Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Boom in Marxist publishing in La Francophonie

It was a surprising headline on the front page of the weekend edition of the Montréal daily Le Devoir, March 14-15: “À vos Marx... Prêts? Critiquez!” — On your Marx, Set?, Criticize!

“A specter is haunting the world: the specter of Marxism,” wrote reporter Stéphane Baillargeon (a much longer version was published in the newspaper’s internet edition). “A ghost that is renewed, revised, corrected, improved, but still impressively strong enough to criticize the world as it is.” One example: in Japan, a publisher has issued a comic-book version of Das Kapital that has become a best-seller.

More seriously, in France the prestigious Philosophie Magazine features a discussion of anti-capitalist thought in its most recent issue that highlights contributions of Marxists. And Actual Marx (Marx today) is the name of a magazine (published by the leading university press PUF), a collection of book titles, a seminar series, a research team, an on-line web site and publication and a network of international collaborators.

“In the Anglo-Saxon world,” writes Baillargeon, “the revival proceeds through historians like Robert Brenner, who has worked on the initial accumulation of capital in England, and the Canadian Ellen Meiksins Wood, whose work The Origins of Capitalism will be published in translation by Lux in a few weeks. Another Quebec publisher, Nota Bene, will soon publish a book entitled Marx philosophe.”

“There is a resurgence of studies on Marx at this time,” says Isabelle Garo, the French co-director of the Grande Édition Marx-Engels (GEME), which has just published the first volume of their complete works in French. A related article in the same edition of Le Devoir reports that about one third of the works of Marx and Engels has remained unpublished in French up to now — “much more if we include their voluminous reading notes”.

The GEME is based on the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), the German-language edition that is most authoritative. More than 50 volumes of this 114-volume series have already been published, with the last one scheduled for publication by 2025. The French edition has taken over the former Éditions sociales versions published by the French Communist Party (PCF), but Garo says all existing translations will be reviewed, revised and retranslated where necessary.

“The contemporary interpretations follow the shifts in concepts in the works, but also in the successive adaptations, banishing any idea of linear progress,” says Baillargeon, the reporter. “Ms. Garo gives the classic example of Aufhebung, a German word borrowed from the Hegelian dialectic.

“‘This term is especially interesting because it retains the polysemy in the works as a whole,’ she says. ‘From time to time, depending on the case, it means dépassement (overtaking); at other times it means abolition. It cannot be rendered in the same way at all times and neologisms must be avoided. So we are going to justify our choices at length in the notes, which will be found solely in the electronic edition.’”

Speaking of which, Garo says the collected Marx-Engels works in French will be published first in electronic form (part of it payable), later in a paper edition. Independently of the current revision-retranslation project, the existing PCF editions will be made available starting next year, with the new translations appearing as they are completed. And a bilingual German-French e-index will facilitate research in the electronic edition as a whole.

The very first volume of the new French edition of the works, the Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), “is of symbolic importance to us,” says Garo. “First, it was no longer available in bookstores. Second, it addresses some issues that are still essential: work, the State, law, the transition to communism. It is a text of political intervention that we situate in its context, the unification of the German workers movement.”

What particular Marxist or Marxian school will this major publishing project represent, asked the Le Devoir reporter. “None,” Garo says. “We are going to banish from the notes any appreciative or deprecatory comments.... It will be up to the reader to develop his or her own positions.

“This is a scientific undertaking supported by the context. We are beyond the sectarian quibbles, and there is a recovery of interest in the thinking of Marx and Engels. Our editorial team includes researchers from quite diverse political allegiances. There can be many possible readings, and many issues....”

In a third related article in the same edition of Le Devoir, entitled “What remains of Marxist thought in Quebec?”, the reporter alludes briefly to the widespread interest in Marxist ideas of many Quebec scholars from the 1960s to the mid-80s, when the existing “Marxist-Leninist” (Maoist) and Trotskyist groups collapsed. Since then “critical thinking, long the legacy of Marxism, has gone on to other things,” he says. He quotes Laval University student François L’Italien, who is currently writing a doctoral thesis on finance capitalism from a Marxist standpoint:

“This Marxism à la québécoise was linked to the context of the Quiet Revolution. In Parti Pris, for example, the influence of the thinking of the Marxists of decolonization like Franz Fanon seems clear. This discourse combined class logic with colonial logic.”

