The Michelin File: Drive to empire

Michelin Usine

Michelin rubber plantation in Vietnam, circa 1930 | Photo from Francois Dennis Fieve’s website, History of French Rubber Plantations (http://belleindochine.free.fr/Caoutchouc.htm)

Seventh in a series of articles on the Nova Scotian elections by TONY SEED*

THE MEDIA DISCOURSE around Michelin promotes that the “average” salary at a Michelin factory in Nova Scotia is $49,000, a product of a “union-free environment.” This disinformation aims to hide the source of wealth, the exploitation of labour in America and the super-exploitation of plantation workers in Brazil and Indo China or that it is Nova Scotian labour which contributed to creating the material base of modern productive capacity, whose fruits are controlled by a predatory French multinational.

The disinformation also projects a fictitious history of social peace enjoyed by Michelin as a fruit of its anti-union and imperialist policies. It fails to disclose the century-long resistance by the French worker, including factory occupations of Michelin plants, which is responsible for achieving the minimum benefits they enjoyed, as well as the national liberation war of the Vietnamese people to liquidate French colonialism based, in large part, on the brutal plunder of the rubber resources of Indo-China.

In their drive to become the world’s leading tire multinational, the original Michelin family (the company was formed in 1889 by André and Edouard Michelin from an earlier company) ruthlessly combined pragmatism with French chauvinism and weapons of mass destruction and embraced Hitler’s New World Order. The famous Michelin guide was originally copied directly from the format and contents of the Touring Club de France (TCF) annuaire; it took off with post WWI tours of battle sites designed by French generals and complete with anti-German chauvinist commentaries.

Employing Taylorism, Fordism and pro-natalism following WWI as models of industrial, economic and social organization designed to promote the union of labour and capital, the virulently anti-union company offered in-house training and apprenticeships, medical insurance, recreation programs, baby bonuses, company-funded daycare, nursing rooms, and maternal and birthing allowances meant to produce an allegedly industrious and loyal workforce with subsidized housing in company housing for single women and families alike situated in working class ghettos – on streets named Wisdom, Duty Street and the like. [1]

The results were displayed for all to see in the ruthless suppression in 1936 of the greatest wave of factory occupations and sit-down strikes that France had ever experienced (after the socialist Popular Front’s electoral victory and before the new Blum government took office).

Exposure of fascist coup to oust the Popular Front government before installing a military-style dictatorship in preparation for the return of the French monarchy

The Michelins became one of the principal backers of Nazi-occupied Vichy France and the collaborationist government of Pétain. Their cadre – such as its factory supervisors in Clemend Ferrand, base of the Michelin empire – were exposed for their involvement in an extreme and right-wing, military organization called the Comité Secret d’Action Révolutionnaire, also known as the secret, fascist Cagoule group (or “hooded ones”) on the eve of the Second World War.

The Cagoule favoured terrorist violence and planned a paramilitary coup to oust the Popular Front government before installing a military-style dictatorship in preparation for the return of the French monarchy. The Cagoule expounded a vehement chauvinist, anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-democratic and anti-Semitic stance. They incited public riots and on more than one occasion attempted the assassination of the socialist leader and Popular Front prime minister, Léon Blum.

According to the historian Irwin Wall:

“This fascist group, usually treated briefly in accounts of the period, mounted the most serious attempt by the extreme right to seize power in France in the 1930s. It was heavily financed by the magnates of Michelin, Citroen, and Renault; it had foreign backing and was able to build up a large cache of arms, mostly purchased from Germany; and it was responsible for the assassination in France of the exiled anti-fascist Rosselli brothers in June 1937, carried out at the behest of Mussolini. Among its recruits were high military officers, including Marshal Louis Franchet d’Esperey and Major Georges Loustaunau-Lacau (who later claimed never to have joined), and Marshal Pétain was aware of the group’s existence but revealed nothing of it to the authorities. A plot aimed at seizing power, set for 15-16 November 1937 (of the Third Republic), was broken up by the police, however, and the group’s leader, Eugene Deloncle, was arrested.” [2]

Herbert R. Lottman in The Michelin Men: Driving an Empire relates that, during the World War II Nazi German occupation of France from 1940 on, the quisling fascist government of Maréchal Pétain was located in Vichy in Central France, deliberately close to Clermont Ferrand in the mountainous Massif Centrale, where the Michelin brothers, Edouard and Andre, produced war materiel for the Nazis.

