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by Michel Guilloux


Translated Friday 6 March 2009, by Karen Grimwade

Such touching, tender praise for “essential social dialogue” between “social partners” and sung with such emotion by the State and MEDEF. It’s enough to move one to tears. Such altruism and open-mindedness, in a word: such selflessness. Dare we say it, such ungratefulness on the part of all those who would question such good will, those disgruntled souls led astray by such outdated ideas as class struggle, equality and solidarity. [1]

We are already equals in dialogue, why be equals in real life as well? Well, let’s take a look at the situation in Guadeloupe or Martinique, brought to a standstill by unrepentant strikers taking tourists and bananas hostage.

Does an employers’ organisation not affiliated to the MEDEF have the audacity, just because it represents the majority of private sector workers on the island, to try to put forward a proposal along the same lines as that demanded by the demonstrators for the last five weeks? Does the LKP (Collective Against Exploitation) claim to be interested in this development? Luckily the Prefect is on his guard, as are the friends of Ms Parisot: just because you take part in talks doesn’t mean you are obliged to reach an agreement. They have all the time in the world. And so the talks ended and the LKP set a date for the following day (yesterday). Mr Desforges, the island’s top official, cloaking himself in the folds of the “Constitution”, took on an authoritative tone to boldly retort, “Only the Prefect and the mediators decide the date and time of the negotiations.”

In Martinique, employers are more obliging. The CGPME is only too willing to agree to a wage increase. How about, say, 10 euros! And to crown it all: as of September 2009. The local MEDEF can better that. It is ready to propose figures to the Collective with whom it met on February 5th, but only once the Collective sets out concrete terms for ending the strike, which it is carrying out… for higher pay. This isn’t really a move forward either but hey, there’s dialogue.

Just as in the French Antilles, COSPAR, La Réunion’s coalition of trade unions, left-wing political parties and other associations, doesn’t care for “social dialogue” much either. It is demanding a 200-euro increase in the salaries of low-income workers, low retirement pensions and social minimums; higher student grants; a 5-euro reduction in the price of a bottle of gas and at least a 20% drop in the price of basic commodities. Tens of thousands of people will take to the streets at the beginning of March, just as they are already doing in the Caribbean islands. These are the demands, to which the government persistently turns a deaf ear. We are a long way from the passionate, if not amorous, image conjured up by the word “dialogue”. Holding talks is one thing; negotiating is something else.

Between the two oceans lies an empire over which the sun never sets: that of profit at any price and mass poverty, exacerbated by insularity and the remnants of colonialism. Of course for some, there is no question of taking a cut in profits. When you’re the owner of the Bernard Hayot Group and the inventory of your possessions could fill a directory; when your wealth increases by 16% in one year (300-350 million euros) you could risk finding yourself hard up. And people are even more aware of this in towns such as Pointe-à-Pitre, Fort-de-France or Saint-Denis in La Réunion because it is part of their reality and the cause of the current upheaval. The double act mugging for the cameras probably won’t be enough to halt these movements, which are currently enjoying growing support from mainland France. And with reason!

[1Editorial published on February 25th 2009

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