And it developed further in the 1970s, as in the radical manifestoes published by the major unions such as the documents of the CEQ, the teachers’ union: L’école au service de la classe dominante (1972) and École et lutte de classe au Québec (1974).

“What remains of all that?” asks Baillargeon. “Frankly, from the theoretical point of view, almost nothing, other than a few sparse papers from an autumn of ideas tinged in red and blue.”

However, he notes that two of the pro-independence parties are now led by former Maoists: Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Françoise David, and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe. Ironic indeed, although he doesn't say it: since neither of the Maoist groups they were associated with supported Quebec independence!

The collected works of Marx and Engels will no doubt attract an interested readership among the members and supporters of France’s New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), as well as among Francophone activists everywhere — including, let us hope, the membership and milieu of Quebec’s new left party, Québec solidaire, which is badly in need of the anticapitalist “stimulus” that only Marxism can provide.

-- Richard Fidler

Friday, March 20, 2009

'Hearts and Minds' — A film for today

“Great news,” writes my friend Louis Proyect on his blog “The Unrepentant Marxist”. “Two of the outstanding documentaries of the Vietnam War era are now available, one in the theaters and the other on DVD. ‘Hearts and Minds’ opens at the Cinema Village [in New York City] today and is not only the finest documentary of the period, but arguably the finest political documentary ever made. You can also order ‘FTA’ from Netflix, a movie that both documents Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland’s legendary challenge to Bob Hope’s UFO shows and the amazing response of active-duty GI’s who by 1971 were sick and tired of Hope’s cheesy, warmongering ‘entertainment’, and more importantly the war it cheered on.

“Michael Moore goes even further than me,” Louis continues. “He calls Peter Davis’s ‘Hearts and Minds’ the best movie ever and adds that it was the movie that inspired him to pick up a camera. Indeed, you see what an influence it was on Moore and indirectly on so many other documentary film-makers who when they were imitating Moore were truly imitating Peter Davis. One of the brilliant insights of ‘Hearts and Minds’ is to use footage of old newsreels and movies that reflected the Red Scare mentality that made the Vietnam War possible, a device used by Moore and so many other directors. There is nothing like a brief scene from a McCarthyite warhorse like ‘My Son John’ to remind you how deep the paranoia ran in the 1950s and remained enough of a force to allow people like LBJ to sell the war to the American people.”

For the rest of Louis’s review of both these flics, go to Hearts and Minds; FTA. As it happens, I reviewed Hearts and Minds many years ago, when it was first making waves politically. Here is my review, which was published (under a pseudonym) in the April 28, 1975 issue of Intercontinental Press, then a newsweekly magazine published in New York. Hearts and Minds is not, to my knowledge, scheduled for showing in Canada at this point, but it can be downloaded over the internet. Well worth seeing, even as a repeat, as Obama cranks up his war in Afghanistan and the Canadian and other NATO forces there confront their failure to win “the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people.

(As I write this, four more Canadian soldiers are reported killed in Afghanistan, and the Harper government has just banned antiwar U.K. member of Parliament George Galloway from entering Canada to speak against the war.)

– Richard Fidler

The Antiwar Film That Won an Oscar

‘Hearts and Minds’

Reviewed by Robert Dumont

[Intercontinental Press, April 28, 1975]

From the beginning, Hearts and Minds was controversial. Acclaimed last year at Cannes, the film was shelved while rumors mounted that Columbia Pictures was holding back its release on political grounds. The hawkish New York Daily News refused to print Rex Reed’s rave review. The New York Times headlined an article, “First An Undeclared War, Now An Unseen Film.”

But there is a ready market today for a good antiwar film, and Hearts and Minds, now being distributed by Warner Brothers, is making the rounds of movie houses in the United States and Canada.

And on April 8 it won this year’s Academy Award in the “best documentary” category.

Hearts and Minds is powerful propaganda, in the best sense of that word. The film traces the roots of Washington’s involvement in Vietnam back to the end of the Second World War and the emergence of the United States as the strongest imperialist power. News documentary footage shows Truman, Eisenhower, and Dulles each defending France’s attempt to hold on to its Indochinese possession. (Eisenhower explains that Vietnam is strategically important for its “tin and tungsten.”)

