Thursday, July 01, 2010

[olympiaworkers] General Strike in Tahiti Jun 30 2010

On 15th June workers in 'French' Polynesia ended a general strike, which
was sustained for over a week. The strike was organised by a coalition of
11 unions using the name 'Collective for Peace'. With deteriorating social
and economic conditions in the already poor territory affecting a wide
range of workers, the strike gained support and achieved some degree of
success but fell short of its potential.

The strike was built around bread-and-butter calls for an end to job
losses, better wages, secure pensions, unemployment insurance and health
cost repayments for locals suffering from the effects of past nuclear
weapons tests. When negotiations broke down, the strike was declared and
workers moved swiftly to picket the main domestic and international
transport links. This included the disruption of international air flights
and the harbour operations in Papeete especially key ferry links between
Tahiti and Moorea. Workers at Mamao Hospital also joined, with essential
emergency services being maintained throughout. The public sector
teachers' union STIP added its support to the strike despite impending
examinations. STIP argued that in current circumstances it would be
pointless for students to have exams and then no jobs to go to when they

The strike was finally called off during its second week, after President
Gaston Tong Sang agreed to ask the United Nations' International Labour
Organisation to investigate the possibility of establishing an
unemployment fund. While this could be considered a partial victory for
what was a defensive strike to maintain and extend basic living
conditions, there were clearly flaws in the strike. On a positive note, by
workers in strategic sectors taking the initiative, they showed where real
power lies, since nothing can operate for long without transportation and
socially significant facilities such as hospitals and schools. On the
other hand, major trade unions in the private sector failed to support the
strike and groups such as the Union for Youth tried to discourage student
involvement. Without universal recognition that an injury to one is an
injury to all, no strike can succeed for long let alone provide a
springboard for greater action.

Likewise, though it is possible to make small gains here and there,
putting faith in union leaders, governments and the UN to solve the deeper
problems of the economy in Tahiti or anywhere is misguided. Professional
union leaders often use their positions as a means of personal advancement
and take direct control out of the hands of those they claim to represent.
Governments whether elected or not are comprised of a minority of
parasites that rely on the labour of the vast majority for their
positions. As for the UN, it has always worked in the interests of the
elite within the rich countries, with nothing being done unless it suits
them and often with terrible results as in Iraq. The requirements of the
poor on a remote neo-colony don't feature highly on their list of places
to bother with. The only people with a genuine interest and ability to
deal with the fundamental cause of economic decay are those suffering its
effects at the bottom internationally, not those who perpetuate the system
that creates that decay.

The workers of Tahiti have shown what is possible when the working class
organise to defend the limited benefits we possess. That's a start. The
task ahead in 'French' Polynesia, in Aotearoa/New Zealand and globally is
to extend such struggles with the aim of overturning the whole system of

This article is from the July 2010 issue of Solidarity, free monthly
newsheet of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement. Read the rest of the
issue online or download a .pdf at the AWSM website.

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