by Sarah Elzas
Article published on the 2009-02-16 Latest update 2009-02-21 15:30 TU
Government ministries closed their doors, as did schools, petrol stations and the port, the source of most of the island’s tourism income, which comes on cruise ships.
A similar strike was called on 5 February in neighbouring Martinique, and Réunion Island, in the Indian Ocean, is threatening to call a strike on 5 March.
France around the world
Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion Island are three of France’s four overseas departments, which also include French Guiana. They are called Doms, Départements d'outre-mer, or Overseas Departments, and as departments of France, they are part of the European Union.
France also has Toms, Territoires d'outre-mer, or Overseas Territories, which have various administrative relationships with France, and include Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy islands in the Antilles, French Polynesia and the island of Mayotte, which is claimed by the Comoros.
The Doms are administered by a Junior Minister in charge of Overseas Departments, who answers to the Interior Minister. The current Junior Minister is Yves Jégo
The Komité kont pwofitasyon (LKP), the Anti-profiteering Committee, which is leading the strike in Guadeloupe, initially demanded that the prices of all basic food items be reduced by 50 euro cents, that the price of petrol be lowered and that all low-paid employees receive a 200-euro-a-month salary increase.
Jégo, who first arrived on the island two weeks after the strike started, helped negotiate a reduction in petrol prices. The LKP is now focusing on a pay increase, which they say the government should finance. This is also a demand in Martinique.
The government has said that it is not its role to pay for salary increases.
More than the economy
The strikes and protests, ostensibly about the high cost of living, are also being fed by frustration over how people in France’s overseas departments are treated by the government.
The history of the French West Indies, with their history of slavery, has a racial aspect that exacerbates the situation.
“There’s a power relationship of domination that’s become economic,” explained Mourad Slimani, spokesperson of the Unade, the Union of Associations for Diversity and Equality.
“In Martinique the majority of landowners are descendants of slave-owners. And today the conflict between employees and employers is mixed in with a historical conflict over reparations.”
On 13 February, President Nicolas Sarkozy called for an inter-ministerial committee to be formed in order to address inequalities in the departments.
Jégo says that anything decided for Guadeloupe or Martinique will apply to the other departments as well, in order to keep the strike movement from spreading.
2009-02-14 14:14 TU