Sunday, March 15, 2009

Guadeloupe: Indefinite General Strike

We reprint an edited article by the French Tendency CLAIRE (Communism, Self-organisation, Internationalism and Revolution) which it wrote for discussion inside the new Anticapitalist Party (NPA). The does not means that we share all the political positions of the Tendency. [ See first comment below]. We take full responsibility for any errors in translation and editorial comments in [brackets].
After six weeks of general strike in Guadeloupe and four weeks in Martinique

The workers and people of the Antilles (West Indies) show us the way forward. This is the indefinite general strike, called and prepared by a united front of the trades unions, with a policy based on a program of demands, backed by mass mobilisations and pickets. MEDEF has refused to concede anything, but Sarkosy wants to end the general strike by making concessions because he fears that it will spread to the other colonies and even to France. But the general strike continues!

It's time to fight for the General Strike in France in solidarity with that in the Caribbean because our demands are the same and the main enemies are the same: the MEDEF [Employers Federation] and Sarkozy! The leaders of the workers in France must call and prepare a General Strike on a platform urgently as the only way of ensuring that the demands of the Colonies are won and that they are not isolated and repressed.

In Guadeloupe and Martinique, the strikers themselves will decide the objective of the strike. But the attitudes of the Sarkozy regime and the MEDEF make it obvious that any real satisfaction of their demands will be impossible without a radicalisation of the struggle. Already the LKP [Collective against Exploitation] in Guadeloupe and the Collective of February 5 (CF5) in Martinique has acted to occupy the companies to take control of production and form strike committees organised into a central strike committee.

The French state lacks legitimacy in the colonies, the LKP and the CF5 has the confidence of the masses and the authority to form a Government of the workers, based on the expropriation without compensation of the major companies, and able to take up the right to self-determination.

The government, the employers, the UMP and the PS use all means to end the general strike

After failing to repress the workers in Guadeloupe on the 16 and 17 February, the French colonial state had to retreat temporarily in the face of a strengthening general strike, with more roadblocks, youth arming themselves, and a union leader shot dead, for which the French government bears responsibility.

On February 18 Sarkozy announce the resumption of negotiations with the LKP. This temporarily defused the risk of a widespread explosion but was not a solution. Today the MEDEF still refuses to make any concession, while the government, based mainly on small and medium businesses, tries to end the general strike without damaging the interests of the capitalists. The proposed agreement is to increase the salaries by 200 euros for those between 1 and 1.4 times the minimum wage (the majority of employees), 6% for earnings between 1.4 and 1.6 times the SMIC, and 3% for wages above that). But for three years, employers will pay only 50 euros per employee. Local authorities will fund 50 euro and the State will cover the remaining 100 euros from the Social Security budget. The current agreement on offer in Martinique has a similar content.

[Ed note: The strike concluded on Wed 4th March with the acceptance of the 200 euro increase per month for low paid workers].

Moreover, in Guadeloupe, the draft agreement was signed only by a minority of employers, employing approximately 17 000 out of 85 000 as the MEDEF and the CGPME. The LKP has agreed in principle, but while negotiations with the prefect and the bosses continue it calls for the continuation of the general strike, and for workers to enter business premises to force all the other bosses to sign. In Martinique, the CF5 is divided between those who want to sign right away and those who want to continue the general strike or at least consult the strikers.

MEDEF is standing firm because it knows that a real victory for workers in the Antilles would lead to a radicalization and to mobilizations in the other colonies and in France itself. The government, meanwhile, tries to break the strike by dividing the strikers and trying to get the LKP to call for the resumption of work of those workers covered by the agreement. The government hopes to prepare "public opinion" to accept a crackdown against those militants who want to enter business premises to force the bosses to sign the agreement. The prefect deployed mobile policemen to prevent them from entering companies producing violent clashes.

