originating from North and West Africa who to this day are excoriated by the government for supposedly “refusing to assimilate.”
The standard of living in Guadeloupe and Martinique under French domination is undeniably higher than in most other Caribbean islands—life in general is miserable in the region. But Cuba today boasts the highest literacy rate and the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America, with life expectancy equal to that of U.S. citizens (and higher than for the U.S. black population). The enormous gains for the Cuban working masses, especially women and blacks, are due to the fact that Cuba is a workers state, even though bureaucratically deformed, originating in the expropriation of the U.S. imperialists and their local lackeys in 1960.
Thanks to critical Soviet military and economic aid, the resources of Cuban society were invested in a centralized, planned economy, guaranteeing everyone a job, decent housing, food and education. We unconditionally defend the Cuban deformed workers state against attempts to roll back these gains through the restoration of capitalism led by U.S. imperialism and internal counterrevolutionary forces, while we fight for a proletarian political revolution against the Castroite Stalinist bureaucracy (see “Defend the Cuban Revolution!” Workers Vanguard No. 915, 23 May 2008).
But if Guadeloupe is compared with Haiti, for example, which remains one of the world’s poorest countries, with a 60-year life expectancy compared to 78 years in Guadeloupe, it is clear that the French West Indies’ poverty is relative. Endemic unemployment in Guadeloupe and Martinique and the fact that official personal income is half that in metropolitan France despite the inflated prices only underlines that there can never be “equality” for “French” West Indians under imperialism. Twenty-five years after the adoption of the 1946 law turning the French West Indian islands into French départements, Martinique’s historic leader and poet, the late Aimé Césaire, who in the 1940s was a member of the reformist French Communist Party and a staunch proponent of the colonial legislation, said bitterly:
“In 1946, we dreamed of a generous France.... For us, becoming a département was to mean equal rights. But it didn’t. The new system became even more colonialist than the old one. Little by little it exuded its privileged people: those who live off it, the state functionaries, the large businesses, the West Indies ‘lobby’ which puts pressure on the rulers.”
—quoted in Le Monde, 20 February
For the Right to Independence!
It is an elementary duty for revolutionary internationalists to defend the right of self-determination for the French colonies and, as forthright opponents of French colonialism, the LTF would be in favor of independence. However we are against forcing annexation, federation, or even independence on anyone, and we do not currently advocate independence for Guadeloupe and Martinique, largely because the vast majority of the population is not in favor of it at this time. A recent poll (Le Figaro Magazine, 28 February) states that 80 percent of Guadeloupeans are opposed to independence. Self-determination is a democratic right; to “unconditionally” impose a separate state on a people is not self-determination. The wishes of the population are an important factor for Marxists in determining how to get the national question off the agenda and clear the road for revolutionary internationalist class struggle.
While Guadeloupeans may now wish for greater autonomy from the French state—after having overwhelmingly rejected such a move in a 2003 referendum—most people in Guadeloupe as well as those in the three other “DOMs” presently do not support independence from France, which would deprive them of the legal right to live, study and work in France without Sarkozy’s immigration cops storming into their homes and workplaces to arrest and deport them. Independence would also deprive them of some of the remaining social gains they retain as an overseas département, gains won largely by the powerful French working class in sharp class struggles with the bourgeoisie. In the framework of capitalism, “independence” for Guadeloupe would offer up the prospect of the same desperate impoverishment as most other Caribbean states, which remain under the thumb of U.S. or British imperialism.
French Republic = Racist Colonial Oppression
In Guadeloupe and Martinique, the exploitation of the population of African and Indian origin is the legacy of slavery and colonial domination. The békés, who according to most sources make up between 1 and 2.5 percent of the population, maintain their stranglehold on the economy, particularly in Martinique. The racist contempt of békés for the non-white majority on the islands was recently exposed in a French television documentary, “The Last Masters of Martinique.” It showed one Alain Huyghes-Despointes, made a knight of the Legion of Honor by Chirac in 2005, bemoaning that “Historians will only speak of the negative sides of slavery and that’s a shame,” while remarking on his distaste for mixed-race children: “We [the békés] wanted to preserve the race,” he commented (l’Humanité, 13 February).