The anti-fascist resistance heroically attacked the Michelin works, burning a huge stock of 30,000 tires. On March 16, 1944, the 617 Squadron conducted a precision attack on the Michelin factory at Clermont-Ferrand.

The highly-touted “standard of living” that Michelin allegedly offers its work force comes at the expense of the merciless exploitation of the world’s people.

Michelin Tires, as the greatest plunderer of the raw materials of Indo-China, was a pillar of French colonialism. After unsuccessful attempts in Brazil, the Michelin brothers organized two plantations in Indo-China in 1925 in Thuan Loi and Dautieng which they operated until the end of the Vietnam war. Vietnam by the 1920s was amongst the world’s primary sources of raw rubber. The hevea rubber plants, introduced by French planters in 1907, grew well there, creating such fortunes as Michelin’s, when the auto industry expanded the demand for rubber tires.

The social consequences of colonization can be measured by a few facts reported in the 1930s. By that time, one single private bank, the

Michelin.Indo-china racist graphic“Banque d’Indochine, had a virtual monopoly over the colony’s budget. It was the issuing bank for the local currency. It was also contracted by Paris to collect taxes and the receipts of state monopolies. Among these state monopolies was opium, whose income represented one-third of the colony’s income! Probably the largest single beneficiary of Indochina’s colonisation was the Michelin family – best known today as the owners of one of the world’s largest tyre manufacturing company – which built its empire out of Indochina’s rubber plantations.” [3]

The conditions were slave-like. Michelin rubber plantations were called slaughterhouses

In 1939, the profits of the 19 largest rubber plantations in Indochina together were 300 million francs, an enormous sum at the time. Michelin & Co. owned and controlled vast acreages of rubber tree plantings in the southern section of the Vietnam Peninsula. Using an extended system of labour recruiters, Michelin imported “coolie” labour from throughout Indo-China using tricks and deception, e.g., fake photos depicting well-dressed “coolies” “assisting” plantations featuring villas, cars and gardens. One photo showed a tableful of money. “Coolies” were promised wages of 40 cents and a ration of 800 grams of rice a day. Whereas in 1926 Michelin employed 2030 “coolies” by the 1940s from 100,000 to 200,000 Indo-Chinese were forced into working on them. The conditions were slave-like. Michelin rubber plantations were called slaughterhouses.

“Rubber, the second largest Vietnamese export after rice, was produced by virtually indentured workers so blighted by malaria, dysentery and malnutrition that at one Michelin company plantation, twelve thousand out of forty-five thousand workers died between 1917 and 1944.” [4]

The red flag flies over Thuan Loi

Information about the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese is extraordinarily scarce. In 1928 the Michelin supervisor (Monteil) was assassinated. Beginning on February 5, 1930, just four years after the establishment of the Thuan Lo plantation, the rubber workers waged their first strike. On February 6 they issued an ultimatum: “all Europeans should have left the plantation before the full moon.” According to a 2006 book by F. Graveline, Des Hévéas et des Hommes, l’aventure des plantations Michelin (édition Nicholas Chaudin), Michelin had completely underestimated their determination; the strike had been two years in preparation that included the building of caches in the forest to store food for a prolonged strike; establishing networks with nearby villages; and propaganda work including leaflets and underground newspapers was patiently carried out “with communist ideas.” The “paternalistic” French responded by sending in hundreds of legionnaires and air planes from Saigon and carrying out mass arrests with one worker named Phu receiving the heaviest sentence, five years penal servitude. “Hundreds of coolies fled first into the forest. But nothing will be as before: an atmosphere of suspicion reigns.”

The resistance of the Indo-Chinese peoples and their war for self-determination eventually forced the French colonialists to withdraw their forces from Laos in 1947 and Cambodia in 1953; a large contingent of the French army was forced to surrender to the Viet Minh at the Dien Bien Phu base, in May 1954, after a siege that lasted several months and cost over 7,000 dead on the French side. This spectacular and humiliating defeat marked the end of France’s colonial presence in the region. Michelin, however, refused to leave Vietnam. It backed the United States which, having been defeated in China and Korea, then tried to take up where France had left off. Its rubber plantations boomed.

