On January 20th a general strike was declared on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe over rising living costs, ending in early March and achieving an agreed $250 wage rise for all workers. Forty seven trade unions, associations and political parties under the umbrella organisation LKP (Committee against Extreme Exploita-tion – Lyiannaj Kont Pwofitasyion in Guadelou-pean Creole French) brought all economic activity to a standstill.
Although Guadeloupe is officially part of the French Republic, the traditional labour organisations in metropolitan France isolated and ignored the struggle and media coverage was rare and superficial.
The response of the Paris government was hostile, sending in the gendarmes and the notoriously brutal CRS riot police. Memories are still fresh in Guade-loupe of the 100 workers shot dead by the CRS during a demonstration in 1967. The leader of the LKP, Elie Domota, stated:
Today, given the number of gendarmes who have arrived in Guadeloupe armed to the teeth, the French state has chosen its natural path: to kill Guadeloupeans... every time there have been demonstrations in Guadeloupe to demand pay rises, the response of the state has been repression.
Matters turned deadly as union activist, Jacques Bino, was killed in crossfire between youths on barricades and the police. More recently the strike has spread with reports of riots on the French island of Martinique, 100 miles south of Guadeloupe, as well as on Réunion, a French territory in the Indian Ocean.
Talks between bosses and the union initially agreed a wage rise but the strike continued in protest against the spiralling prices on the island which are much higher than in the French mainland. The islands rely almost exclusively on imports sold in French owned supermarkets. A packet of rice or pasta, for instance, costs 90% more than in the metropole. Petrol too is far more expensive than in France. Bosses at first refused to return to the negotiation table, citing an atmosphere of physical intimidation created by the LKP, but had to give in after 44 days of solid action by Guadeloupean workers.