The strength of the employers and the government is based on their clear analysis of the situation in France. Indeed, workers came out strongly on 29 January, the strike of non-tenured faculty continues from February 2 and is joined by a growing number of students who are beginning to block the universities; the mobilization of hospital workers against the new Bachelot law [named after the Minister of health who proposes to privatise the health system] promises to be powerful one on 5 March. There is a rising level of anger among workers throughout the country. According to the polls, 78% of the population of France supports the strike in the Antilles and 90% of the left.

In a word, a defeat of the employers and government in Guadeloupe and Martinique would create the very real specter of a general strike that would affect the heart of French capitalism and would therefore, at a time when the world goes into an increasingly violent crisis, have huge international implications. If they find no agreement with the LKP and the CF5, they run the risk of hardening the general strike, because workers cannot accept to have a four to six weeks general strike for nothing. Moreover, the longer the strike lasts, the greater the risk of contagion to France, despite the deliberate policy of union leaderships to leave our brothers and sisters isolated in the Antilles by refusing to generalize the mobilizations and leaving the next day of action until 19 March.

This extremely dangerous situation for the French bourgeoisie, which explains the excitement and divisions between the employers and the government, and the intervention of a Ségolène Royal demanding (so unusual!) that employers grant the Guadeloupe workers on the lowest wages a 200 euro monthly increase. The Socialist Party, in fact, has the most elected legislators for the "region" of Guadeloupe and is therefore well aware that the continuation of the general strike could jeopardize its own power, rightly identified by the workers and the people as a mere left variant of the colonial policy that has always been implemented by the French State.

In addition, the SP representing that sector of the bourgeoisie that want to avoid a avoid a general strike in France, asked Sarkozy to add some more concessions to workers and fewer to banks in his plan to “save capitalism”. The SP support for wage claims of the poorest workers is therefore a minor tactical difference with Sarkozy.

The standoff with the bosses and the state shows that to win workers must ask who has the power

The intervention of the PS shows that it is the question of who has the power that is being raised in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Indeed, the contempt displayed by Sarkozy in refusing to meet the demands, and the start of the crackdown by the police have completed to discredited the French regime. The legitimacy of the colonial State, openly serving the bosses and the "békés" [rich creoles] has long been lost for the workers and the people, as evidenced over the years the success of the UGTG, union independence, and autonomous organizations.

Yet it had maintained the illusion that it could provide social benefits to the workers in colonies - although those gains were actually imposed on the bourgeoisie and the state by the class struggle in France and the colonies. But in dismantling these longstanding social gains, allowing rising unemployment and poverty in the colonies, refusing today to meet basic demands, the "republican" veil that masked France’s colonial rule has been finally totally discredited.

Moreover, while the reformist leaders of Reform and the LKP and CF5 launched the strike primarily to raise immediate economic demands, the depth, duration and dynamics of the strike has tended to break out of this narrow framework. In particular, the strikers have organized the production and distribution of certain goods and services, including gasoline, gas, and electricity to maintain the strike. So the logic is for the spontaneous emergence of production and distribution controlled by the workers themselves. Similarly, the marches and pickets while organized and managed by the LKP and the CF5 have a logic of self-organization which breaks out of the controls of the leaders.

Indeed, the main leaders of the LKP and the CF5 are militant but in the cause of reform. [see footnote]. That's why they seek an "end to the crisis". But are the workers and the people of Guadeloupe and Martinique willing to stop a powerful strike of four to six weeks for such a meager result? It is up to them to decide, but nothing is less certain, as shown on the 17-18/02 by the unruly behavior of young strikers against the LKP organisers, the riots in Martinique on 26/ 02, and the demands by the 30 000 demonstrators Pointe-à-Pitre on March 1 who rejected any agreement by the LKP until it was guaranteed by all the bosses and the government.

In addition, the call for a general strike on the island of Reunion [in the Indian Ocean] on March 5, opens the possibility of the spread of the uprising in the Antilles, and out of control of the reformist leaders. And in France, workers are increasingly likely to want to follow suit.
In Guadeloupe and Martinique, there is evidence now that the real satisfaction of claims is impossible without radicalization. Indeed, the refusal to give the MEDEF and the government shows better than long speeches impasse reformism: even a general strike for six weeks is not enough to impose the satisfaction of claims the most basic! It will be for workers to decide whether or not to strike if the LKP and the CF5 call for resumption of work. But it is clear that the only way to truly win is to go further, to radicalize the general strike and self-organization.

