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French Caribbean - interviews

Some Guadeloupe shops reopen, business owners prepare negotiations

by Sarah Elzas

Article published on the 2009-02-20 Latest update 2009-02-20 17:36 TU

Strikers outside negotiations on Thursday(Photo: Reuters)

Strikers outside negotiations on Thursday
(Photo: Reuters)

A handful of clothing shops along rue Frébault, the main shopping street in Guadeloupe’s commercial capital, Pointe-à-Pitre, opened for business Friday. There is cautious optimism that the end of the island’s month-long general strike could be near, as trade unions and employers are set to resume negotiations Friday afternoon.

The strike has taken a toll on the island’s economy, says Nathalie Jacaria, a member of the FTPE, the federation of very small

“Ninety-six per cent of all companies here have less than 20 employees,” she told RFI.

Reaction: Natalie Jaquaria, small business representative

20/02/2009 by Sarah Elzas

Jacaria and other business leaders gathered at the Pointe-à-Pitre
Chamber of Commerce Friday morning to discuss the proposals offered by President Nicolas Sarkozy Thursday evening. They hope to enter negotiations with the strikers with a unified position.

Even among business owners there is a range of opinions. Some say the strikers’ demands are unreasonable. Others, mostly owners of small and medium businesses, support the basic ideas behind the strike.

“It’s a just cause, because life is expensive, there is an economic crisis, but I think there is something else in all this: it’s about identity, too,” says Philibert Mouzea, the interim President of the Pointe-àPitre Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He was able to get representatives of business of all sides to come together for the first time Monday in order to agree on a negotiating strategy.

“My role is to bring everyone together, and I hope that we can come up with a common solution that we can present to the LKP to stop this strike,” he says.

Mouzea belives that the key will be for small business owners to agree to a wage increase, something that would strain already difficult financial situations.

“It’s difficult for small businesses, but they are the ones who are going to decide,” he says. “I can tell you as a small business owner myself, that the proposals will be difficult for small businesses.”

“We were already in a difficult situation through the worldwide crisis, and now with the strike, we have no activity at all,” says Jacaria, adding that she is struggling to pay rent for her pool supply business and is unsure she will be able to reopen when the strike is over.

“We need to know if the banks will follow, will the clients be there?” she wonders. “Opening a company is OK, not having clients is something else.”

She says the proposals have to be realistic.

Mouzea says he will go along with what everyone agrees to at the meeting.

“If the majority agrees, I’ll have to follow, and maybe have to close my