One after another, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon proclaim their government’s intention to “win the war.” A vignette much appreciated by American audiences today shows Nixon presenting Thieu to the press at Honolulu as “one of the greatest presidents I know.”

Three decades of involvement in “the big muddy”—but when an interviewer asked Walt W. Rostow, a former adviser to Kennedy and Johnson, why the United States was in Vietnam, Rostow explodes, “You don’t really expect me to answer that goddamn question..., “ and begins to mutter incoherently.

The strongest aspect of Hearts and Minds is its portrayal of the brutality and destructiveness of U.S. intervention in Vietnam. This was a civil war, Daniel Ellsberg explains in an interview, but once the United States entered, it became a war between the Pentagon and virtually the whole Vietnamese people.

The genocidal nature of the war is shown in a succession of images that contrast the impersonal technology of aggression and the inhuman attitudes of the Pentagon protagonists with the suffering of the Vietnamese victims. Scenes of B-52s dropping swaths of 500-pound bombs alternate with the grief and rage of a North Vietnamese peasant whose daughter has been cut to pieces by antipersonnel bombs.

In one of the most poignant scenes, an elderly Vietnamese woman, whose sister, home, and possessions have been destroyed by bombs, begins to weep quietly as she tells us that now she has nothing to sell, that she is too old to do anything, that she is quite simply “so unhappy.”

Tankers fly low over rice paddies dropping clouds of defoliants; a carpenter who is building tiny coffins for children explains that many people in his village have become seriously ill and some have died from eating poisoned vegetables and fruit.

A returned U.S. prisoner of war, giving a gung-ho address to schoolchildren in New Jersey, responds to their question “What was Vietnam like?” with, “Well, if it wasn’t for the people, it was very pretty.”

A deeply moving scene of children grieving at the graves of their parents in a cemetery near Saigon is followed by retired General Westmoreland, beside a quiet pond on his antebellum Southern estate, telling us, “The Oriental doesn’t put the same price on life as the Westerner.”

Effective use of flashbacks, interviews, and the intersplicing of old war films and newsreels enhances the impact of Hearts and Minds. But the film’s real strength is the story itself. Producers Peter Davis and Bert Schneider have put together a powerful portrayal of the horror of the war, and the awesome might of the U.S. war machine.

Less effective is the film’s attempt to explain why Washington did not win in Vietnam. Its portrayal of the opposition forces in Vietnam is rather sketchy, limited to interviews with Buddhist monks and a Catholic priest, and an excerpt from a North Vietnamese propaganda film of “Uncle Ho” being greeted by small children with happy faces. There is certainly enough said in the film to indicate clearly why the United States could not win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people. But what finally forced U.S. imperialism to pull back?

Antiwar GIs and veterans explain their revulsion at the war. Clark Clifford, Johnson’s war secretary, tells us that “I could not have been more wrong” to support the war. But even putting aside any doubts as to Clifford’s credentials as a latter-day dove, the question remains: What made Clifford come to that conclusion?

In what amounts to a good summary of one of the film’s basic themes, Daniel Ellsberg tells an interviewer: “It’s a tribute to the American public that its leaders knew they had to be lied to. It’s not a tribute that it was so easy to be lied to.”

But was it so easy? No war in U.S. history was so unpopular. Millions of Americans from the beginning questioned what their political leaders were doing in Vietnam. Among the earliest manifestations of the antiwar sentiment were the giant teach-ins, in which students sought to find out the truth about the Vietnamese revolution and Washington’s attempts to roll it back.

By 1971, polls indicated that a clear majority of Americans were opposed to the war. A key factor in staying the Pentagon’s hand was the creation and growth of powerful antiwar movement that mobilized in the streets in massive demonstrations around the theme “Out now!”

Hearts and Minds barely indicates this important aspect of the war. It suggests instead that “we are all accomplices.” The audience is shown many prowar rallies. But there is only one brief shot of an antiwar demonstration in the whole film.

