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Mary Bell

Cost of Living Is Only a Joke to the WLB

(November 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 46, 13 November 1944, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This is the Era of the Wage Freeze. The theory behind the wage freeze is FDR’s “equality of sacrifice” program. The wage freeze has been translated into a bitter fact, as every working man and woman knows. Equality of sacrifice was never more than oratorical fireworks to dazzle and blind American people while the profiteers were coining money out of the blood and devastation of the war.

Now that the war in Europe is drawing to a close, a more complete balance sheet can be drawn of the debits and credits of labor and capital in the war. Labor sent its millions to the battlefield. Its birthright, the right to strike, was sold to Roosevelt by its leaders for the mumbo-jumbo of “equality of sacrifice.” It suffered high prices and shoddy goods, since the price ceilings did not hold.

Labor enters the fourth year of the war decidedly in the red.

Elsewhere on this page we find representative figures showing how capital has fared under the “equality of sacrifice” program. Contrary to the assertion of Roosevelt that “there will be no new war millionaires,” these have appeared, while the sacrifices of big business are invisible. Their profits beggar all description.

Business enters the fourth year of the war decidedly in the black.

The War Anti-Labor Board

The thermostat to keep wages frozen, controlled by FDR, is that object of hatred and subject of curses by all union militants, the War Labor Board. The CIO and AFL have presented the figures to show that prices have raced past the ceiling imposed by the Little Steel formula. “Too bad,” says the WLB in effect, “but FDR says no wage raise.” And what do the labor leaders do? Tell the rank and file unionists to tighten their belts, sit it out for the duration, keep the no-strike pledge, and, of course – elect the sponsor of the wage freeze, Roosevelt.

The AFL has gone a little farther, recently, in refusing to sit on the board during the hearings on the CIO steel workers’ case. The steel workers can get a few crumbs in retroactive pay under the “wage stabilization” clauses in their contracts, while the AFL can get practically nothing until the whole matters of the revision of the Little Steel formula is taken up. The CIO members of the board are content to argue for a few cents’ increase, believing it will satisfy the rank and file a little because of the retroactive clauses in contracts. After all, the salaries of the officials are not involved; they are guaranteed by the dues of the members of the union.

The recent move of the WLB to refuse even to recommend a wage increase, to state that the matter of upward revisions is outside of its province since it doesn’t know what the effect will be on the rest of the economy and to put the question into the hands of Roosevelt is a bald revelation of who its master is. And when FDR has spoken on wages, which is a rare thing these days, it has been against any revision.

Roosevelt’s silence speaks louder than promises who his master is. Every worker knows the wage freeze benefits the capitalist. Less wages, more profits. This babbling about “equality of sacrifice” is just to confuse us.

To buttress the case of the WLB and Roosevelt, the Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to issue its phony figures on the cost of living, trying to prove that it has not risen substantially above the fifteen per cent range allowed under the Little Steel formula. Its latest statistics say that while the cost of living has risen 26.5 over the base years of 1935–39, the increase since the formula was adopted has been only a little over nine per cent. But while even the BLS figures show labor is entitled to an increase over and above the Little Steel formula, the figures of the AFL and CIO show labor is entitled to an increase of AT LEAST A THIRD OF THEIR PRESENT WAGES! Any small increase FDR gives labor as a “reward” for its support can never begin to make up this figure, let alone the retroactivity of labor’s loss in wage?

No “foxhole” arguments can defeat this claim of labor. Not while profiteering exists. The references all the labor leaders made at the recent conventions to “our boys” in order to retain the no-strike pledge are beside the point. While the sons, brothers and husbands of working people are fighting in the jungles and foxholes, they are being let down by their relatives here when labor gives up the fight against the profiteers.

There’s only one way to fight for higher wages, to maintain standards for the boys who are coming back from Guadalcanal, Aachen and all the far-flung battleposts of this war:

  1. Withdraw from the War Labor Board.
  2. Rescind the no-strike pledge.

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