The World Cup and why national unity is a trap

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
July 16, 2018

It’s hard to get away from the media hype about the French team’s World Cup win in Russia. There is no doubt that France’s players are talented; many of them--Mbappe, Pogba, Umtiti and others--bear the names of immigrants from the Cameroon, Algeria, Guinea, Mali, Haiti.... That should be enough to silence all those who say that immigrants pose a threat. In fact, more than half of France’s 23 players are of African origin. And we’ll never know how many were as gifted among those who were shipwrecked trying to reach the shores of wealthy Europe.

A lot of politicians would like to use the French team’s performance to improve their own image. French president Macron for instance is dead center in the photographs published by the press. The “president of the rich” is more and more unpopular and no doubt hopes that the World Cup can win him a few popularity points in public opinion polls. But he’s just one of the many who don’t hold back when lashing out at workers and who encourage the playing of the patriotic drum.

Okay, football is just a game and the World Cup is a good reason to have a party but symbols like the French flag and the Marseillaise aren’t neutral. Today, they’re used to celebrate a sports victory; yesterday, they celebrated colonial wars and other forms of state violence. The workers’ worst enemies have always used patriotism as a trap and they’ll use it again tomorrow to try and unite us in support of French capitalists against workers from other countries.

Macron and other politicians as well as the mass media view the success of a football team as an opportunity to have us believe that all French people are in the same boat. They’d like to erase the idea that there are irreconcilable social and political interests. They say that we should all strive for unity. But there can be no unity between workers on a minimum wage and billionaires with record-beating fortunes; between railroad workers and the government who’s attacking their status so that they can attack all workers; between hospital staff and those who keep making huge cuts in their budget; or between capitalist conglomerates like Carrefour, sponsor of the French football team, and the 2,000 employees it wants to fire.

Football is a business that spends “crazy sums of money” and football players are criticized for pocketing big bucks. But they earn millions thanks to their work and their talent. The sponsors, mass media and equipment manufacturers all hit the jackpot without scoring any goals. On Sunday night, France’s premier TV channel, TF1, sold every 30-second advertising slot for 360,000 euros, and was thrilled with their win……from the cash machine.

In Italy, a Fiat-factory union has announced a strike over the acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo by Turin’s Juventus team which belongs to the Agnelli family (owner of the Fiat company). The gap between the 100 million euros made available for this transfer and the threat of job cuts hanging over Fiat workers is indeed pretty revolting.

Other politicians use football as a diversionary tactic. In Russia, Putin has used the World Cup to increase VAT and push back retirement age by eight years for women and five years for men, He banned protests in the towns where matches were held, even if he couldn’t stop them completely. Here in France, as soon as Macron and his government are through celebrating “les Bleus” and their World Cup, they’ll resume their underhand work. They want to attack retirement regimes and social aid. They also intend to take a billion euros away from the housing aid budget. Money will even be extorted from handicapped people. The government wants to cut 100,000 subsidized jobs this year and 120,000 public sector jobs by 2022. The capitalists whose logo appears in stadiums and on screens will continue to manufacture more goods with fewer over-exploited employees in order to stuff shareholders with more and more dividends.

But the party won’t last forever. And when it’s over, social reality will catch up with us, like it did after the 1998 World Cup. The show is coming to an end but the problems facing workers, the unemployed, retirees, youths who can only get insecure jobs, haven’t gone away. Social war continues and forces us to fight to defend our interests as workers. We have to fight against the capitalists, against the Macrons of this world and against all those who talk of national unity only to rule in favor of the rich.