/ languages

Choisir langue

French Caribbean

Negotiations to end Guadeloupe strike stall

Article published on the 2009-02-24 Latest update 2009-02-24 12:28 TU

Demonstrators take part in a protest over economic conditions in Pointe-a-Pitre.(Credit: Reuters)

Demonstrators take part in a protest over economic conditions in Pointe-a-Pitre.
(Credit: Reuters)

Strikers in the French West Indian island of Guadeloupe upped the pressure Monday night, after a day of fruitless negotiations with bosses with a call for the month-long general strike to continue. The key issue being negotiated is a 200-euro-a-month pay increase for minimum wage workers, which has become a symbol for strikers.

Strikers have drawn up nearly 150 items on their list of demands, but the 200 euros increase issue is the one that rallies the crowds.

On Monday, about 1,000 people spent the day in front of the Pointe-à-Pitre port authority, where the negotiations were taking place, singing and waiting to hear the results. Every few hours, union leaders would address the crowd on a loudspeaker and explain the evolution of the talks.

Despite the heady rhetoric about wage inequities, very few in the crowd would actually benefit from the 200 euros. The teachers and public service workers would not qualify, nor would the many independent workers-- carpenters, livery drivers, etc. Those who would not benefit directly support the movement anyway, some on ideological grounds.

"There's a problem in our society here," said Valerie, a social worker, who said she makes too much money to be qualified for the pay raise. "I support this movement because we are in a transition phase. It's a social project, and I support that project," she continued.

"It's a just cause," said Philip, who owns a women's clothing shop, and also would not qualify for a pay increase, because he is not an employee. The strike for him is about social justice and equality. "Today there are two levels, and it's time for that to end," he said.

The strike has channeled years of bitterness against the handful of white families that own most of the island's largest companies, and have long controlled the economy. But strikers are not just asking the big companies to increase wages. They want raises across the board.

"We studied the possibility for bigger companies to pay for small ones," explained Nathalie Jacaria, the president of the group representing very small companies in the negotiations. The state needs to get involved, though, because "the big companies cannot alone support the whole effort".

The proposals discussed Monday involved the government pitching in half the 200 euros through tax breaks for companies. But Jacaria doubts the government will be willing to do this, because it sets a precedent that other departments, even in mainland France, will want to emulate.

Coming out of the negotiations she was very pessimistic about what is in store for Guadeloupe. "I'm quite hopeless," she said, referring to the hundreds of small businesses that will be forced to close and lay people off because of the ongoing strike.

The spokesperson for the strike, Elie Domota, upped the pressure late Monday evening. Speaking to activists in front of strike headquarters, he blasted the main employer's union, the MEDEF. He called for stores to stay closed, and roadblocks that had been taken down to be put back up: the only language the bosses understand, he said.