Despite this weakness, Hearts and Minds is an impelling indictment of Washington’s war. It is not hard to agree with a reviewer in a leading Canadian daily who wrote that if a film like this had been made earlier, “and especially if it had been made on the major television networks,” the war might have ended much earlier.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mobilizations, victories in overseas colonies set example for French workers

Martinique general strike ends in victory

A 38-day general strike in the Caribbean colony of Martinique ended March 14 with the signing of a protocol between the government and the February 5 Collective, a coalition of unions and other social movements named after the day the strike began. The agreement grants the coalition’s key demands. About 20,000 people celebrated the historic victory in a march through the streets.

AFP reported that “the signing ceremony drew a crowd of thousands who gathered outside the island’s head administrative office. They repeatedly chanted a slogan ‘Matinik leve,’ or ‘Martinique stand up’ in the local Creole language.”

On the day before, thousands marched through the capital, Fort-de-France, chanting slogans directed at the békés, the wealthy white descendants of colonists and slave-owners who dominate Martinique’s economy. Most of the island’s population is descended from African slaves brought to work on its colonial-era sugar plantations.

Martinique-collectif du 5 février

Strikers march in Fort-de-France, Martinique

The draft agreement, reached early in the morning of March 11, calls for a €200 ($250 US) monthly wage increase for 47,000 low-wage earners, with smaller increases for those with higher incomes. Workers will get retroactive pay to March 1. Major business owners had already agreed to lower prices on roughly 400 basic necessities by 20 percent one month after stores reopen.

These and other terms are similar to the agreement that ended a 44-day general strike on the neighboring island of Guadeloupe on March 4. See “First Victory” in Guadeloupe general strike; Movement spreads to other French colonies.

Michel Monrose, the head of the February 5 Collective, told AFP that the Collective “reserves the right to re-launch the strike if the accords are not respected”.

Strike movement spreads to La Réunion

In the Indian ocean colony of La Réunion, a coalition headed by trade unions continues to press for an accord similar to those reached in the Caribbean colonies. In recent weeks, the island of 800,000 inhabitants has seen huge demonstrations of up to 35,000 marching in support of their demands. So far, however, ongoing negotiations with representatives of the employers and French government officials have stalled, achieving only a freeze on rents in social housing.

The coalition has called for another massive mobilization on Thursday, March 19 in solidarity with the general strike scheduled for that day in France.

La Réunion_manif 11 mars_St-Denis

Demonstration in St-Denis, La Réunion, March 11

At a mass rally in St-Denis on March 5, Gilles Leperlier, a leader of COSPAR, the organizing coalition, described what it is and what it wants.

“COSPAR,” he said, “is above all a genuine collective, a coalition of trade unions, political organizations and community movements, a coalition without precedent in the recent history of La Réunion. COSPAR is the Collectif des Organisations Syndicales, Politiques et Associatives de La Réunion. It was formed at La Possession on February 5, 2009, and quickly was joined by les forces vives — the bone and sinew — of Réunion society, a total of 45 organizations come together to defend a set of immediate demands and develop, consensually, a platform of demands to end La Réunion’s economic dependency and put an end to the social injustice that prevails.... COSPAR belongs to the Réunionnais and to no one else!”

Leperlier noted that 52% of the population of La Réunion lives below the poverty line, and 24% of the work force is unemployed. COSPAR has advanced 62 specific demands as “an initial basis” for action. It echoes many of the demands, now won, in Guadeloupe and Martinique: an immediate €200 increase in the lowest wages and pensions, the minimum wage and student bursaries; a 20% reduction in the prices of basic consumer goods; a freeze on rents and the construction of social housing; equal wages for women; taxation of the wealthy (some 800 rich families currently pay no income taxes), etc.

“But the COSPAR sees further,” Leperlier said. “Something is developing in the Overseas Territories (France’s name for its colonies), a vast movement challenging the situations of privilege, a social and political movement that will not stop until the overseas territories have taken in hand their own destiny and put an end to the iniquity of a system that maintains them in economic dependence.”

Guadeloupe strike leader facing legal assault by French government

In Guadeloupe, where the 44-day general strike ended March 4 with a “first victory” on the major demands of the organizing coalition, the LKP, the employers’ federation MEDEF, a local branch of the one in mainland France, is attempting to renege on the settlement signed by its representatives and the French government.

