Workers of the world: Guadeloupe, Israel, United States

Submitted by martin on 20 February, 2009 - 7:37 Author: Ira Berkovic

GUADELOUPE: The French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe has been rocked by a general strike — a total shut-down of shops, supermarkets, schools and public services.

A demonstration on 24 January saw 25,000 workers take to the streets; an equivalent demonstration in Britain would comprise over 3,000,000 protestors.

The UGTG (General Union of Guadeloupean Workers) has led the strike, along with nearly fifty other working-class organisations which have cohered into “The Committee Against Extreme Exploitation”. Guadeloupe is officially an overseas territory of the French Republic, although it appears that most mainstream labour organisations in mainland France have missed the opportunity to highlight and solidarise with a general strike that coincided almost exactly with their own.

The key demands of the strike focus on basic daily necessities, including reduction in transport and housing costs, permanent contracts for temporary workers and an immediate €200 increase in the minimum wage. The action looks set to spread, with unions on neighbouring Martinique already launching a one-day general strike on 5 February.

ISRAEL: Israeli rail workers are having to contend with both hostile public opinion and intense opposition from the bureaucracy of their own union following wildcat strike action.

Passengers have filed a class action law suit to the tune of NIS 12 million, and leaders of the workers’ union (the Israeli Railway Workers’ Union) and the Histadrut (the Israeli equivalent of the TUC) both came out strongly against the strikes, calling them “unruly and illegal” and ordering them to return to work. The strike was coordinated by a rank-and-file committee (the union’s official leading committee has ceased functioning following a police probe into alleged corruption) in opposition to a wave of summary dismissals of workers and their replacements with individuals considered loyal to management.

UNITED STATES: The United Steelworkers union has reached an agreement with oil industry bosses, averting potential strike action by over 20,000 oil workers in the United States.

The deal covers issues such as wages and benefits, although the union remains unsatisfied with the bosses’ intransigence on giving workers’ representatives an official role in enforcing health and safety agreements.

Threats of a strike had pushed the price of crude oil below $41. The dispute will be of particular interest to activists in Britain given its proximity to workers' struggles in our own oil industry, as well as because USW is formally part of the same global union as Unite.

Although oil workers’ disputes have not thus far taken up environmental demands, socialists in the ecological movement should be heartened by increasing displays of militancy by workers in frontline polluting industries and work to ensure that such militancy is in future wielded on the basis of politics that advocate worker-led transitions away from environmentally-unstable energy production.

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