Letter From Europe: “Produce French”: who benefits?

 This month we translate a leaflet issued last year by a group of workers in Mayenne, a town in the West of France, attacking the slogan “Produce French”. This is a slogan which the French Communist Party and the trade union grouping it controls, the CGT, have made great play of. During the presidential election campaign last year it shouted from hoardings; it can still be seen daubed on walls. In fact the PCF Minister of Health, Jack Ralite, has been trying to put it into practice by ordering only “French-made” hospital equipment (not equipment made entirely from French products of course, but hypocritically only equipment whose final stage of manufacture took place on French territory).
The slogan is of course quite anti-socialist. It is mistaken—even from a simple trade union point of view—for the reasons explained in the leaflet. We can endorse the views expressed in the leaflet as far as they go, but they don’t go far enough. The authors don’t explain that, while it is necessary to wage the defensive trade union struggle as long as capitalism lasts, the only solution to our problems is the abolition of the wages system. We reproduce the leaflet however as it is a good answer to those who in Britain stand for “Backing Britain” and “Buying British”—even though we know that comparatively few workers practise what is preached here.


“Produce French”?

“Produce French, Consume French, Repatriate French Factories from Abroad”, is a slogan taken up by the Left as well as the Right and put forward as a remedy for the crisis and unemployment.

“Produce French” would imply to begin with French raw materials. Take for instance a household electrical appliance: the whole framework is plastic, a material which comes from Germany, Holland, and is made from oil bought in the Middle East; for the motor, it’s copper coming from South Africa, South America, and which passes by way of England for processing; not to mention the machine-tools, some of which are made in Switzerland and elsewhere. The example of the manufacture of a car would have been even more blatant. And what about uranium, oil and certain food products? In fact there is no purely national economy, but an economy that is more and more international: no country can be self-sufficient.

“Produce French” would also mean producing with French capital and closing foreign factories in France. The workers for instance at Sobio (a firm recently taken over by the English trust Beecham) in Mayenne know what that would mean for their employment.

Defending the slogan “Produce French” means being in agreement with closing French factories abroad, choosing for instance that Moulinex should make thousands of Spanish or American workers unemployed, or that the textile and electronics industrialists should throw thousands of Hong Kong, Korean and Moroccan workers onto the streets. It means that we French workers should choose who should be made unemployed; it means that we would be prepared to let workers who already live in atrocious conditions die of starvation: in Brazil, Morocco, Vietnam and elsewhere, 6-year-old children work; a worker has to work 12 to 14 hours a day to be able to afford a kilo of rice; there is no social coverage.

They want to make us believe that the trouble comes from workers abroad, as if they were not victims—just as much if not more than us—of the exploitation of the employers. It is exactly the same when immigrant workers are accused of causing unemployment in France, and it is advocated that they should be sent back to their country of origin. Continuing this line of argument means telling Corsican workers to go back to their island, Breton workers to stay in Brittany, workers from Laval not to leave their town and so on. and why not say “Everyone at home and God for all” . . .  Thus the employers have a free hand, division reigns.

So defending the slogan “Produce French” is to divide workers by countries, by regions, by towns, by wards; it’s forcing them to defend the factory where they are and so “their” employer; in other words, the interests of the rich and powerful who exploit us.

Logically, if we workers were to defend French cars against Japanese, or Renault against Fiat, we should have to go further because that wouldn’t be enough: we should have to support Moulinex against Seb, Jouve against Floch, Leclerk against La Motte, and so on.

Further, they want to make us believe that if all Frenchmen, employers and workers, close ranks and make an effort then things will get better, we’ll get out of the crisis. As if the exploiters and the exploited suffer from the crisis in the same way.

If French employers exploit workers in the Third World to such an extent, this is to maximise their profits. In France it’s the same; in the name of the national economy, of defending the company and its competitiveness, the employers force workers to tighten their belts more and more: our situation here gets worse from year to year: restructuring, automation bringing redundancies, speed-up, increased recourse to the modern slavery that is temporary work, wages which don’t follow the rise in prices (many workers in Mayenne are forced to survive on the minimum wage).

What the employers want is to sell more commodities than competing firms from France and elsewhere. And for this they exploit us as much as possible. This is in fact the best proof that we have no common interest with these exploiters.

Poverty, accidents, exhaustion, that’s for us. Profits, that’s for them. That’s the situation, whether you are a worker in Mayenne or in Ireland, in Argentina or Japan. Everywhere our condition is the same: increased exploitation.

That’s why the workers’ movements in the various countries of the world put forward the same demands, whether it’s Polish workers, Brazilian engineering workers, or workers in Western Europe or Japan:

  • increases in wages
  • reduction in hours of work
  • organisations to defend their interests, independent of employers and the State.

The slogan “Produce French” plays to people’s nationalist and patriotic feelings. We mustn’t be taken in, the employers want to divide us in this way so as to weaken us. And tomorrow, for identical reasons, they will be able to push workers of all countries to kill each other in a new war.

We reject division by nationalities and categories:
The worker in Hong Kong like the worker in Mayenne,
The unemployed like the employed,
The old like the youngest.
All workers have the same needs.