But the French bourgeoisie, which likes to market itself as a global defender of “human rights,” is the colonial master. It upholds the system whereby the békés maintain their privileges and racist discrimination permeates the island in ways reminiscent of the United States or South Africa. This is most notably seen in hiring, with middle- and senior-level posts overwhelmingly going to békés or to white French people from the mainland who generally arrive for three-year stints and live in unofficially whites-only beach resorts. But it is also seen throughout all other aspects of life—working conditions, health care, housing, transport, etc.
The békés have longstanding and many-sided connections with the bourgeoisie and politicians in mainland France. It is telling that the representative of the French government [préfet] in Martinique, Ange Mancini, was living in a home “rented” from Huyghes-Despointes—until he was forced to move out when a scandal blew up after the documentary was shown on TV in the midst of the general strike. The békés also have franchises with or act as sole distributors for French monopolies like Carrefour and Renault and share the colonial superprofits with them. This inextricably links the struggle against racial and colonial oppression with the fight to overthrow the capitalist system.
Since the general strike began in Guadeloupe, numerous protesters have denounced colonial rule and its racist disdain for the lives of non-white islanders. A tragic illustration of this mentality is the chlordecone pesticide scandal. Chlordecone is a product which was banned in the U.S. in 1976; it has been banned in metropolitan France since 1990, but was banned in the French West Indies only in 1993. Even after 1993 it went on being used clandestinely in Martinique and Guadeloupe until 2002, imported into the islands by mainly béké businessmen who produced it in Brazil under a different name, Curlone. Leading scientists from the West Indies and from France have described its use as “downright poisoning” of the population and a “major health crisis” (see interview with Paris-based cancer specialist Professor Belpomme in Le Parisien, 17 September 2007). It remains in the ground and in the waters for a century after use. Today Guadeloupe ranks second highest in the world for prostate cancer, which some leading scientists believe to be related to the prolonged use of chlordecone. Its presence is also linked to other cancers, reduced fertility and birth deformities.
Reports from ecologists and scientists warned for years against the dangers of the pesticide and the huge amounts being used in Guadeloupe and Martinique. French state officials ignored them, later claiming to lack sufficient information. Today the French government again claims that there is insufficient proof to link the high cancer rates to chlordecone and they have even refused to open an investigation. The LKP’s strike demands included the need to define “health measures to protect the populations of contaminated zones” and for “compensation for the professional and civilian victims.”
French Workers—Powerful Potential Allies of Guadeloupean Workers
In the struggle against racist colonial oppression and capitalist exploitation in France and in the colonies, we fight for the revolutionary unity of the working masses across the Atlantic. We call upon all workers, especially those in the belly of the French imperialist beast, to support the strikes in the French West Indies and Réunion, and to oppose the French government’s repression of strikers and youth. In the imperialist mainland this also means fighting to break the working class from the pro-imperialist chauvinism pushed by the trade-union bureaucrats and social-democratic parties who with the economic crisis are increasingly peddling divisive protectionist poison in the name of “national unity” behind the French bosses against their foreign rivals. And where workers of West Indian origin make up a large part of the workforce, such as in the post office or health care, the union bureaucrats often actively discourage solidarity among workers, for example calling only on workers from the DOMs (and excluding other workers) to take strike and other actions for special vacation rights for workers from the French colonies [for example, the right to accumulate vacation time over several years to go back home]. On February 21 the trade unions did finally mobilize for protests across France in solidarity with the strikes in Guadeloupe and Martinique, but, significantly, the vast majority of those marching under the CGT banner in Paris were of West Indian origin, and very few white French workers were mobilized by the CGT and the other trade unions.
Olivier Besancenot’s New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) and Lutte Ouvrière (LO), which both have sister organizations in the French West Indies, see the combative and courageous strikes “as an example to follow in the mainland.” They pass over, among other fundamental differences from the situation in France, the fact that, as a result of colonial rule, the economy is so dependent that there is barely a proletariat in the two islands. Besancenot said in Le Parisien of February 19 that the strikes can put pressure on the government to “impose another distribution of wealth, a 300 euro wage increase” in France. It is typical of reformists to limit their demands to a slightly different redistribution of wealth. Since a handful of capitalists own the means of production and exploit the majority of the working population, “another distribution of wealth” would mean they would throw out a few more crumbs—which they will then seek to grab back by other means.
