by Sarah Elzas
Article published on the 2009-02-21 Latest update 2009-02-21 12:52 TU
A crowd of strike supporters, many wearing LKP t-shirts, spent the afternoon waiting in the square in front of the Pointe-à-Pitre port authority, where LKP members were meeting with employer representatives and the island's prefect to hash out a plan that would satisfy everyone, and potentially bring the strike to an end.
The mood in the crowd outside was upbeat, with singing and dancing as people whiled away four hours.
The wait was punctuated by a visit by the far-left, anti-capitalist politician Olivier Besancenot, who made an
appearance surrounded by a chain of union members. He expressed his support for the strike movement, and then quickly left.
In the early evening, during a break in the negotiations, an LKP member announced on a loudspeaker that employers were only offering a 50 euro a month salary increase, far lower than the 200 euros demanded by the strikers. The crowd booed in disapproval.
An hour and a half later, the negotiations ended for the weekend.
Elie Domota, leader of the LKP, was subdued when he talked to reporters, initially giving a sense that he could be ready to compromise.
"Between today – this evening – and Monday morning, there will be bilateral discussions with the mediators to debate and find a way to make the positions evolve," he said.
"Today we are studying all the proposals that are offered," he continued. "We, too, are offering proposals."
But, as he continued talking, and then later, speaking to the crowd, his tone became more firm.
"We are still based on the 200 euros," he said. "One thing for sure is that we clearly told the employers that they are starting a little low."
"Our pockets are empty," said Nicolas Vion, who is taking part in the negotiations, representing hotel owners. He said that the strike has driven tourists away, and hotels have lost nearly ten per cent of their yearly income already in the month of February.
He said that hotels are not in a position to raise salaries more than 50 euros, adding that if they were forced to pay more, they would have to lay some people off.
"Do you fire some employees to pay more to others?" he asked. "Because that's the strategy: pay higher salaries to some by firing others. We chose employment," he added.
Vion also said that 50 euros was already a compromise, something he has not seen from the strikers. "I have to point out that since 20 January, I have not heard much compromise from the other side: it is 200 euros or nothing," he said.
Negotiations will resume at 11 am Monday.
In the meantime, the strike continues, said Domota. "Concerning the strike movement, it continues, obviously," he said. "We are still on strike."
He said that road blocks would be alleviated to accommodate crowds expected for the wake and funeral of the union member shot and killed Tuesday. Jacques Binot will be buried Sunday in Petit Canal, about 30 kilometers from Pointe-à-Pitre.
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