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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Produire français ou produire en France ?

by Gregory Marin

French Product or Product Made in France?

Portrait of People’s France

Translated Tuesday 14 February 2012, by Peggy Cantave Fuyet and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Does the nationality of the boss matter if the jobs stay in France? In Haute-Marne, the workers may have both feet deeply rooted in their land, but they also live in the era of globalization. What if, for the former McCormick’s workers, bought back by the Chinese Yto, as if the only thing that mattered was the language of de written payslip!

Saint-Dizier (Haute-Marne), special correspondant.

The canal that connects the Marne to the Saône brings back to our mind scenes of Maigret’s detective stories. But contrarily to the Simenon’s novels dead bodies, here, the industry pulse is still beating, even though weakly.
"It seemed like the end" said Raymond Roussinaud, service technician and Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (CFDT) secretary of the works council at McCormick, the spare parts and transmission production factory for agricultural tractors located at Saint Dizier. Despite the part-time unemployment (eighty work days in 2009 and in 2010), the "Bragard" workers (Saint-Dizier inhabitants - ED) fought to maintain "a little" production and feed the inventory as things come. "By reselling the parts, there was just enough to pay current bills and wages", until the acquisition in March 2011 by Yto, the first Chinese manufacturer of agricultural machinery. The Ministry of Industry apparently wondered, in "off mode" of course, if it wouldn’t be better to close shop" to preserve the technology "relate the workers. "For us, they were not Chinese, but employers" says Cyril Guillaume, manufacturing operator and secretary of the local branch of the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT).

Today, blue-collar workers are proudly showing around their factory that smelled burnt scrap metal and new paint. "To pass time", while waiting for the factory to run full speed, they repainted almost all the machinery. But, behind the new smile, questions remain unanswered. Should the flagships of French industry relocate to lower labor costs, thus harming the French economy; or let themself be bought by foreigners to produce manufactured goods and jobs on French soil? What is the only choice left for the workers: to be "eaten" in order to be able to eat? Downtown, you meet once in a while these "Chinese ogres" who do their shopping in small shops on Gambetta street with their wife and children; they have settled in the residential areas of the town. "Recently I was chatting with friends on the sidewalk; I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the director of the factory who wanted to greet me, says amazed Fabrice Guillet, assistant secretary of the CGT and manufacturing operator. "Even with the French management that never happened..." The first surprise experienced by the interunion committee was when the big boss, Yangshui Zao, came especially from the birthplace of the Yto brand, Luoyang (Henan Province), in China. "Exchanging gifts -as required by the ceremonial custom- with the new bosses, made me sick" remembers Raymond. Discomfort quickly dissipated: "They kept the entire staff (205 employees in March 2011) with the same wages and benefits, leaving the collective agreement intact".  The union representatives did not believe their own eyes!

If the new management is all smiles, it’s also "because by buying a well-established company, even though production is slow, they won ten years to conquer the European market" said Fabrice Guillet. They already sell machines in Europe, without producing them. "One feels that they need us, so they cajole us". At full capacity by 2015, the company hopes to produce 11 000 transmissions a year, 5 000 tractors, and promised 400 new jobs over three years. A true fairy tale! "But we are not fooled, a boss is a boss" adds Cyril Guillaume. "At the factory, everyone is waiting to see"  the first stones of the promised development in order firmly to believe in such an economic miracle coming from the Middle Kingdom.

In Saint-Dizier, these foreigners "who create jobs" are not the ones who will make "the already deeply rooted Front National (FN) vote" grow. In 2005 and 2006, during the last tough strikes, when despair did not yet result in resignation, some McCormick workers spoke of the Le Pen vote with a gleam of defiance in the face. Now that tensions have eased, that jobs are about to come back, those who are tempted by "the gangsterism of Marine Le Pen, who claims to be on their side like the gangster Mesrine did in the past" no longer have the excuse of their personal circumstances. So what? "The nearby Vert-Bois", the closeby tough neighborhood with its occasional riots...

All cities that share their territory with a "deprived urban areas" do not show a strong voting record for the FN, but Saint-Dizier, is one of these "periurban spaces, rural, industrial, small cities or towns located away from major cities" studied by the geographer Christophe Guilluy (Fractures françaises, Bourin Editions, 2010). Guilly saw emerging "new popular classes, workers, employees, independent workers, small farmers who share, not a class consciousness, but a common understanding of globalization and metropolisation". They undergo economic transformations and with them, a loss of purchasing power, and fear of downgrading their class status, etc. "Interestingly enough, the place with the most pro-Sarkozy vote, are also the ones that also have the most pro-FN vote".

Haute-Marne is historically a rightwing territory. General de Gaulle was living a few miles away, in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises. From 1971 to 1989, Saint-Dizier had a Communist mayor, Marius Cartier, between two Socialist mayors (from 1944 to 1971, Raoul Laurent and from 1989 to 1995, Guy Chanfrault), but in 1993, the UMP François Cornut-Gentille took over and kept first a seat in Parliament and then the mayorship in 1995. "In the plant, I am the last Red" laments Cyril, a member of the Communist Party. Here "workers have always voted for the political Right" according to Raymond Roussinaud. However, there is resentment crystallized against the Right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy. In October 2009, the President had said, in front of the employees of the foundry Hachette & Driout, a few hundred meters as the crow flies, "for me the first difficulty of France, it is relocation, it is deindustrialization ...". "And since? Nothing" complains a former worker.

What about the others? Not worse! "We see that in 2010, 2011, there was no electoral issue", says Fabrice Guillet: "No one has seen anyone at our door". "The "circus" of the media at the exit of the factories is a source of irritation: "They do not care about workers, and then, with elections approaching, it’s Disneyland! They are lining up to shake your paw...". Who are the only ones that they find slightly convincing? The mayor of Saint-Dizier, "Rightwing politically, but with whom one can talk"; he changed his mind on the buyer, and supported the union after they had convinced him. And also "the Bouzon" (Jean-Luc Bouzon - Ed), the regional councillor who was on all the picket lines in 2005-2006.

While "Paris policies" are in the eyes of most of the workers "discredited", therefore no question of feeding the "neither right nor left" and, more recently, "no center" of the National Front slogan. Moreover, the "economic patriotism" strongly defended by Marine Le Pen, also integrated into the speech of François Hollande, back into fashion in 2003 by former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, makes us smile. What does it mean when we worked for bosses coming from two continents, and that the new management comes from a third one? "Nobody from France or Europe wanted us", recalls, bitterly, Raymond Roussinaud. Cyril Guillaume adds ironically: "We had two buyers, two Chinese. We had to pick one... ".

As for François Bayrou proposal to "buy French", it is swept under the rug out of hand. "Unfortunately, consumers look at the brand, not at the place of production. A Renault manufactured in Romania is not more French than a Chinese tractor made in France", said Sylvain Rousselle. The forklift driver was part of the lot of 2005 fired employees; he created a committee with other fired ones of McCormick and an association of unemployed who participated in the redeployment unit set up after the layout. "Rehired" in 2011, now CFDT delegate, he is like other workers of the "Happy Factory", as they are sometimes referred to here, "happy to sweat again". "Before, we whistled when leaving the workshops, now we whistle when we arrive".  Who cares if initially the tractor, only assembled here for the moment, and expected for March 2012, will make their engine roar in Chinese. Soon, the plant will produce its own parts and will completely manufacture the tractors. And they will be "Made in France…".

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