Reforms won in hard class struggle, which must be defended to the hilt, are constantly being snatched away by the bourgeoisie if the workers don’t fight back with determination. But such attacks often get willing collaboration from the union bureaucrats—whose material privileges shape their role as “social partners” of the bourgeoisie—to defend French capitalist interests against rival capitalist powers. This was the case with the general strikes of June 1936 and May 1968. These general strikes led to prerevolutionary situations, but the social democrats, and above all the reformist CP and union bureaucrats, betrayed the working class (and all those under French imperialist rule abroad) by accepting a few crumbs at the negotiating table in exchange for calling off the strike. After 1936 and 1968, the capitalists sought, especially through inflation, to take back the concessions they had been forced to make.
In the wake of capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union in 1991-1992, the bourgeoisie has renewed its attacks on the workers and poor of the world as imperialist rivalries have intensified. Claiming that “communism is dead,” they have been attacking gains such as pensions, health care, etc., known in West Europe as the “welfare state,” which to some extent were also granted to France’s colonies. The counterrevolution in the USSR, a historic defeat for the world proletariat, was fully supported by the NPA’s forerunner, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR). In his autobiography You’ll Grow Out of It, historic LCR leader Alain Krivine states: “Its end [the USSR’s] could only have us rejoicing. And without the least hesitation, we did indeed rejoice.”
For an Independent Workers Mobilization—Down With Class Collaboration!
For Marxists, a general strike that paralyzes the country would pose the question of workers power in a revolutionary situation. For the NPA on the other hand (or for LO with its calls for an “unlimited general strike”), it means nothing more than winning a 300 euro raise for the lowest-paid workers. Behind their “combative” rhetoric, the NPA and LO are busy trying to put a new “left” government back in office. In the fight against exploitation and for socialist revolution, it is necessary to break workers’ illusions that a “left” capitalist government can do anything other than protect the interests of the French bourgeoisie. In France, since 1936, “left” governments have taken the form of popular fronts—that is, governmental blocs between capitalist parties such as the Left Radicals, Chevènement’s Citizens’ Movement, etc. and reformist workers parties such as the Socialist Party (SP) and the CP. From the French West Indies to Algeria to Rwanda, these “left” governments, on behalf of French imperialism, have left a bloody legacy.
Moreover, in Guadeloupe the colonial state administration is run (to the extent that powers are devolved) by the local SP. Victorin Lurel, SP president of the regional council of Guadeloupe, declared on February 14, in his name and that of Jacques Gillot, president of the General Council, who is also linked to the SP in Guadeloupe: “We demand a relaxation of the general strike so that the country can run more normally” and so that children “can go to school and everybody in Guadeloupe can move around and to allow those businesses that wish to work to do so” (L’Express, 14 February). Apparently they, like Sarkozy himself, want a general strike that nobody notices!
Aubry, CP leader Buffet and Mélenchon of the newly formed Left Party, who seek to lead a new popular front in 2012, have already shown their zeal in administering oppression during their years as ministers under Jospin’s [“Plural Left” popular-front] government. That government, which demoralized and demobilized the working class, privatized more state companies than any right-wing administration before it; in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks in the U.S., the Jospin government whipped up its own racist “war on terror.” Measures such as “Vigipirate,” increased surveillance powers and other repressive laws were introduced, initially targeting racial minorities. We warned then that their ultimate aim was the whole working class, as we are starting to see today.
Since the “Plural Left’s” crushing defeat in 2002, the SP, in its bid to get re-elected, has flirted with the center-right [capitalist] UDF/Modem party, keeping the reformist “far left” at arm’s length. However in the face of the economic crisis, the SP opportunists have opted for the moment to dust off their pink flags and reactivate their members: they came out for the January 29 demonstrations where they were supposed to rediscover, as Aubry put it, the “French [who] suffer.” But there is no contending popular-front coalition yet; hence the task for the “left” today is to restore its own credibility to the bourgeoisie as a viable governmental option. To do that they need to try to convince the working masses that they would really be a lesser evil to Sarkozy & Co. so that once in power they can take off from the last government and do the dirty work of administering capitalism.
