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Guadeloupe: A new social movement

Thirty-two, thirty-four, thirty-six and now fifty-two – these are the historically growing numbers of trade unions, cultural and political associations which have formed in the last month or so, all united around a motto: Lyannaj kont pwofitasyon, Creole for “Let's gather up to fight against all sorts of abuses”.

Guadeloupe has been in a state of social unrest for about a week now after a call for action was launched by l’UGTG [Fr], a local trade union which defends the interests of Guadeloupean workers. The move aimed to express the dissatisfaction and frustration of Guadeloupean people after years of shady price fixing and skyrocketing prices for household products. Dah in UGTG blog writes specifically to young people in Guadeloupe, asking them to open their eyes [Creole]:

LE 16 DÉSANM FO NOU SANBLÉ ÉPI LÉ PLI GRAN KINI LABITID LITÉ POU PEN A YO, PEN AN NOU : AN NOU KRÉVÉ BOBO LA POU 2009 GWADA PLI NÈF.

LE 16 FO TOUT JÉNES LA EN LARILA ÉPI LÉ SENDIKA ÈVÈ LÉ ASOSIASYON KILTRIREL ANSANM ANSANM POU DÈMEN PLI BEL KI JODI.

On December 16th (08) we have to get together with older people who are used to fighting to earn their living and ours: let's root out the evil to achieve a better Guadeloupe in 2009.

On the 16th, all young Guadeloupeans should be down in the streets, demonstrating with the unions and the cultural associations hand in hand, so that tomorrow is better than today.

After a huge demonstration, which shed a brand new light on the country's state of mind, the collective displayed their structured platform of claims, organized around 10 major concerns [in French and Creole]:

1- NIVEAU ET CONDITIONS DE VIE
2 – EDUCATION
3 – FORMATION PROFESSIONNELLE
4 – EMPLOI
5 – DROITS SYNDICAUX ET LIBERTES SYNDICALES
6 – SERVICES PUBLICS
7 – PRODUCTION
8 – AMÉNAGEMENT DU TERRITOIRE ET INFRASTRUCTURES
9 – KILTI
10 – ARÉTÉ PWOFITASYON

1 – Standards and conditions of living
2 – Education
3 – Profesionnal training
4 – Employment
5 – Trade Union rights and freedoms
6 – Public services and Civil servants
7 – Manufacturing and agriculture
8 – Development of the region and its facilities
9 – Culture
10 – Stop abusing us

This platform was addressed to the “Préfet”, the “députés“, the members of the Chamber of Commerce, farmers and everyone part of the civilian society. It aimed at informing people and eventually launching an unlimited all-out strike, starting on January 20th.

For a while, many Guadeloupeans thought that 130 claims organized around 10 major points were too numerous and therefore not credible. Comments on a post by Herve on the blog Fwiyapin [French & Creole] highlight the concerns:

[...]cette fois-ci toute cette mobilisation semble assez “fouillis”, on ne sait pas à qui les revendications sont adressées…pourquoi ne pas remonter carrément aux banques américaines ou aux compagnies pétrolières?

[...]this time now, this mobilization sounds “messy”: who are the claims addressed to? nobody knows!…why not address the American banks or the Oil companies?

The other issue has been the relevance of such a massive movement at a time of global crisis, as expressed in another comment on the same post:

Tu crois vraiment qu’il obtiendrons toutes leurs revendications j’en doute fort vu que le contexte internationale… Je trouve que ces dangereux et irresponsables de faire miroiter au gens 200€ d’augmentations sur les bas salaires alors que la crise mondiale ne le permet pas.

Do you really think all their claims will be satisfied, I highly doubt it because of the global situation [the crisis]…I think it is even dangerous and irresponsible to make people believe that they will get an extra 200 euros on the lowest salaries, when the global crisis makes everything so difficult!!!”

Even with these doubts, the mobilization has proved to be massive and popular. Schools, gas stations and most companies have been closed for about a week now, with very serious consequences on the island's economy – but many Guadeloupeans have given the green light to Lyannaj’ kont pwofitasyon in order to have an outlet to express their worries not only for the present, but above all for the future.

We can read a few unofficial figures from Shakazulu on Gwakafwika [Creole], who talks about the first demonstration on January 20th (as well as those on January 23rd and 24th) and from Zandwonis in Carib Creole One [Fr]:

Manifèstasyon Lapwent chayé omwen 10 000 moun! I pli masif ki dènyé fwa-la. Ève on gwan manman mobilizasyon kon sa, nou ka atann pou nou vwè.

Sanmdi Lapwent plis ki 25 000 moun adan gwan manman manifèstasyon-la. Dimanch toujou Lapwent plis ki 40 000 moun adan gwan déboulé a “mas a konsyans”.

There were about 10 000 people in the demonstration in Pointe-à-Pitre! It was bigger than last time. With such a huge protest, we are awaiting the reaction [from the officials].

On Saturday,there were more than 25 000 people massively demonstrating in Pointe-à-Pitre and on Sunday, still in Pointe-à-Pitre, there were more than 40 000 people in the huge carnival and cultural parade called “mas a konsyans” (parade to awake consciences).

