Martin Harvey

How to Get Full Employment?
Socialist Planning, Not Profits!

(11 June 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 9 No. 24, 11 June 1945, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DETROIT. – Willow Run Local 50 (UAW-CIO) conducted a mass picketing of the War Manpower Commission offices on June 2, in protest against the complete unconcern with which the government is treating the question of jobs for Willow Run workers who are being laid off by the thousands.

This action prevented the attempt of Edward L. Cushman, state WMC director, to hide the true situation of the workers at the Ford bomber plant by issuing false statements and statistics. A series of optimistic reports issued by the War Manpower Commission spread the illusion that, about 45% of the Willow Run workers who were laid off had left the Detroit area to return to their homes and that practically all of the remainder had been placed in suitable jobs.

The delegation from Local 50 gave the lie to these figures, pointing out that of every 100 women workers laid off 98 were not even offered jobs while the two out of every hundred that did get jobs had to work at wages that were, on the average, 48% less than the union rates at the Willow Run plant. The situation for male workers was almost as bad. Fifty-nine out of every hundred workers were not offered any jobs at all and the remaining 41 had to take wage cuts of from 25% to 60%.

This attempt of the government to “solve” the problem of unemployment and low wages by hiding the facts instead of providing jobs at decent wages is an indication of what workers all over the country can expect during the period of cut-backs and reconversion. The government is deliberately playing with the lives of the workers in order to help the capitalists restore sweatshop wages. As Local 50 president Brendon Sexton charged, the WMC was running an employment agency for sweatshops.

Shut-Down Imminent

While thousands of Willow Run workers are joining the ranks of the unemployed, the Army Air Forces announces a speeding up of the shutdown of the Willow Run plant. Instead of tapering off operations until total shutdown in August, the latest decree, issued without any warning to the workers involved, announces that production will cease by the end of June and that only planes which are now on the production line will be completed. The announcement was followed by the immediate layoff of half the remaining number of workers at the plant plus an estimate 7,000 worker, in other Ford plants who produce parts for the B-24s.

Willow Run is only a finished example of what the whole Detroit area is facing. Despite Cushman’s contention that “only” 17,000 or 18,000 are now unemployed, Walter Reuther, UAW vice-president, has stated that at least 160,000 workers are unemployed in Detroit at the present time and that this figure will reach 500,000 by August.

Besides falsifying the figures, the WMC attempts to “reduce” the number of unemployed in the Detroit area by a vicious trick. They tell unemployed workers who apply for unemployment compensation that it would be best for them to return to their ormer homes in other states and receive their compensation there.

The workers who fall for this find that by moving they become ineligible to receive compensation. To put it simply, they are being deliberately robbed of their compensation.

Bureaucrats Frantic

The top bureaucrats of the UAW are frantic at this development but haven’t the faintest idea of what to do. R.J. Thomas comes crawling to Henry Kaiser begging him to buy Willow Run; no doubt promising him that the workers will accept low wages and the speedup in return for this favor. Perhaps Thomas doesn’t remember that when Kaiser opened his shipyards on the west coast he signed back door closed shop agreements with the AFL BEFORE any workers were hired in his yards in order to prevent their organization by the CIO and any militant struggle for decent wage rates and working conditions.

Another proposal for the Willow Run plant was initiated by the reactionary Detroit News and taken up by government officials. This was that UAW buy the plant and operate it itself. The proposal, of course, was accompanied by many sneers at the inability of the union to run industry. Aside from the fact that the union doesn’t have the money to buy the plant, and these reactionaries know it, the question might well be asked, why should the workers pay for something which they built themselves? When the Ford Motor Company operated the plant it was given the machinery, raw materials, labor and a guaranteed market. Not to mention a guaranteed profit. No one asked Ford to buy the plant.

When the product will have to be sold on the open market, when the plant will have to compete with three giant trusts – Ford, Chrysler, General Motors – when machines and raw materials will not be guaranteed by the government but will be monopolized by the trusts, then these wiseacres propose that the union buy the plant. This is an obvious attempt to discredit the ability of the organized workers to manage production under the most unfavorable circumstances.

Workers’ Management

The workers are able to manage production. That can easily be tested. If the News or the government were sincere in their desire to see workers’ control of the plant, if they were interested in jobs and security more than private profits, they could adopt a very simple program, a program long; ago proposed by Labor Action and the Workers Party. That is, government ownership and workers control of production. This is a very modest program. It asks for little more than has already been granted to private industry. How would it apply to WilIow Run?

The government would retain ownership of Willow Run as it did under Ford management. The, workers would replace Ford as the “management” Through their organizations they would control production. The government would supply the machines and raw materials – as it did for the Ford Motor Company. The government would guarantee the market for the products – as it did for the Ford. Motor. Company. Since the products are no longer means of destruction but peace-time products, the government itself would not buy them. But that is no problem to a government which is supposed to be interested in the welfare of the people. It could sell them at cost or distribute them to those in need (the unemployed, for example). One of the suggested uses for Willow Run was the production of pre-fabricated housing, to which it is admirably suited. A government genuinely, concerned with the welfare of the people could accomplish two ends in one: guaranteed full production at Willow Run and provide decent housing to the millions of families who are in need of it.

National Planning

What could be done at Willow Run with workers’ control of production is, of course, only a tiny fraction of what could be done on a national scale with national planning for full production under workers control. It is only on a national scale that genuine planning it possible. And it is only on a national scale that any serious attempt can be made to prevent unemployment.

But Willow Run provides an excellent starting point. Let’s see whether the capitalists and their government place the lives and welfare of the people above the demands of private profit. They’ve had their “private enterprise” for years – and with it depressions, unemployment, poverty, misery. It’s time the workers took a hand at this. Let the working class operate industry.

And let’s start with Willow Run.

Last updated on 7 December 2017