Therefore, based on the power of the general strike, workers can propose to continue the struggle, but on the basis of a new program to fight with new methods and requiring the leaders of the LKP and CF5 to incorporate and implement them:
  • For the implementation of a General Assembly [GA] of all the companies on strike, the election of strike committees and federations at all levels, with mandated and recallable delegates (union or other) and a Central Committee to conduct the strike on the basis of militant workers democracy. Only then can the strikers control their own strike, decide for themselves what they are willing to accept from the State and employers and in particular how they will continue their movement, so that it continues until all their demands are met.
  • For the GA and the strike committees to vote to occupy the companies under workers control to make them work to meet the needs of the people, deciding what should be produced and how it should be distributed. This is the condition to prevent deterioration of the general strike, to keep public support and develop the ultimate, revolutionary, self-organization of the strike.
  • For the withdrawal of all French repressive forces, whose very presence is a threat to further struggle. For the formation of workers and popular centralised self-defence committees: it is the only way to collectively impose a deterrent force against the state forces of repression, to avoid the trap of isolated initiatives and to minimize the effects of the uncontrollable proliferation of weapons smuggling in the Antilles.
There is no other solution for the general strike to radicalize and strengthen itself in the context of reform and to avoid the trap of divide and rule set by the government. This is what the revolutionaries should explain to workers, independently against the reformist leaders who want to end the strike while the claims are not met. They must say this clearly, in particular the leaders of Workers Fight, a group linked to LO and plays a leading role in CGTG, those of CERCASOL and GRS (related to the NPA) and those of the Alliance of Workers and Peasants (related to the POI and in senior positions in several unions, including FP and UGTG).

At the same time, the situation itself shows clearly that a general strike is not enough, and raises the question of who holds the political power. Faced with the French colonial state and its servants in the UMP and PS, which have always served the "Békés" and all the big bosses of the West Indies, there will ultimately be no alternative to the seizure of power by the workers themselves. At this stage, the workers in the Caribbean do not consciously have this goal, but they have long been sick of the colonial power, the UMP and the SP and trust the LKP in Guadeloupe and the CF5 in Martinique. That is why it is legitimate to demand of those who are leading these workers fronts to claim they have the power and to form a provisional government as the alternative to the discredited French state and its forces of repression, its prefects, its regional and general political representatives.

This obviously would cause a break with the bourgeois parties openly participating in these fronts. But the majority of workers and people would support such a government to meet their social and democratic demands. This government would have to expropriate without compensation the large companies and large fortunes of the Békés, and centralize the planning of production and distribution controlled by the workers themselves. To mobilize all categories of workers (public and private sector workers and employees, but also small farmers, shopkeepers and artisans, students ...) and to ensure the right to self-determination of the Guadelupian people oppressed for centuries by the French colonial state rule.

Such a government would convene a constituent assembly of workers and oppressed people, who freely decide the status of the country, its structures, its laws, including redefinition on an equal basis, its links with France. It would decide on its relations with neighboring countries, including Cuba and other Caribbean islands, Venezuela and the countries of Central America. Finally, the government would speak to the workers and peoples of other colonies and the workers in metropolitan France to make the same call and engage the in same struggle against the French State.

To support the struggle of workers of the Antilles and for our own demands, we must fight for the indefinite general strike in France