[Samedi 24 janvier 2009] Au moins 20 000 personnes ont défilé dans les rues de Pointe à Pite à l’appel du “Collectif Lyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon” (CLKP). Les médias officiels ont annoncé plus de 8 000 manifestants. Dans l’histoire de mouvements ouvriers guadeloupéens, c’est bien la première fois qu’un mouvement social suscite une adhésion aussi massive.

[On Saturday, January 24th 2009] At least 20 000 people protested in the streets of Pointe-à-Pitre after le call of “Collectif Lyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon” (CLKP). The official media announced that there were more than 8000 people. In the history of Guadeloupean labor movements, it is the first time that a social movement is so popular.
  • Norbert Bousigue

    Thank you Fabienne for giving us some overseas news.
    In metropolitan France, media hardly talk about this movement in Guadeloupe.

  • Fabienne Flessel

    Should I be called “pessimistic”, I’d say that somebody is probably waiting for something violent to happen before having a closer look at this situation.

  • Martine

    Thank you so much for writing this! I have been trying to find information about this everywhere, as my father is currently in Guadeloupe. It hasn’t really been reported anywhere. Do you know how bad the situation is and how long it is likely to last?

  • Julie

    Hello Martine and Norbert,

    If you speak French (I’m from Lyon myself), come on, go to Libération online, or http://www.caribcreole1.com/, or Franceantilles online and many more on the internet, you’ll find all the info that Fabienne is kindly giving to the English-speaking world! If you hope to find any coverage of social unrest(s) on French television, be it about Gwada or elsewhere, as Gil Sctt-Heron said, “the revolution will not be televised”!!! Don’t look for “disturbing” info on tv or on the radio, even what’s happening in “métropole” is regularly hidden, twisted and distorted except for a few people who probably won’t be broadcasted for long! Though the Internet is not exempt of partisan opinion, far from it!
    Mèsi onpil all the same Fabienne, I wondered how to explain the situation to a Jamaican/British friend, now I know! Great job!

  • Fabienne Flessel

    @ Martine, though the strike causes technical inconveniences, it has never been violent! The mobilization is massive, everybody is out but in a peaceful and rather “cheerful” way, even though everybody knows the harsh consequences over our economy!
    The real difficulty is to move around because the efficiency of the strike relies on the fact the gas stations have been closed for 10 days, except for nurses, paramedics…
    Don’t worry! :)
    @ Julie: what a coincidence, I have lived in Lyon for 7 years!

  • Marsha

    thank you for all the insights …now a question ???
    I have a flight to Pointe-a-Pitre Thursday. Does it make sense to leave? How does one make their way from the airport? Why have the airlines not alerted their travelers

  • Fabienne Flessel

    Hi Marsha!
    Thursday is almost a week from today and hopefully the strike will be over by then, as the deputies have started giving answers!
    I would advise you to give a call where you’re supposed to stay at, just to know about the services they can still offer: airport pick-up etc…
    I think that the airlines haven’t warned their customers because there is no “actual danger” for people! it’s just that the country is like frozen except for the peaceful demonstrations.
    There are places on the island like “Saint-François”, where you can’t even tell that there is an all-out strike!
    :)

  • Martine

    Thanks for that Fabienne and Julie – my father is a sailor so I haven’t been able to contact him properly about it and he will be approaching the island soon, so I was a little worried! I’m glad it’s just a peaceful protest – I found an awful article about it – http://www.ybw.com/auto/newsdesk/20090029174222supersailworld.html – which made it sound really bad! I can’t believe it hasn’t been more widely reported in English. I’ve only just discovered Global Voices – what a great idea! :-)

  • mike

    Our Mom and Dad are there now. Here is an excerpt from an email we just received, they arrived on the 16:

    “It’s been more of an adventure than usual. We arrived to find that the island was having a general strike. We managed to get a rental car with a quarter tank of gas (all petrol stations are closed), hit the grocery store and made it to the Pierre et Vacances village, almost. There is a barricade across the entrance (see below) Our car is parked out of sight around the bend. Another view of the barricade a couple of days later is below. This convinced me that I need to learn some French as part of our survival skills here. We were on lockdown in our rooms Saturday afternoon for a while because of a fear of violence from the strikers. When we went into Ste Anne the next day there were a few burned out cars along the road where strikers had set up barricades across the roads. We have had our power cut numerous times and lost water once. The P&V village has gone from completely full to probably about 20% capacity. Right after this our car got vandalized and we have been without a rental car since. There are no cars to be had since there is no gasoline. The phones are out and we have no internet access. We have been living off of the stuff in the little store on the premises but the selection is getting pretty limited. (Note: nobody will eat fish sticks. A package of them has been the only thing in the frozen food section since Tuesday.)
    Meanwhile, we’re getting great tans and I’m learning some French. Gotta love the Rosetta Stone language programs. Things could be worse.
    I finally finished reading the Miami Herald of January 22nd yesterday and am now working my way through the New York Times of the same date. I can’t wait to find out what’s happened in the rest of the world. I sure know a lot about what happened on January 21st.
    According to the TV they are now feeding people in the cities out of the back of semi trailers because none of the stores have anything. Hopefully this will all end soon (like before we catch our flight Thursday)
    Salutations from us Both….”

    There were some pictures of tree limb barricades and a upside down burned out car on the street, as well as some beach and bird shots.

  • mike

    Im sorry – in previous post I said they arrived 16th – it was the 22nd. Just received email on the 31st.

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