Strike in the French West Indies

, by @Alfred, Alfred

It happens so rarely that it might just be a dream: the West Indies are on the front pages of all major French newspapers, several days in a row? What the hell is happening? It is a revolt. No; a revolution. Looking beyond usual official bullshit about strikes and riots and the like, one can only notice that the Antillean movement is a bold gesture against the plague of the liberal capitalist economic system. You read that right. Read on for historical contextualization and internet hypertextualization.

It happens so rarely that it might just be a dream: the West Indies are on the front pages of all major French newspapers, several days in a row? What the hell is happening? Is it that our dear president Nicolas Sarkozy deigned to visit the place, see if he could find a photo op with a famous nigger?

No, not this time, This is a revolt. No; a revolution. It’s been going on for over a month, in Guadeloupe anyway, and now that the sauce has taken on the continent, it’s already started going sour in the Caribbean. Let’s blame jet lag.

Shall we explain what the movement is about? In the French media, it was first introduced as one faraway instance of the huge continental strike movement, a tropical version of the social movement. And the general demands are somewhat similar: the Lyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (LKP, Collective Against Profiteering) [1], a collective of 49 Guadeloupean organizations was formed to protest the abusive gas prices practiced by the French oil firm Total, once again involved in dirty tricks [2].

Soon, the movement widened to include demands about unemployment, education, “overpriced life” [3], etc. According to Frédéric Gircour [4], the author of the French-language Guadeloupean blog Chien Créole, the first steps of the strike movement triggered unbelievable scene of social dialogue between the different parties concerned: employees, bosses, representatives, all getting together in informal but well-organized public talks to try and solve the many issues at hand... Until Yves Jégo, the government Secretary to Ultramarine territories landed and separated the lot, closed down the meetings and in the same movement ruined the negotiations. So, you’ll say, nothing but the usual stuff. It smacks of the classic French strike, of good-old political tricks and stalling. Yes, but this would be implying that Guadeloupe and Martinique are just another part of France. And in that, you would be sorely mistaken.

Send in the Yellow

To take care of niggers, the French government traditionally sends in the Gendarmerie Mobile, “the Yellow” as it is also known, no fucking around, and they’re taking their Cougars-these nice little teargas grenade-throwing bazookas-with them. The gendarmes, like most of their buddies of the CRS riot police, are all based in continental France. A few days ago, Alex Lollia, a member of LKP, was beaten up by gendarmes apparently well aware of his position in the organization, and possessed of a peculiar notion as to the nature of their mission: getting the nigger [5]. Here again, this is not so surprising coming from French gendarmes; in fact, punctuating kicks with sweet words is something of a French police tradition. What is more specific to the locale is general massacre with no consequences.

Here’s for a non-exhaustive timeline:

- On February 14th 1952, the CRS open fire without warning on a demonstration of canefield workers and small cane plantation owners: Guadeloupe’s Valentine’s Day Massacre leaves 4 dead and 14 wounded.

- In 1959, the influx of white settlers fleeing the war in Algeria fostered racial tensions in Martinique. A traffic clash between a white settler and a black Martinican degenerated into a big public outburst on Fort-de-France’s main square. Using their traditional remedy for such terrible acts of rebellion, CRS took no prisoners, beating back the crowd with sticks and teargas bombs, and triggering three days of riots during which they would also shoot down three Martinican youths. The unexpected reaction of Martinicans (what? Niggers can fight back?) and its very organized nature led the French government to come up with a radical solution of their own: the Bureau of Overseas Departments Migrations, or BUMIDOM, that carefully planned the migration of West Indian youths to continental France. Martinican soldiers-who had joined the fight against the CRS-had until then always done their compulsory military service at home. The government arranged to have them sent all over sweet France from the early 1960s on. The idea was that in so doing, the independentist tendencies revealed during the riots would subside.

- In 1961, Martinican cane workers in struggle for a measly wage hike are attacked by gendarmes; three men are shot and killed.

- In May 1967, construction workers went on strike in Guadeloupe to demand a 2% hike in wages (the idea!). As union negotiations faltered, CRS decided lead might help: suring two nights, they shot at strikers, killing anywhere between 80 and 200 people. A great classic of the Republic: none of the CRS responsible for the massacre was ever tried or even questioned, but the leaders of the independentist Groupe d’Organisation Nationale de la Guadeloupe and the leaders of the student group Association Générale des Etudiants Guadeloupéens were tracked down and imprisoned for sedition, arguably for forcing police to shoot at them.

- In February 1974, the gendarmerie mobile turns the banana workers strike of Lorrain in Martinique into a bloodbath, shooting at 200 peaceful demonstrators, killing one and wounding four. The next day, the body of George Marie-Louise is found on a beach. It bears marks of torture. Unsurprisingly, his assassin was never found, and no gendarme will ever be heard on the topic.

La Gwadloup sé pa ta yo

Well, this isn’t very original. It even gets a little boring. But the gendarmerie does not specialize in plot twists and cliffhangers. Much to the contrary, we can already see a new glorious page of the Yellow’s history being written as we speak, same as the old ones. Following ultra-violent repression, the strike has drifted towards rioting, with stores attacked and looted, cars set on fire, and shots fired on both sides.

