Protectionism, an answer to the crisis?

Translated by Laure Tallot (lHumanite)

Recall the facts :

The latest World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of January was the scene of alarmist statements about an alleged protectionist danger. At the origin of the fear displayed by the world leaders is a clause in the American stimulus package planning to cut back on steel imports.

To attempt to reassure his partners the President of the US, Barack Obama in person, had to disown this steel clause, calling it “a mistake”. Since then the Senate has watered down the infamous clause by subjecting it to the rules of the WTO, which actually means that it cannot become effective. The anti-protectionist hysteria spread to the European Union after Nicolas Sarkozy declared during his televised speech on Feb.5, that a public stimulus package for the motor industry was not intended to finance relocations “in the Czech Republic or anywhere else”. Prague, which currently holds the revolving presidency of the EU, immediately condemned this “massive protectionism”, thus almost turning the French President into a champion of the wage-earners of his country !

However, as in the US, the name of the game is to ask only for some light compensation from the companies which were given public money thanks to the “stimulus packages”, without claiming any involvement in their strategic choices, ... and there’s the rub. A case in point is the French motor company Peugeot which, allegedly out of necessity “to cut back on costs” in a context of a falling consumer market, is planning to axe 10 000 to 12 000 jobs while retaining its project to bring out nine new models in 2009 !

Isn’t the aim of the media and political hype about protectionism simply to dish up once more the old myth of a self-regulating market, whilst the working-classes are more and more harshly affected by the crisis ? After decades of deregulations and privatisations, all in the name of free-trade, not only are protections not dangerous for the economy, but they are vital, provided of course the genuine aims are agreed upon ; what must be protected : profits or jobs ? Multinationals or the people ?