General strike paralyses French Caribbean island

3rd February 2009, Comments 0 comments

A two-week strike in Guadeloupe has promoted the government to announce a new welfare payment which will benefit 60,000 people.

POINTE-A-PITRE –  France's Caribbean island of Guadeloupe had ground to a halt Monday after two weeks of a general strike that shut down shops, schools and public transport and left its half-a-million residents facing food shortages.

The strikers are warning of "social chaos" if the Paris government and local business leaders fail to meet their demands to lower taxes, hike salaries by EUR 200 and slash petrol prices by EUR 0.50 a litre.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who last week saw a million people take to the streets of mainland France to protest at his handling of the economic crisis, has dispatched his minister for French overseas territories to the island.

Speaking from the island's capital city Basse-Terre, Yves Jego told French radio Monday that a new welfare payment would be rolled out a year early in the tropical island, where it would benefit some 60,000 people.

Jego said Sunday on arriving in Guadeloupe that he would stay as long as it took to bring an end to the strike organised by the Collective against Extreme Exploitation (LKP).

"I am well aware that, after a fortnight of strikes, we must bring responses that satisfy the Collective," he told reporters on the island whose economy depends on tourism, agriculture and massive state subsidies.

"I have no schedule for returning (to Paris)," he told reporters, adding that he would remain "as long as is needed" to resolve the "exceptional situation".

Jego had said before leaving for the island that "one must not under-estimate the fears and the anger of our compatriots in Guadeloupe" and had already announced that social housing rents here would be frozen for 2009.

LKP, whose initials come from the words "Lyannaj kont pwofitasyon" in the French Creole spoken by most islanders, groups most of Guadeloupe's unions and political parties.

Its leader Elie Domota welcomed Jego's arrival, saying that it appeared he "has understood that Guadeloupe is on the edge of explosion and social chaos".

But the French Communist party said the government had no intention of giving in to the strikers' demands and was hoping for the movement to fall apart.

The strike has shut down most shops here, with the few which remain open rapidly running out of goods on an island where almost everything is imported. Public transport and state services have also ground to a halt.

All the island's petrol stations have been closed in a parallel protest by gas station owners angry at the arrival of newcomers to the already tight fuel market.

Guadeloupe, like the neighbouring island of Martinique, is an overseas department of France and as such uses the euro as its currency and its residents are European Union citizens.

Most of its residents are the descendants of slaves brought from Africa to work on tobacco and sugar plantations, but it also has European and Asian minorities.

The strike there comes against a backdrop of growing social discord in mainland France.

Last Thursday more than a million angry strikers marched across France to demand action to protect jobs and salaries from the global financial storm. Unions have promised more strikes unless Sarkozy does more to help consumers.

[AFP / Expatica]

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