The workers of France cannot remain spectators, we must show solidarity with workers and the people of Guadeloupe and Martinique. This should not be an abstract solidarity, but the best help we can give them is to fight for the indefinite general strike in France. For that is the only way to raise the question of who has the power and force the employers and Sarkozy to give up repression in the colonies and to meet our demands both there and in France. Therefore we must:
  • Convince our co-workers to participate in massive demonstrations of support for a general strike in Guadeloupe and Martinique, and fight for our organizations to actually mobilize all the necessary support to the strikers in the colonies;
  • Build and develop of ongoing struggles, such as the indefinite strike in higher education, the mobilization of the hospital workers against the Bachelot law, strikes at the post office in the private sector for wages and against dismissal, etc..
  • Build strike committees in companies and institutions to prepare for an indefinite general strike, without waiting for the new "action day" which the union leaderships use to demobilize workers. The aim is to concretely help workers to build their movements to prepare for the indefinite strike. We must also create a self-organization of the ranks to demand that the political union leaderships stop their "dialogue" with the government. They must follow the leaders of Guadeloupe and Martinique in urgently preparing and calling for the general strike and pickets on the basis of a platform which includes the main demands of workers:
  • Meet the demands of workers in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guiana and Réunion;
  • No to repression, immediate withdrawal of forces of repression of the French state from all the colonies;
  • EUR 300 monthly increase for all;
  • No redundancy, no closure of business;
  • Opening of books and publishing the bonuses of managers and capitalists;
  • Cancellation of all job cuts in the civil service;
  • Removal of the tax shield to tax the rich;
  • Withdrawal of all counter-reforms of the government: the general review of public policy (Revision Générale des Politiques Publiques - RGPP) [to increase public sector efficiencies, i.e. cut public spending], postal service reform, reform of schools, decrees amending the status of faculty and competitions for recruitment of teachers, LRU law [restructuring of the universities as businesses], Bachelot bill against the public hospital closures and relocation of utilities useful to people, etc.. ;
  • Fight the repressive immigration laws, immediate halt to raids and deportations.
The NPA and other organizations that claim to be Anti-capitalist must fight for the implementation of the general strike and take concrete measures to build it. They have already called for demonstrations of solidarity with workers of the West Indies. However, the SP has boycotted it, while the PCF and the main trade union branches are calling for it only because they fear above all the extension of the general strike in France. Thus the NPA and other organizations that claim to be Anti-capitalist must together, against the leadership politics of the main unions, take bold initiatives to prepare the political conditions for the general strike: they have a crucial responsibility in this situation.

Support for the united front and even for their leaders when they are victims of attacks by the bosses and the government does not prevent criticism of their politics. In this case, the platform of demands of the LKP, which includes almost all the unions, reformist political parties (such as PCG) and "extreme left" (including Workers Fight linked to LO), but also bourgeois (as Les Verts), as well as cultural associations, contains a long list of very basic demands including wages, hiring contractors, transport, living conditions, the right to training, the right to organize, defense of cultural identities, and so on.
There are also a large number of highly questionable demands, typically reformist, which are against the interests of the workers and people of Guadeloupe. For example, the LKP claims higher wages but not on the basis of the needs of employees. It advocates the participation of employee representatives in the governing bodies of the company with voting rights, ie for the association of trade unions in the implementation of management strategies. It does not call for a ban on layoffs and plant closings, but a "social plan" in case of redundancies, with "reclassification and mandatory training. It does not rule against public aid to private companies, but only for their "return (...) in case of redundancy." It does not rule against working on Sundays or even against its extension, but the "duty of an agreement or Branch Company before any work permit on Sunday."
As the struggle against the "masters of education " is developing in France, LKP demand a moratorium of 4 years for the reform of teacher recruitment, the time allowing the establishment by the UAG [Université des Antilles-Guyane] Masters of professionalization and the output of the first promotions.
It decides unilaterally for the exemption from property tax for the benefit of farmers throughout the country, without distinguishing between large and small farmers. It does not call for expropriation without compensation of large companies, but supports the building of a luxury hotel on the basis of providing jobs, when these companies have been enriched by plunder and exploitation, and have sacked many workers!
Finally, it says nothing against the French State and does not call for the right of self-determination of the people of Guadeloupe. The union the UGTG itself, which leads the LKP, despite its anti-colonialist and progressive militancy is reformist. Thus it supports the border police in acting to stop illegal immigration as "law-abiding professionals of the Republic".
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CWG critique of the above article: (first posted as a comment)

Some major differences that the CWG and FLT have with the Tendency CLAIRE document are, first:

There is no demand for the immediate independence of Guadeloupe, such as is specified in Lenin's Imperialism with respect to colonies.

