Friday, February 13, 2009

Caribbean BBC NEWS. Guadeloupe and Martinique protest for rising cost of living.
Generalstreik gegen Teuerung auf Guadaloupe
Paris (Korrespondenz), 06.02.09: Seit dem 20. Januar herrscht auf der Antilleninsel Guadeloupe (rund 450.000 Einwohner), einer ehemaligen Kolonie und heute noch von Frankreich verwaltet, Generalstreik gegen die Teuerung der Lebenskosten. Die Armut ist unerträglich und trifft breiteste Schichten. Aufgerufen haben die Gewerkschaft UGTG und die Vereinigung gegen die "Überausbeutung".
Die Streikenden verlangen Preis- und Steuersenkungen, Einfrieren der Mieten und eine Erhöhung der Gehälter und Sozialgelder. Ihre Löhne sind noch niedriger als in Frankreich und viele Lebensmittel sind doppelt so teuer, denn die Lebensmittelmonopole erheben horrende Einfuhrpreise.
Das Leben auf der Insel ruht, weil der Streik hochpopulär ist und breit befolgt wird. Es gibt kein Benzin mehr, der Verkehr steht und die Lebensmittel werden knapp. Erst nach 12 Tagen reagiert jetzt die Regierung Frankreichs und schickt einen Staatssekretär zu Verhandlungen! Die Bevölkerung steht geschlossen: "Wir geben nicht nach ohne echte Zugeständnisse!"

The French overseas departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique have become the latest Caribbean islands to protest the rising cost of living brought on by the global financial crisis.
Protests over the cost of living that have paralysed the Carribbean island of Guadaloupe have spread to other overseas French territories. Long queues seen at the petrol stations were just one symptom of the hardships people are enduring with a general strike now in its fourth week.
President Nicolas Sarkoy has intervened for the first time, speaking of the need for profound changes in the islands’ economies, without announcing concrete measures. Talks between unions and the government show little signs of progress.
One union leader said he believes similar protest movements are starting up in other territories, including Martinique, French Guyana and Reunion. He added it could spread to mainland France in the coming days.
Prices of many staple items are much higher in the islands than in the rest of France due to the cost of imports. At the same time, the average salaries are lower and unemployment is higher. The widespread action is having a big impact on tourism, the territories’ main industry, and that will only worsen economic conditions.

Workers in Guadeloupe have been on strike since 20 January, demanding higher pay and lower taxes and fuel prices.

The industrial action has spread to neighbouring Martinique, where workers there are also demanding that authorities take steps to address the rising cost of living.

The French minister for overseas departments, Yves Jego, is in Guadeloupe, in a second bid to negotiate an end to the industrial action, which has brought the country to a standstill.

He is accompanied by two mediators appointed by Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Protesters in Guadeloupe have blocked fuel stations, roads and supermarkets.

The president of the Martinique/Dominica Medical Association Nita James, told BBC Caribbean that there is a shortage of gasoline, cooking gas and other necessities, with water and electricity also affected.

But she said many people in Guadeloupe and Martinique are convinced that the strike is justified.

No agreement

In Martinique, one eyewitness told BBC Caribbean that protestors there had blocked the entrances to commercial centres, most gas stations, and shopping centres.

There has been no agreement on the question of salaries between employers and the unions.

But the government has made some concessions, such as increased funding for school meals, and lowering fuel prices as well as rent for poor families.

On Tuesday, supermarkets agreed to a 20 per cent cut in the price of 100 goods. However the unions continue to press for higher pay, and called for the strike to continue.

The Vice President of Martinique's Chamber of Commerce, Bernard De Gentile, told BBC Caribbean that consumers can no longer afford the cost of living.

However he said that the protesters were engaging in strongarm tactics.

Bauxite sector hit

Bauxite plant
WINDALCO says operations will resume as soon as market conditions improve

Jamaica's vital bauxite industry has also taken a hit from the global economic downturn.

The West Indies Alumina Company (WINDALCO) last week announced the temporary closure of its two plants in March, because of financial challenges.

The closure will leave 250 part-time workers out of a job, and the fate of over 800 permanent employees hanging in the balance.

It is not clear how long operations will be suspended, but WINDALCO said business would resume as soon as here was an upturn in the marketplace.

The company was forced to lay off temporary workers in December.

Last month another company, the Alumina Partners of Jamaica (ALPART) reduced the working hours and salaries of both salaried and hourly paid employees.

Wider impact

Guyana's gold, bauxite and diamond sectors have also been affected.

Last year the country earned US $31 million from diamond exports and over $110 million from bauxite.

But diamond production has fallen because of lower prices, and bauxite companies have changed their large-scale investment plans.

In oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago, the government and the Central Bank were forced to step in last month, to bail out one of the region's biggest conglomerates, CL Financial.

News of the company's problems prompted calls for greater regulation of the region's financial services sector.

So far the tourism industry has been hardest hit, with thousands of layoffs throughout the region.

Tourism development projects have also been suspended, because of a lack of funding.

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