To this end, on February 4 Lutte Ouvrière and the NPA/ex-LCR signed a joint declaration for “unity in struggle” with the SP, the CP, the Chevènementists and various petty-bourgeois ecologist and feminist organizations. They thus contributed to substantiating the SP’s claims to “support the social movement” including, in the words of their statement, their “support to the imposing social movement which has been mobilizing for several weeks in Guadeloupe.” The NPA and LO thus play a crucial role in restoring the SP’s credibility in the eyes of the working class. Despite the NPA’s cynical and oft-repeated claims of “independence” from the SP, their signature on such popular-frontist declarations in the name of “unity” works precisely to pave the way for a new “left” capitalist government. They also provide the SP with a platform and a wider hearing in the class struggle—all the better to sell it out.
The NPA implicitly acknowledges the SP’s strikebreaking role in their February 16 leaflet “Guadeloupe, Martinique: Let’s Do Like Them!” where they describe how the SP representatives in Guadeloupe wanted to “‘soften up’ the strike in return for crumbs.” But the very next day after writing this the NPA went ahead and signed a second “unity in struggle” declaration with the SP and the petty-bourgeois groups stating that in Guadeloupe “extending the mobilization is more necessary than ever” and calling to “mobilize further and make March 19th a resounding success.” Such cynicism is the hallmark of social democracy.
Petty-Bourgeois Nationalism Can Offer Only Misery
While in France the task of a revolutionary party is to rally the working class to the side of the West Indians in struggle, in Guadeloupe and Martinique the key task is to break the hold of nationalist false consciousness. Under imperialism, nations are not equal and while we defend the right to an independent Guadeloupe under capitalism, independence could only drive the standard of living of the poor further down. This is why the fight must be part of a wider struggle for socialist revolution in France, Latin America and North America where there is a strong working class. Then the masses of Guadeloupe and Martinique will have a real choice about how to exercise their right to national self-determination.
In Guadeloupe, Lutte Ouvrière’s sister organization, Combat Ouvrier, is part of the LKP coalition, together with a few dozen other organizations which include trade unions (with the pro-independence UGTG in the fore), the Guadeloupean Communist Party and many petty-bourgeois nationalist and cultural organizations. The LKP is in fact a combative popular-frontist coalition, which includes the workers movement but at bottom represents the program of bourgeois nationalism. Many of the LKP’s 149 demands are supportable including the 200 euro raise for all those on low wages and on welfare, as well as demands to introduce a vast program of public housing construction and a real public transport service. However, many of their other demands highlight the bourgeois-nationalist nature of the bloc, addressing: “People of Guadeloupe, workers, peasants, tradesmen, pensioners, unemployed, entrepreneurs and youth” (our emphasis).
Thus they demand that priority be given to local capitalists over others: “Priority and easier access to the market as well as public aid for Guadeloupean businesses.” Fundamentally this is a nationalist demand for black Guadeloupeans to exploit other Guadeloupeans. Some leading nationalists in both Guadeloupe and Martinique often express their desire for the transfer of much of the state administration to a locally run body which could slash social benefits. According to the nationalists, these benefits make their agriculture and tourism uncompetitive against other Caribbean islands. But right now the nationalists are not emphasizing the struggle for independence—their program is rather to grab for themselves the profits from colonial exploitation which for centuries have been pocketed by the békés.
The demands also included: “Guadeloupeans must be the first hired” and “Mandatory hiring of Guadeloupeans in all businesses which benefit from public subsidies.” Since the French from the mainland and the békés make up the overwhelming majority in public service and private industry management in Guadeloupe, the demands on hiring are partly directed against colonialism. Equal pay and working conditions for all! To remedy racial discrimination we would defend measures that favor hiring black Guadeloupeans.