It is not sufficient to support the "right to self-determination" of colonies, especially if you are workers in the imperialist country that oppresses the colony. It is necessary to come out directly for self-determination to express the fact that you as workers do not share with the imperialist ruling class the benefits of the exploitation of the colony. This was one of the 21 conditions of membership of the revolutionary 3rd International.

Not to do so leaves you open to the criticism that you are labor aristocrats who recognise the abstract right of the colonies to self determination, but do not make a practical fight for it in France which is the fundamental duty of French workers.

Second, and directly related, the TC does not as revolutionaries spell out how this independence struggle can be won. It can only be won by a permanent revolution, led by the workers and poor peasants, and in turn led by a revolutionary party. It is necessary to say the truth, to spell out that that means a revolutionary insurrection, the defeat of the French occupying army, and the forming of a soviet type dictatorship of the proletariat.

Instead of this the TC statement talks about the formation of a Provisional Government that can take power peacefully without the formation of soviets and workers militias, and without the defeat and splitting of the imperialist army in the seizure of power. As if the French imperialists will allow the Guadeloupians to take power peacefully and expropriate the property of the imperialists and the colonial ruling class, the "bekes"!

Following the formation of a Provisional Government, the TC says that the realisation of independence then becomes the role of a Constituent Assembly which will decide the relations between Guadeloupe and France as well as other countries.

Comrades, a Workers Government is the executive of the revolution, not a Constituent Assembly which is a bourgeois government! This is an admission that the Provisional Government is a bourgeois government, or a fundamental confusion that can only lead to defeat in Guadeloupe!

Such a Constituent Assembly is a purely pacifist exercise in self-determination that leaves the role of the French workers conveniently out of the picture. In reality, Guadeloupe will not become independent without a socialist revolution that seizes power by smashing the imperialist army.

That in turn cannot be successful without the workers in France embarking on a political general strike that disarms and brings down the Sarkozy government and replaces it with a Workers government that can expropriate the capitalist imperialists and free all the colonies.

Iin France the program of the TC falls short on this by failing to fight for a political general strike, for the formation of workers councils and self-defence committees on the road to the seizure of power. It allows the leadership of the NCA to get away with a passive, pacifist and reformist negotiations with the Sarkozy regime.

The current struggles breaking out in France must take on a clear militant and anti-imperialist character which subordinates the immediate economic demands of the French workers to the liberation of the colonies. The only way to do that is to make the independence of all the French colonies and territories the center of the working class program.

Immediate Independence for the French colonies is not negotiable. It is the pre-condition for the free decision of colonies like Guadeloupe to decide what relationship it wishes with other nations.

We conclude that the TC unfortunately in this leaflet reveals a left centrism that speaks of "taking power", "expropriation" etc., but does not have an action program to realise this objective in the colonies or in France.

In this the TC shows itself to be part of the centrist left Trotskyists who are acting as the left wing of the Bolivarian revolution, liquidating itself into the "united" anticapitalist party, that promotes a reformist road to 21st century socialism.

The outcome of the general strike in Guardeloupe where the LKP demand for a 200 Euro a month increase was only agreed to by Sarkozy to prevent the strike from spilling over into a revolutionary insurrection in all the French colonies and in France itself.

The LC plays a role in limiting in advance the development of this potential revolution by specifiying a left bourgeois democracy of a Provisional Government, peaceful road to self-determination, and the role of the general strike only to pressure Sarkozy to the left, and ultimately to replace his rightwing regime with a left popular front regime of the NPA and the Socialist Party as the new party of the petty bourgeoisie, the "shadow of the bourgeosie".

The TC can object to the NPA blocking with the SP, but the only answer to this is not to continue to contain revolutionaries inside the NPA with their hands tied by the Socialist Party on behalf of the imperialists, but to break with the NPA on a revolutionary program of the seizure of power and the formation of a mass revolutionary party as part of a new Trotskyist International.

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