A strike has been raging for a fortnight in Guadeloupe, triggered by the imposition of compulsory vaccinations. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back following a long period of attacks. Similar explosions are taking place throughout French imperialism’s overseas territories.
The archipelago (one of France’s overseas departments and regions) has been the scene of a large-scale mobilisation, which has in turn become the target of an intense propaganda campaign by the French government and bourgeois media, who have focused their attention on nightly violence and isolated cases of looting to conceal the scale of this conflagration, and the depth of the masses’ outrage.
The government has chosen the path of repression. The Ministry of the Interior in France has sent emergency reinforcements of the ordinary police, but also the GIGN (Elite Tactical Police Unit) and the RAID (special forces). As a leader of the Union Générale des Travailleurs de La Guadeloupe (the main trade union on the archipelago) pointed out, the government is quicker to send security forces to repress the workers' movement in its overseas territories (colloquially known as the ‘DOM-TOM’), than it was to send oxygen canisters to relieve shortages during the peak of the pandemic.
In typical Macronist fashion, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Monday the creation of a “dialogue body", without saying who it would be composed of, or what exactly the “dialogue” in question would be about. Yet the government was much more precise when it announced the introduction of a strict nighttime curfew in the whole of Guadeloupe until further notice.
For the moment, however, this repression has had no effect. In fact, the movement, which started in Guadeloupe, has spread to other parts of the DOM-TOM including Martinique, and French Polynesia.
Territories abandoned by French imperialism
The mobilisation was initially launched by healthcare workers but has spread very quickly to many sectors in Guadeloupe, such as national education workers, catering workers, firemen, etc. Barricades were set up by strikers on the main roads of the island, while pickets were positioned in front of the University Hospital Centre in Pointe-à-Pitre.
The fierce repression carried out by the police provoked violent clashes that left several people injured. On Monday, it was the turn of the Martinique unions to call for a general strike. They were joined on Wednesday by those in Polynesia. The mobilisation there has generally taken the same form as in Guadeloupe, putting the government on the defensive.
The speed with which the movement developed and spread is not surprising. It reflects the disastrous conditions these territories are kept in by French imperialism. Poverty is endemic, with a rate two to five times higher than in France itself, and public services and infrastructures are in a state of neglect.
In Guadeloupe, public investment per capita is only 60 percent of its equivalent in metropolitan France. This neglect has tragic consequences. Infant mortality rose from 7.8 per thousand in 2000 to 9.9 per thousand in 2012, meanwhile it decreased in France from 4.4 per thousand to 3.3 per thousand. Moreover, due to the bad condition of its pipe network, nearly 61 percent of Guadalupe's drinking water is lost through leaks. Water cuts are a daily occurrence; and when it finally reaches the tap, the water is often contaminated with the toxic pesticide chlordecone and therefore undrinkable.
This pesticide was used by the banana industry until the 1990s, complicit with the profiteering state services, and has permanently contaminated the Guadeloupean environment. Today, it is the inhabitants who are paying the price, notably in the form of an explosion in the number of cancers linked to this pesticide.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, French imperialism’s abandonment of its overseas territories was even more obvious. It was not until August 2020 that medical oxygen supplies were sent to Martinique. The same problem occurred a year later: in August 2021, the Martinique University Hospital was again short of oxygen.
We need a solidarity campaign!
Contrary to government propaganda that presents the strikers as hordes of looters led by anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists, the disastrous social situation in the DOM-TOM explains this explosive general strike.
A striker from Guadeloupe summed up the situation when interviewed by Radio-France: “The first cause is water and the high cost of living, and then the vaccine”.
The vaccine obligation raises the threat of mass layoffs in territories already heavily hit by unemployment. In 2018, the official unemployment rate was 14 percent in French Polynesia, 18 percent in Martinique and 23 percent in Guadeloupe (compared to 8 percent in metropolitan France).
Capitalism offers no prospect of improvement to the workers in these territories. The French bourgeoisie uses workers here solely for its imperialist policies. For example, Polynesia has become a point of strategic interest for French imperialism against China; it exploits the immense resources of the Exclusive Economic Zones that these remnants of its colonial empire provide (fishing, offshore deposits, etc.)
At the same time, the French bourgeoisie kept the local populations in a state of misery, and reduced public spending to a minimum. In the context of a global economic crisis, when new austerity policies are on the agenda, the workers of the overseas territories will be hit even harder.
Their struggle is also ours. It is the same capitalists who sow misery in these territories and in metropolitan France. It is the same bourgeois politicians who impose austerity in Paris and in Pointe-à-Pitre.
The victory of the DOM-TOM strike movement would be a defeat for Macron and for French capitalism, as well as an encouragement to the struggle for the workers in metropolitan France.
It is the duty of the French labour movement to actively support this mobilisation. To begin, the left and the trade union movement must urgently organise a mass mobilisation in metropolitan France in solidarity with the struggle of our brothers and sisters in the DOM-TOM.
The struggle of the workers of the DOM-TOM is our struggle! Their victory will also be our victory!