AMERICAN WORKERS are being laid off: three days before Christmas, employees who assemble one of the nation's traditional favorite products get pink slips. Meanwhile, a steady drain of American cash is funneled abroad, to producers of a new line that has captured American consumers' fancy. Surely there is something Congress can do about this.

No, we're not talking about the auto industry, or about steel. The subject is toys. The pink slips were for the 215 people who make Raggedy Ann dolls for Warner Communications (although, fortunately, the line will be continued by Hasbro, the manufacturers of that very American toy, GI Joe). And the imports we are referring to are the Smurfs. In case you don't know any 4-year-olds, Smurfs are small blue elves who cavort and are, according to their creator, nonviolent and community-minded. Smurf products--and they include everything from tricycles to jack-in-the-boxes to cereal--will gross $650 million in the United States this year. Smurf cartoons are now the top-rated Saturday morning television fare.

And Smurfs are foreign. They are the invention of Pierre Culliford, a 54-year-old Belgian cartoonist, who calls them Schtroumpfs. Their success has obviously cost American cartoon creations some sales --and in an industry traditionally dominated by Americans. The obvious remedy is a variation on the local-content law sought for the auto industry by the United Auto Workers. Smurf and other foreign-designed cartoons and products should be required to include certain percentages of American characters and symbols. This will tend to increase jobs and royalties for American toy workers and cartoonists. Perhaps it will even prevent things like the layoffs of Raggedy Ann workers.

Some will call this protectionism. Some will say that other nations will retaliate, to the detriment of the nation that has produced Mickey Mouse, Snoopy and Strawberry Shortcake. Should we listen to these counsels of fear? Shall we let foreigners sell products in this country that American consumers want to buy? Shouldn't 4-year-olds, like auto purchasers, be forced to buy American?