International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, May 28, 1997, page 8
U.S. Labor Unions Seized 'Golden Opportunity'
to Oppose Communists
Michel Crozier /French Sociologist
By Joseph Fitchett, International Herald Tribune
- Michel Crozier, 74, a distinguished sociologist, helped modernize France with insights about the workplace partly gained from his Marshall Plan experience. His books include ''The Bureaucratic Phenomenon'' and ''The Stalled Society''. He is director emeritus of the Center for the Study of Organizations in Paris and visiting professor at Harvard and the University of California (Irvine). Crozier talked to the International Herald Tribune's Joseph Fitchett about the plan's enduring impact over a half-century.
Q. When did you first hear of the Plan?
A. In 1947, I wanted to study U.S. labor unions and got a French fellowship to travel around America. Everywhere I turned up, people were debating the same subject - the Marshall Plan. What impressed me was the breadth and depth of public involvement in the issue, extending from the nation's top policy-making elite to all kinds of local decisionmakers, embracing both the political classes and people in all walks of life.
Naturally, like any aid program, it was going to touch people directly in the beneficiary countries, but what was surprising was that it also powerfully mobilized grass-roots Americans - just as it would later affect the lives of almost everyone in Western Europe.
Washington was pulling out all the stops to get backing, and union activists were fighting hard for it, so everywhere I went a union local would call a meeting and say: ''Here's a brother from France, and he's going to tell you why the Marshall Plan is vital.''
I would explain that my country had been destroyed, but that we were determined to rebuild and it was extraordinary and wonderful to know that we were going to get help from our friends. I barely spoke English, but there was always enthusiastic applause.
Q. Why do you think Americans were so responsive to the Marshall Plan, especially unions? Today they resist programs increasing U.S. imports and creating jobs abroad such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
A. The Marshall Plan's generosity and idealism tapped into Americans' desire to think of themselves as a moral nation. At the time, it worked brilliantly as an idealistic alternative to communism in what we now call middle America and particularly for the unions, which were strongly anti-Communist. So it was a great political cause, which also offered the unions a golden opportunity to stake out a more influential and prestigious role for themselves in U.S. affairs.
Take France, the trickiest country for the Marshall Plan because of ticklish sensibilities among the independent-minded French. The Communists had emerged in a strong position after World War II, mainly because of the party's role in the Resistance.
But what was really important was the big trade union, the Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT), which was more powerful than the French Communist Party and had a broader influence. The union's leaders were militant Communists actively engaged in infiltration and subversion. That was a battle which U.S. labor leaders, who had been active overseas politically during World War II, were spoiling for.
American labor as a whole backed the Marshall Plan because the leadership was obsessed about full employment. America had only emerged from the Depression a decade earlier thanks to the economic stimulus and manpower demand in World War II. There were fears the country might slide back into depression now that the war was over. The Plan would give a fillip to U.S. manufacturing and create jobs.
In addition, unions got posts in Europe for lots of their people working with the Marshall Plan. It was a boost for labor's position in the U.S. domestic system to have this recognition of the unions' foreign role against communism. It was the beginning of your system of labor attachés in U.S. embassies. Scores of veteran labor organizers went to Europe to evangelize for the U.S. model of strong unions and vigorous negotiations for worker benefits. They argued that workers got no tangible benefits from political strikes of the kind ordered by Communist-run unions. In contrast, the U.S. message was the bread-and-butter goal of workers' prosperity in Europe.
Q. How were you affected?
A. It was a tremendous intellectual battle. Postwar France was a conflicted society, bitterly factional, with the Communists enjoying a very powerful position in political and electoral terms, controlling the labor scene and dominating intellectual life. They opposed America and U.S. influence, so a big body of French opinion was hostile to the Marshall Plan because it was American, describing it as a blueprint for colonizing France or as a new guise of the German occupation of France that called for a new resistance. Very few in intellectual or academic life dared stand up to the Communists' moral terrorism. Someone like myself, considered pro-American, was ostracized in many circles as a ''reactionary.'' The stigma was powerful, and I suffered from it in the sense that my work didn't have the official recognition, and the audience, that it would have enjoyed in normal circumstances. I'm not complaining; it's just the way it was.
Q. If it was such an uphill battle, how did the Marshall Plan succeed?
A. It's a long story in every sense, including the fact that some important results only emerged over time. For instance, the Marshall Plan introduced a more modern notion of managers and experts in French business and government, mainly through ''productivity missions.'' These weren't just know-it-all U.S. experts bossing around the French. Many of them were group trips - similar to sending a dozen French carmakers now to spend two days at General Motors on its Saturn assembly line and giving them an opportunity to talk to everybody.
For the French it was a perfect eye-opener, an example of a nonhierarchical society that worked - exactly the opposite of what we had that wasn't working and was going to work even worse in future. The U.S. example was inspiring, but people only gradually managed to absorb the need to listen to people on the shop floor and learn how to introduce changes incrementally to improve a group's approach to a problem, a breakthrough in French management and management consulting.
So it took time, but over the years U.S. ideas changed France profoundly. If it hadn't been for the Vietnam War, which tilted French politics into a new leftist period, France and the United States would have a completely different relationship today.
Q. And your personal involvement?
A. After my U.S. trip, I was sent on a productivity mission in 1956 which was an outgrowth of the Marshall Plan financed by French counterpart funds. That led to a year at Stanford's Behaviorial Sciences Center. It was sponsored by the Ford Foundation, which was very much a part of the intellectual climate that produced the Marshall Plan. Then I got a substantial grant from those counterpart funds to analyze the functioning, on the shop floor and in management, of France's state-run tobacco monopoly. With my Marshall Plan aura, I had complete freedom and easy access to people, and that made it possible for me to pioneer new methods of sociological analysis. It launched my intellectual career and influence in France.