Of Michelin’s role during the U.S. war of aggression against Vietnam, the National Coordinators of Vietnam Veterans Against the War once wrote:

“We supposedly valued human life while our enemy did not. Yet we paid the owners of the Michelin plantations $600 for each rubber tree we damaged, while the family of a slain Vietnamese child got no more than $120 in payout for a life.” [5]

In Saigon on August 30, 1969, a Michelin rubber plantation was accidentally hit by a spray of Agent Orange, the U.S. chemical weapon of mass destruction. The U.S. compensated Michelin up to $90 per foot rubber poisoned. Ten million hectares of agricultural land was left barren. Seventy per cent of all northern villages were completely destroyed. As for the Vietnamese population, it still suffers from chemical pollution three generations later. The rate of cancer and malformed births has increased six-fold in affected areas. But Washington was careful at signing agreements on standardization, and a clause precluded any claim by the Vietnamese victims of chemical warfare.

Today, Michelin has six rubber plantations in Vietnam and Brazil. Its main source of supply is from Thailand, Malaysia (as part of its takeover of Uniroyal-Goodrich), Cameroon, Brazil and Guatemala. [6]

This is a brief history of the foreign monopoly whom the social democrat Darrel Dexter, premier in waiting, is publicly praising as “a good corporate citizen” – a model of the union of capital and labour. (For more recent information, see our article The Michelin File: Michelin’s ‘exemplary citizenship’). The fact that Mr Dexter has promised the obeisance of his government to its private interests makes matters even worse. This cannot be taken lightly. There is a need for vigilance. There is a need to defend our own interests from the encroachments and dangers which come from the rule of monopoly capital and the imperialist order.

Endnotes

1. Information about Taylorism and Fordism is from Chapter 1, Robert L. Frost, Fordism and the American Dream in France, 1919-1939, Center for Digital Discourse and Culture, Virginia

2. Irwin Wall, review of Kenneth Mouré and Martin Alexander, Eds., Crisis and Renewal in France, 1918-1962. New York: Berghahn Books, 2002. H-France Review, Volume 2 (December 2002), No. 135, http://www.h-france.net/vol2reviews/wall3.html

3. “Vietnam 1945-75 – imperialism’s terrorist wars against the world’s poor,” Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Spring 1987 Issue of VVAW’s national newspaper, The Veteran.

4. Ngo Vinh Long, “Vietnam’s Revolutionary Tradition in Vietnam and America,” in Vietnam and America: A Documented History, edited by Marvin Gettleman, Jane Franklin, Marilyn B. Young and H. Bruce Franklin (New York: Grove Press, 1995), pp. 11.

5. Vietnam Veterans Against the War

6. The Rubber International Magazine, Volume 5, No.8, August 2003.

Source: TML Daily, June 9, 2009 – No. 114. Revised by the author for this publication.

* Series on the Nova Scotia elections 2009
• Nova Scotia elections 2009 – There is an alternative!
• Atlantic Gateway: the politics of pragmatism and the elephant in the room
• ‘Real Life’: Democracy 251 and the ‘devotion’ to ‘a mature democracy’
• The Nova Scotia election and the bard Dan Alec MacDonald — ‘tonight, she walks the streets with Yankees’
• The Michelin File: No more deals — Nova Scotians must reject the politics of ‘pragmatism’
• The Michelin File: Michelin’s ‘exemplary citizenship’
• The Michelin File: Drive to empire

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14 Comments

Filed under No Harbour for War, Nova Scotia Government, Working Class

14 responses to “The Michelin File: Drive to empire

  1. Pingback: Nova Scotia elections 2009 – There is an alternative! | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  2. Pingback: The Michelin File: No more deals – Nova Scotians must reject the politics of ‘pragmatism’ | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  3. Pingback: The Michelin File: Michelin’s ‘exemplary citizenship’ | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  4. Pingback: Nova Scotia election and the Bard Dan Alec MacDonald – ‘tonight, she walks the streets with Yankees’ | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  5. Pingback: Atlantic Gateway: The politics of pragmatism and the elephant in the room | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  6. Pingback: ‘Real Life’: Democracy 251 and ‘devotion’ to ‘a mature democracy’ | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  7. Pingback: Nova Scotia elections 2009 – There is an alternative! | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  8. Pingback: Nova Scotia elections 2009 – There is an alternative! | Tony Seed’s Weblog

  9. Pingback: This day in 1975: Vietnamese people’s victory over US imperialism | Tony Seed's Weblog

  10. Pingback: More on the Pentagon’s falsification of the US defeat in Vietnam | Tony Seed's Weblog

  11. David Briggs

    Your page did not let me finish my name, David Briggs

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