Some MEDEF members left the negotiating table before the deal was signed, and are now challenging its legality. Addressing a mass rally on March 13, LKP leader Elie Domota read off a long list of major employers that had signed the final accord, and denounced French officials — including the local prefect (governor) and a cabinet minister who signed it — who are now challenging certain aspects. “The comrades were right to mobilize in their companies to demand enforcement of the accord,” he said. Some workers are still on strike in industries where the bosses have not signed.

Domota also denounced attempts by MEDEF to reinterpret the accord. The accord provided that the €200 increase on low wages would be paid on a shared basis by the employers, local government and the French state for three years, after which it would be paid in full by the bosses. The latter are now claiming the wage increase would cease after three years, despite a clear provision to the contrary!

And French officials and politicians, debating the accord in the French parliament, are now challenging the language in the preamble to the accord, which calls for a “new economic order” to end the “plantation economy” model that blocks “endogenous economic and social development”.

More seriously, Elie Domota himself has been charged by the French Attorney General for French overseas departments and territories with “fomenting provocations and promoting the use of force to extort the signing” of the accord. And he has threatened legal action against the trade union leader for “provoking discrimination, hatred and violence against a category of persons based on their ethnic origin”.

Guadeloupe - main strike leader

Elie Domota

A U.S.-based solidarity group, the International Liaison Committee, explains:

This announcement of possible legal action by the French authorities came in response to a statement made by Domota to a celebration rally on Thursday, March 5 — the day after the Jacques Bino agreement was signed. (Bino was the trade unionist killed the night of Feb. 16 by bullets now widely believed to have been fired by masked government provocateurs who infiltrated one of the barricades on the outskirts of Pointe-à-Pítre.)

In response to a question from the crowd as to whether the French government and the white ruling elite in Guadeloupe, the Béké, could be trusted to live up to the signed agreement and to pay the 200 euro monthly increase in the minimum wage, Domota stated: “Either they respect and implement the agreement, or they will leave Guadeloupe. … We have to be very firm about this. We will not allow a band of Béké to re-establish slavery on our soil.”

The attack by the Attorney General against Domota is an attack against the UGTG, which was the backbone of the general strike movement. It echoes the racist diatribes in the French media against the people of Guadeloupe and the LKP Strike Collective, in particular. The media portrayed the French government as the victim of “mob violence” that had compelled the government to sign an unjust agreement under duress and in violation of all conventional labor relations.

This reference to a “mob” — a reference to the overwhelming Black majority on the island — is not only racist to the core, it shows the total contempt by the colonial authorities for the democratic aspirations of an entire people. It reveals the deep fear of the Béké, as the ATPC communiqué puts it, that their stronghold over political power and their privileges have been greatly undermined by the powerful general strike movement that swept the entire country.

The question that arises is this: Does the announcement by the Attorney General against Domota foreshadow an attempt by the French government to invalidate, through the courts, the agreement signed officially by all the concerned parties on March 4th at 8 p.m.? Given the wording of the charges, it appears that this may be the intent. We urge you to join us in demanding of the French government: “Hands Off Elie Domota! Implement the Jacques Bino Agreement!”

In France, the major trade unions have called for a day of general strike and mass mobilizations on March 19 to protest private and public sector layoffs and support demands for major increases in minimum wages, pensions and other social benefits to confront the developing economic and social crisis. A supporting statement issued by the major left parties cites the strikes and victories in the colonies as an example of the kinds of mobilizations that must be built in the metropolis.

March 18, 2009.

Further information and updates (French only):

La Réunion

Témoignages, http://www.temoignages.re/


LKP: http://lkp.e3b.org/dotclear/index.php?

UGTG: http://ugtg.org/?lang=cpf_gp


Collectif 5 février: http://collectif5fevrier.org/


Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA): http://www.npa2009.org/

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tory government introduces new ‘anti-terror’ law as Khawaja sentenced to 10½ more years in jail

Mohammad Momin Khawaja, the first person to be sentenced under Canada's post-9/11 terrorism laws, was ordered March 12 to serve 10½ years in prison, with no eligibility for parole for 5 years. Under the Anti-Terrorism Act, this term will be consecutive to the more than 5 years he has spent awaiting trial and sentence.

The harsh sentence follows the 30-year-old Ottawa-area software developer’s conviction in October on five charges of participating in a “terrorist group” and helping to build an explosive device which, the defence argued, was intended for use in fighting the foreign troops, including Canadians, now occupying Afghanistan. Khawaja’s trial was the first major prosecution under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The prosecution was unsuccessful on its major charges that tried to link Khawaja to a bombing plot in England for which five individuals, all Muslims like Khawaja, were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The trial was notable for the judge’s ruling, when convicting Khawaja, that the Afghan resistance is “terrorist” under Canadian law, and that “those who support and participate” in the armed resistance “are by definition, engaging in terrorist activity”. See my earlier article on this: Afghan resistance is ‘terrorist’ under Canadian law, Khawaja trial judge rules.

In sentencing submissions, defence lawyer Lawrence Greenspon had argued that Khawaja should be released on the basis of jail time already served. The prosecution, however, sought to throw the book at him, urging the judge to hand down two life sentences. Political factors were clearly at work. The date of sentencing, originally set for November 18, was then postponed to mid-February and finally to March 12. On that very day, the Harper government introduced Bill C-19, new “anti-terror” legislation that will give police temporary powers of preventive arrest and the ability to compel witnesses to testify at closed hearings in front of judges.

The actual sentence, which could mean that Khawaja will be jailed more than 15 years, infuriated many commentators in the big-business media who bayed for more blood. Prof. Wesley Wark, who has fashioned a career for himself as an “anti-terror” expert, complained that the sentence “will leave some of our allies and friends shaking their heads, not for the first time, about Canada’s approach to terrorist threats”. Khawaja’s “jihadist convictions”, he protested, “will present a formidable challenge for any rehabilitation regime in prison”. However, he congratulated Justice Douglas Rutherford for rejecting the “poisoned pill” argument of the defence that he ought “not to succumb to the popular passions of the post-9/11 age”.

In an op-ed diatribe published in the Ottawa Citizen March 14, David B. Harris, the former chief of strategic planning at CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, fulminated against “Islamist infiltration of our society and institutions”, complaining that “Our government resources, already overwhelmed by floods of unscreenable immigrants and domestically radicalized youth, might well be too busy to stop other Khawajas, and catastrophe.” The judge had cited pre-sentence reports by prison staff that Khawaja was a “model prisoner” with a positive influence on other inmates. But what if Khawaja were to be released on parole in five years, Harris asked. Was the judge unaware that Khawaja “represents a growing movement of Canadian dead-end Islamic extremists whose release into society could have repercussions of a sort generally unknown in more conventional criminal contexts”? And that “he is likely to be a menace for the hate he will spread in prison and, possibly, the more lethal hazards he could yet unleash upon society.”

The truth is, of course, that while CSIS has tracked and harassed hundreds of Canadian Muslims in recent years, convinced judges to jail a half-dozen of them without charge for more than five years, collaborated with the RCMP in sending others to foreign lands for horrendous torture and possible death, Khawaja’s conviction is the first major one under Canada’s anti-terror legislation. Similar prosecutions of a number of young people in Toronto have been falling apart as more and more evidence emerges that they were set up by police in a classic “sting”-type entrapment operation.

Yet the Tory government is forging ahead with its new repressive legislation. Bill C-19 is designed to re-introduce police powers that expired in 2007 when the Opposition parties, a majority in the House of Commons, refused to renew similar draconian provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act that were subject to a “sunset” clause. Those powers were never used, in fact.

How will the Opposition deal with C-19 this time around? The Bloc Québécois says it will vote against the bill. Less clear is the Liberal position. The Anti-Terrorism Act was enacted in 2002 by a Liberal government. In 2007 a number of Liberal MPs joined with Tories on a parliamentary committee recommendation to support renewal of the controversial provisions.

And the NDP? It will probably vote against C-19. Law professor Michael Byers, a prominent supporter of the party (and unsuccessful candidate in the last federal election), told the Ottawa Citizen that he opposed it. But at the same time Byers praised the Khawaja sentence as “a balanced, reasonable, yet weighty outcome, one that shows our legal system, with all of its checks and balances, can deal responsibly and effectively with terrorism.”

March 15, 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

“First Victory” in Guadeloupe general strike; Movement spreads to other French colonies

The general strike in Guadeloupe ended March 4, when an Accord was signed between the LKP Strike Collective and the local governments, the employers’ federation and the French government that granted the strikers their top 20 immediate demands and provided for continued negotiations on the remaining 126 mid-term and long-term demands. The LKP, or Lihannaj Kont Pwofitasyon – Collective against super-exploitation, is a coalition of 49 unions and grassroots organizations.


Signing the Accord, March 4

The LKP Strike Collective voted to end the strike, its member unions and community groups declaring this a “First Victory” after 44 days of general strike, repeated mass demonstrations, and negotiations. Some strikes are continuing, however, where the bosses’ associations have not signed the agreement on wages: for example, at the Gardel sugar refinery and in the supermarkets belonging to various béké families (the békés are the white elite that controls most industry and agriculture on the island).

And on Saturday, March 7, 30,000 persons marched through the streets of the capital, Pointe à Pitre, to celebrate the victory achieved to this point.

Guadeloupe - manif 7 mars 2009

Victory march in Pointe à Pitre, March 7

The Accord on wages, reached initially on the night of February 26-27, provides for a €200 monthly increase for workers with a gross income of between €132 and €1849 per month (i.e. the minimum wage or up to 40% higher than the minimum); a 6% increase for those between €1849 and €2113; and a 3% increase for those with higher incomes. This agreement is called the “Jacques Bino Accord” in memory of the union activist who was killed during the strike. The cost of these wage increases is allocated between the employers and the French and local governments, with small business employers responsible for only a quarter of the increase.

Other concessions accepted by the bosses and the French and local governments, after lengthy and difficult negotiations, included:

- an average 6% reduction in the price of water;

- hiring of 22 Guadeloupian teachers on the waiting list;

- €40,000 in compensation for truckers and bus operators left out when urban and inter-city transportation was reorganized;

- various measures to aid farmers and fishers, including the setting aside of 64,000 hectares of farmland for future use, and a grant of €350,000 for the modernization and renewal of fishing gear for full-time fishers;

- an emergency plan for young people (jobs and training for 8,000 youth aged 16-25);

- lower bank service rates on certain products for individuals and small businesses; lower interest rates on loans are still being negotiated;

- a housing rent freeze and ban on evictions;

- some improvements in union rights, appointment of mediators to resolve outstanding conflicts in some major industries; and

- provisions for cultural development.

A parity commission with equal representation of unions and employers will oversee implementation of the agreements.

Leading the militant general strike, which shut down most businesses, schools, government offices and services, were the General Union of Workers of Guadeloupe (UGTG) and the various affiliates of the major French union centrals. The mass demonstrations, often mobilizing tens of thousands, were led by large disciplined contingents of marshals dressed in the LKP t-shirts. The strike collective held frequent mass meetings to report to the people on developments in the strike. A popular website included constant update reports, photos, and video presentations of speeches at the major rallies and demonstrations. See http://ugtg.org/?lang=cpf_gp.

Guadeloupe - victory meeting

Mass meeting hears report on negotiated Accord, March 3

Reporting on the draft Accord at a mass meeting on the night of March 4, the 43rd day of the strike, union leader Rosan Mounien said: “From now on, things will no longer be done as before! That’s over! We have come to realize that when we are together, we are stronger! So there is only one thing to do: stay together!”

The bosses and the government, he said, had overlooked the fact that “when a people arises, when it develops awareness, when it is convinced of the rightness of its actions... there is nothing that can stop it. The people sweep aside all obstacles placed in their path, like a whirlwind cleaning out all the dirt in a country.”

Asked by a French newspaper why the bosses had proved so resistant to the workers’ demands, LKP leader Élie Domota said: “To them, it is out of the question that the nègres (the negroes) would rebel and demand increases in their wages.”

The underlying conditions and issues in the strike movement were indicated in the preamble to the Jacques Bino Accord that ended the general strike. It states that “the present economic and social situation existing in Guadeloupe results from the perpetuation of the model of the plantation economy.” This economy, it says, “is based on monopoly privileges and abuses of dominant positions that generate injustices” that affect “the workers and the endogenous economic actors” and block “endogenous economic and social development”. The Accord calls for an end to these obstacles “by establishing a new economic order enhancing the status of everyone and promoting new social relationships”. (See Journal officiel de la République Française, March 7, 2009.)

LKP leader Domota told the French daily L’Humanité that although the strike movement had not advanced demands for institutional changes in Guadeloupe’s colonial status as an “overseas department” of France, “the people of Guadeloupe are demanding more respect, more dignity, work, an end to racial discrimination, increased wages and training to ensure the future of our youth.”

Guadeloupe - main strike leader

LKP leader Élie Domota

Guadeloupe is one of four French overseas departments or territories now convulsed by major social conflicts. “These societies,” said Domota, “are built on a colonial model. They are countries that want, in the future, to be recognized in full dignity, in full respect.”

The UGTG itself calls for independence of Guadeloupe. On March 8, the day after the mass victory march of 30,000, the union published on its website a resolution to this effect adopted at its 12th Congress in April 2008. See translation below.

In neighboring Martinique, a general strike that began February 5 around demands similar to those in Guadeloupe has also mobilized the population of some 400,000 in demonstrations of up to 25,000 in the capital, Fort-de-France. It has already produced a provisional accord with the Collectif du 5 février (an organizing committee like the LKP) that contains many of the same provisions as the one in Guadeloupe — and it includes a 20% reduction in the price of some basic consumer products. But the strike movement continues in that island.

A similar mass movement appears to be developing in another French colony, La Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean with a population of about 800,000. A coalition of 25 trade unions, parties and other mass organizations (the Collectif des organisations syndicales, politiques et associatives de La Réunion – COSPAR) has mobilized up to 30,000 in the streets in support of a platform of 62 demands, many of them similar to those in the Caribbean colonies.

-- March 8, 2009

Does a Guadeloupian People Exist?

Text of the resolution adopted by the Union Générale des Travailleurs de Guadeloupe at its 12th Congress, April 2-5, 2008 (excerpts)

To this question, the French Constitution replies “NO”, considering that we, the sons and daughters of slaves and others who have come from various continents, are but a population, a component of the French People, thereby integrating its last colonies within the French bosom; in a word, the red green yellow [colours of Guadeloupe], a component of the blue, white, red [colours of the French flag].

And yet, we Guadeloupians... we have a history, a language, a land, beliefs, social and cultural practices... All indicators that make us a People....

To this question, the response of the French State cannot be different, for Guadeloupian society is built on relations of colonial domination in accordance with a “natural” order established for centuries: at the top of the scale, the whites, and at the bottom, the nègres.

Department, Monodepartmental region, French Department of America, Ultraperipheral region, Overseas Department, Ultramarine regions, so many terms to try to hide a glaring reality: Guadeloupe is just a colony of France, a country occupied by the French State.

And a colony lives, survives only in order to serve the Metropolis, its Metropolis. ...

In this situation, what should we do? Let it be and disappear, or fight for the right of self-determination of the Guadeloupian people? An inalienable right, constantly reaffirmed and perpetually denied and invalidated by the various French and European policies through laws for adaptation and readaptation, orientation and programming, with the criminal complicity of the elected politicians.

The dynamism of the social movement and the political and symbolic implications of the demands, demonstrating the rejection of submission, of capitalist and colonial exploitation, the right to respect to all of its potentialities, including that of creating new social relations in a new, more just and more equitable society.

. . . We Guadeloupians are, along with the Martiniquais and the Guyanais [the people of Martinique and La Guyane], colonized and dominated, not through some curse or twist of fate but as the consequence of imperialist strategies that systematically attempt to dominate us.

The Guadeloupian people have the right to self-determination. The right of the Guadeloupian nation to full sovereignty and national independence is undeniable. The interests of the working class, of the Guadeloupian producers and creators, will be preserved only through their engagement in the struggle for the national liberation of our country.

The UGTG is and remains a class and mass organization convinced of the need to transform social relations for the purpose of achieving a more just society, securing for everyone his or her right to work, to health, to education, to culture, to life.

More than ever, we proclaim our adherence to the patriotic option, and we enshrine our style, our methods, our principles, values and conceptions within the perspective of affirming the Guadeloupian identity.

UGTG – 12th Congress, April 2-5, 2008

Published by Le Congrès, Sunday, March 8, 2009. Full text (in French and Creole) at http://ugtg.org/article_388.html