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French Caribbean - report

Strikers mourn death of Guadeloupe trade unionist

by Sarah Elzas

Article published on the 2009-02-19 Latest update 2009-02-19 15:25 TU

Strike leader Elie Domata addresses the crowd(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

Strike leader Elie Domata addresses the crowd
(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

On the day after the death of a trade unionist on the strike-hit island of Guadeloupe, his comrades gathered to pay tribute to his memory, discuss who was to blame for the death and insist that their struggle for better pay will go on.

Reaction: Richard Fessel of the LKP

19/02/2009 by Sarah Elzas

As on every day since the general strike on this French West Indian island began on 20 January, people gathered at the Mutualité de Guadeloupe to hear speakers and get the latest news from the strike organizers.

But Wednesday, the hundreds gathered at the fading 1940s-era building are solemn, some wearing black armbands to honour Jacques Binot, a union member who was shot dead Tuesday night.

An initial investigation has shown the bullets that killed Binot did
not come from the police.

But Richard Fessel, an LKP member, says he doubts they came from the strikers either, because Binot was obviously a union member.

"He was wearing all the signs that would allow anyone to recognize him as an LKP… which wouldn't make him a target, normally, not at least on the side of the people of Guadeloupe," says Fessel.

The Mutualité looks like it has seen better days. The name is faded and unlit Christmas lights hang forlornly on the façade. One speaker after another takes to the makeshift stage in front of the gates barring the entrance.

An LKP steward keeps watch(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

An LKP steward keeps watch
(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

They remember their fallen comrade, but also call for the
fight for higher wages to continue.

Thursday, President Nicolas Sarkozy will receive elected officials
from all of France's overseas departments, but Fessel is not sure it
will help the situation.

"The guys who are going there to France are not really representative
of our movement," he says. "They are not union members, and they are not members of the LKP."

The strike movement turned violent this week, with Binot's death as
the culmination of what many LKP members and supporters say is a
marked shift in how the police are treating protesters.

"The police descended upon us all of a sudden," said Christophe
Diofil, who said he was protesting with a group of about 100 people in the tourist resort of Gosier Monday, when police officers started hitting and arresting them.

"We were on the barricades, like barricades everywhere in the world,"
he says, insisting that they did nothing to provoke the police response. "I'veseen farmers release sheep on the Champs Elysées, and [the police] didn't attack anyone!"

"I don't understand why we were protesting for four weeks and they
hadn't attacked yet," he continues. "They had to do it one day or
another, and they decided to attack Monday."

Diofil says he was hit, arrested and handcuffed, and that police used
racial slurs.

The police response is what sparked the burning and looting that
followed, Fessel claims, although he is quick to distance the LKP from
the violence, saying that it is groups of young people who are causing
the damage.

"We've never invited anyone to kill anyone or burn anything," he says. But he adds that he understands where the anger comes from.

"The society works around an oligarchy," he says, explaining that the
main supermarket as well as car dealers and gas stations are owned by one company, which is owned by descendants of slave owners.

"That's why what you see is most of what is burning right now are the
interests of these guys."

Indeed, groups of people set fire to a grocery store and a car dealership owned by the company run by Bernard Hayot, who has been an economic heavyweight on the island since the 1960s.

Following Binot's dealth, Interior Minister Michelle Aliot-Marie said
she was deploying more police brigades to the island, to keep the

The strikers themselves say they will continue to protest – peacefully
-  until the government recognises an agreement reached on 8 February between employees and employers, where the state seemed to promise to underwrite a salary increase for low-wage workers by offering tax breaks to employers.