Until on Wednesday the trade unionist and member of LKP Jacques Bino was shot to death in circumstances that remain unclear. State’s attorney for Guadeloupe Jean-Michel Prêtre rushed to announce that the police had nothing to do with it, and that shotgun shells had been fired by the same local youths that have been raising hell in the projects at night, shooting at cops and first responders and preventing them from reaching Bino, who bled to death during two hours. In the light of gendarme techniques on the island, we won’t hold it against LKP leader Elie Domota, who voiced doubts about the official story. It is now suggested that Bino might have been taken for a cop in an unmarked car, an agent of the infamous BAC (Anti-Criminality Brigade, that usually patrols France’s projects). A recent interview [6] suggests that the usual BAC abuse on local youths might have had a crucial influence on Bino’s death. We cannot wait to hear Peter O’Brien’s version of the story. He was sitting in the car with Bino, and was being heard by police, last we heard [7]

But the tone of a majority of mainstream French press articles on the topic shows that overall, our good journalists feel that Guadeloupeans might be going a little too far. And this idea that social demands might somehow be related to race issues just does not sit right with our republican idealism. I mean, it’s either social or racial, in France; mixing both is a clear sign of communitarian slippage!

There are those who analyze the LKP’s song “Gwadloup sé tan nou” (“Guadeloupe is ours,” in creole) as a nationalist cry, possibly even one of those anti-white ejaculations that make Finkielkraut and his national-republican fuckbuddies pee their pants. Buying this would amount to conveniently forgetting how things work in Guadeloupe, and ignoring a history that throughout the centuries has blurred the lines between social and racial classes. Recently, the Canal Plus documentary Les Derniers Maîtres de la Martinique (“Martinique’s last Masters [8]), on the white ruling class chokehold on Martinican economy and their incredible influence with the French government seemed like it would help open the eyes of the good people of France. But since it is so hard to think about two different things at the same time, it seems that all that got through, causing many a shiver, were the race issues. “So what if we’re white and nice? Do they still hate us?

As usual, Guyane representative Christiane Taubira got up to explain the West Indies for dummies:

This is a social and historical problem. There are in the West Indies cruel social discrepancies that, historically, are a direct result from slavery. The economic power of the békés was born of the slave trade, it is a consequence of the indemnity paid to them by the state after emancipation. Everybody has this in mind. This explains the emotion occasioned by the Canal Plus documentary, but that anger preceded it. Make no mistake: the LKP leaders are not anti-white racists. They expose reality without rhetorical flourish: a caste holds economic power and abuses it. [9].”

Or, as Patrick Tacita of the LKP recently said: “If a people isn’t racist, it’s Guadeloupe. We fight against profiteers. Among profiteers, there are whites, blacks, Chinese, Indians, and others. [10]

Well, shit. So calling Guadeloupeans anti-white racists is not going to cut it. It worked well for Total and the British government recently during the strikes in England, but the most striking common point between these two struggles is much deeper than the wounds caused here and there by racism. Racism is never independent from social matters, no matter what the black bourgeois of the CRAN, the Patrick Lozes and other social traitors like Patrick Karam (the West Indian representative who called for an end to the strike) who would like the spotlights to be pointed at them and their elite identity politics.

The West Indies show the way

Connecting the Guadeloupe and Martinique struggle to the recent British strikes is easy because they have this in common to be meaningful actions against the plague of the liberal capitalist economic system. That’s right. It’s in the air. and it should be, as we are promised the worst recession since 1929, as covers of magazines multiply that ask if this is the end of capitalism. As the signers of the lyric Manifeste de la révolte sociale (Manifesto of social revolt, here in French),
the ’price hike,’ the ’overpriced life’ are not evil little imps that spontaneously appeared in front of us out of sheer cruelty, or out of the thigh of pure-bred békés. These are the results of a system where the dogma of economic liberalism reigns supreme. It has taken over the planet, it weighs heavy on all the peoples of the world, and in all minds, it has presided over not an ethnic cleansing, but an ’ethical cleansing’ (understand a disenchantment, a desacralization, a desymbolization, a deconstruction, even) of the human fact.

The utopian program imagined in the this manifesto, a vision of “small countries, suddenly thrown in the heart of the world, suddenly enormous with being the first examples of post-capitalist societies, capable of organizing human fulfillment inscribed in the horizontal plenitude of the living” may provoke snickers. But they express the possibilities glimpsed in this moment of resistance, where, for once, the West Indies are not completely isolated from the continent as they get rifle-butted into shutting up. It took about a month for mainstream media to say anything interesting about the strike in Guadeloupe; but this time-and this is what makes this movement different from all the others in the past fifty years and more-even in space, you can hear Antilleans scream.

This is resolutely and unavoidably a national matter, and this can only remind those who might have forgotten that the ideals of liberty and equality of the French Revolution-the real, social and popular revolution-never fell on deaf black ears in Haiti of course, but also throughout the West Indies, in spite of the different ways it played out in Guadeloupe, Guyane and Martinique. Read CLR James’s The Black Jacobins again, so you know what was nicely not mentioned so much in our history classes: that it was indeed under intense West Indian pressure, that it was because of the Haitian revolution that the French Revolution awoke from the slumber in which it had been forced by the maritime and slave trading bourgeoisie of Barnave. the Club Massiac and the Girondins. Learn from this, and ask yourself a question: would there be a good reason why official history obfuscated for so long just what France owes its West Indian colonies? The social histories of France and its dependencies are deeply connected, and this seems to be what some continental left wing parties have finally understood, who decided to support the struggle in massive demonstrations in Paris.

If the West Indies finally get the chance to participate in national social debates, we’re in for something good.

And otherwise?

I guess we’re in for something terrible.


[1See the cache of their website here in French:
last we checked, the website had been blocked for “bandwidth abuse.”

[2Total was recently accused of employing underpaid foreign labor in British refineries. Total made in 2008 over 14 billion euros in profits, the best year in its sad history.

[3The French Caribbean still live under the precepts of 17th century mercantilism. They import 90% of the products they consume from France, and have to pay more for them. Then again, they also have to pay more for bananas produced locally... What gives?

[4Interviewed here in French.

[5See his interview here in French.

[6Here in French.

[7See Le Monde in French.

[8See here in French.

[9From an interview to the Journal du Dimanche, here in French.

[10From Bakchich, here in French.