“The divisions in the agricultural world reflect social differences”

2024-02-14 04:00:19

Lhe farmers’ protests in recent weeks have made more visible the divisions in the agricultural world, which many try to present as unanimous behind the policies they prefer.

These divisions reflect differences in strategy between the agribusiness of large cereal farms or intensive livestock farming and more traditional practices, or, on the contrary, oriented towards the environment and sustainable agriculture. They reflect, even more, social differences, between a hierarchical vision wanting to manage agriculture from above and hopes of emancipation and peasant autonomy.

Two historical moments show the antiquity of this division. In 1867, with the blessing of Emperor Napoleon III, the Society of Farmers of France (SAF) was created by a small number of very large farmers or owners. Controlled by the highest nobility (de Dampierre, de Vogüé or d’Harcourt have presided over it for fifty-five years since its creation) and by industrialists (from one of the founders, a glass industrialist, to Damien Bonduelle today ), the SAF hopes to take advantage of free trade agreements to conquer European markets. But it turned around in a more protectionist direction when the invasion of American and Russian grain affected the European market in the last quarter of the 19th century.e century.

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But, beforehand, she opposed as much as possible the projects of the Republicans who, after the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, tried to get the peasants to adhere to the new regime. These efforts resulted in the creation of the National Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture in 1880 by Léon Gambetta, who, as President of the Council the following year, created for the first time a full-fledged Ministry of Agriculture. . This encourages agricultural unionism and cooperative and mutualist movements.

Threatened in its monopoly on the representation of agriculture, the SAF managed to circumvent the risk by becoming a mass organization after the Waldeck-Rousseau law. of 1884 on unions. It is strongly mobilizing in favor of protectionism, a unifying theme but whose implementation is much more important than the principle. Jules Méline asserts that his famous law of 1892 benefits all farmers, but its main beneficiaries are the grain growers when imports collapse.

The emergence of a resistant organization

The second important moment is the Second World War. Agriculture is the place par excellence for the establishment by the Vichy regime of an authoritarian corporatism, largely organized by leaders of the National Union of Agricultural Unions (UNSA, a reconfiguration resulting from the SAF in the 1930s ). Vichy dreams of restoring the authority of notables and the Church, without worrying about the (often miserable) standard of living of the mass of peasants.

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