But demanding, for instance, that state-funded jobs must go to Guadeloupeans only is also directed against other oppressed nationalities of the region, particularly Haitians, who reportedly make up as much as 10 percent of the island’s population. Marxists oppose demands which result in pitting oppressed black Guadeloupeans against Haitians. Since 2002, under Sarkozy, first as minister of police and then as president, deportations and brutal treatment of Haitians have worsened. A special police unit with deportation quotas was set up in Guadeloupe in 2006 specifically to track Haitian immigrants. Raids on immigrants’ homes and the plantations where they work, as well as immigrants being arrested at police headquarters when they seek to regularize their papers, form a familiar picture to the thousands of undocumented workers in France. Officially, between 1,500 and 2,000 people, mainly Haitians, are deported every year from Guadeloupe; proportionately, that would amount to between 200,000 and 300,000 people deported from mainland France, which is ten times the number of deportations currently taking place!
Faced with this deportation machine, the LKP’s hollow demand to “Stop abominations against foreign workers” comes across as a refusal to frontally oppose the deportations. We counterpose to this the demands: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants, in France and in its colonies! Down with deportations! Abolish Article 5 of the Public Sector code which reserves civil service jobs solely for French and EU citizens! In a situation of widespread poverty such as in Guadeloupe, the state’s xenophobic attempts to scapegoat Haitians can often fall on fertile ground. Reports that béké plantation owners in Guadeloupe have called on Haitian agricultural workers to break the strikes of Guadeloupeans serve only to further underline the importance of Guadeloupeans defending Haitian immigrants and fighting for their equal pay and conditions to undercut the bosses’ attempts at divide and rule.
The direct participation in the LKP of Combat Ouvrier and the NPA’s uncritical praises of the LKP pander to petty-bourgeois nationalism and expose the politics of LO and the NPA as petty-bourgeois liberal reformism. The NPA insists that French workers must build a broad front as in Guadeloupe. But instead of subordinating themselves to petty-bourgeois nationalism as they do in Guadeloupe, in France they would subordinate themselves to the imperialist French chauvinist Chevènement and the SP social democrats who have their own sordid colonial history. [LKP spokesman] Elie Domota and his comrades are courageous militants who put their lives on the line, as exemplified by the cop attack on Alex Lollia. However, the fact that strike leader Domota holds the management position of Assistant Director of the ANPE (National Employment Agency) in Guadeloupe reflects his program of bourgeois nationalism. In France the Assistant Director of the ANPE is the former head of human resources for Renault Engineering!
Since Combat Ouvrier is part of the LKP, Lutte Ouvrière does not criticize petty-bourgeois nationalism at all in this strike. Thus LO refrained from criticizing the blockades manned by youth from the destitute suburbs of Pointe-à-Pitre, in contrast to what they did during the banlieue revolt in France three years ago, when they despicably supported “restoring order,” capitulating to the SP and CP social democrats. However, these economists insist that the most important demand in the Guadeloupe general strike is the call for a wage increase and a halt to price hikes because these are demands “which concern all the workers” including in France (see Arlette Laguiller’s editorial in Lutte Ouvrière, 20 February).
In insisting on the 200 euro wage raise, which for LO is the only demand which can unite the working class, LO betrays its orientation towards the privileged layers of the white proletariat in France while minority youth from the city housing projects, for example, see the situation in Guadeloupe and Martinique as a reflection of the racial and ethnic discrimination they themselves suffer at work and at school.
LO thus minimizes the legacy of slavery and racial and colonial oppression, in contrast to Marxists who, as Lenin taught, take up every instance of oppression to draw a general, more complete picture of oppression under capitalism and to mobilize broad layers of the oppressed behind the working class and its revolutionary party.
Our program for Martinique and Guadeloupe, to end colonial oppression and exploitation once and for all, is premised on our proletarian internationalism, including centrally the fight for socialist revolution in the U.S., France and the other advanced capitalist countries. Only socialist revolution, laying the foundations for an international socialist planned economy throughout the region, in alliance with the French proletariat (including but by no means limited to the proletariat originating from the West Indies) can open the road to genuine economic development and an end to the struggle for survival in countries which are under the imperialist jackboot. Victory now to the general strikes in Martinique and Réunion! Forward to the reforging of the Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution!