Guadeloupe paralyzed by widespread strikes

Monday, February 2, 2009
PARIS: A French minister flew to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe on Sunday for talks aimed at ending a 13-day general strike over pay and prices that has paralyzed the French territory and threatens to fuel dissent at home.
Business leaders have warned of economic ruin if the dispute is not resolved soon and officials are anxious to prevent any contagion to the French mainland, where unions are demanding more government action to tackle the economic crisis.
"We must not underestimate the fears and anger which have been strongly expressed by our compatriots in Guadeloupe," said Yves Jego, the minister for French overseas territories who was due to arrive on the island later Sunday.
"Given the scale of the crisis and the risk it poses to Guadeloupe, we need serious and coordinated action from all the players involved," Jego said on his blog.
Guadeloupe is a region of France and is therefore part of the European Union. It has almost half a million inhabitants and is a popular tourist destination, but some hotels say they will have to close their doors if the strike continues.
An alliance of 47 unions and local bodies known as the Lyannaj kont pwofitasyon - whose name in Creole means "Let's stand up to fight against all sorts of abuses" - began their protest on Jan. 20 over the cost of living.
They have drawn up a list of 146 demands including an increase in the minimum salary of €200, or $257, a freeze on rents and a cut in taxes and food prices. They also want an immediate 50-cent reduction in the price of a liter of petrol.
Island authorities have rejected the demands and the local government official representing Paris quit negotiations with the alliance on Wednesday.
Adding to the problems, the island has been hit by a parallel dispute by gasoline station workers, protesting against the opening of new stations on the island, which kicked off on Jan. 19 and has caused a drastic shortage of petrol for drivers.
The head of Guadeloupe's regional council said Jego had to come up with new proposals to resolve the situation.
"The situation is very serious. We cannot have a strike that goes on for a month," Victorin Lurel told RFO Guadeloupe radio. "And this is not just about money because this is a real social crisis. Some see it as a constitutional crisis."
The Guadeloupe dispute has come against a backdrop of growing tensions in France over the global economic downturn.
More than one million people took to the streets of French cities on Thursday to protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the crisis and unions have promised more stoppages if the government does not do more to help consumers.