We learned last Friday that a major strike was planned for Nouméa and that it would severely affect our gas and food supplies. People flocked to the pumps and to the few stores we have on the island. By Tuesday, pumps had "empty" signs taped across them and people were being turned away at the bakeries. One baguette per family - where bread was available.
It must be said that there is a fair amount of striking on the island, and we have grown somewhat used to it. Coming from Paris and its infamous transportation strikes, we thought, how could things be worse? They can. Take away our gas and our French bread and you have a nation on its knees. Sounds silly, but it is true.
That being said, an official order was issued and the gas blockage was lifted yesterday. Apparently the planes were running out of fuel and that could just not go on. I went to the bakery today and baguettes were to be had.
But the union leaders have said they will not give up: they will only get more powerful. What is the issue? There are several.
- One is the hiring of the Filipino workers on the new nickel mine in the south. They want the Filipinos to go home - and they want the jobs to be given to the Kanaks. I've been told that to hire the Kanaks, management would need to train them for three years - for a job that will take six months. Apparently the Filipinos have the neccessary skills and are in place. But it seems grossly unfair to "outsource" the labour under the noses of a population that wants to, and is eager, to work. And a population who owns the land, and thus the nickel.
- One is the exorbitant prices here. Yesterday 500 people marched on the capital (down the road from us) to protest the costs of basic things, like food, electricity, etc. The prices are exorbitant here - I often say they are 2.5 times the prices in Paris (and Paris is not cheap). For a 3/4-member family, we spend about €210 a week on groceries. Electricity is: €100 a month. Internet is: €125 a month. If we order anything on line (barring books) worth over €25 (including shipping), we pay heavy importation taxes: anywhere from 40% to 60%. But the Kanaks are just trying to get by. They don't have Internet or online options. They are just trying to buy food.
- One is the lack of proportional taxation for the rich. The island is purported to be controlled by 10 families who hold all of the money and control all of the importation (not to mention, as I heard recently, the banks). The strikers would like to see these high earners taxed.