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Mary Bell

Fight “Big Steal” Formula!

(25 February 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 8, 24 February 1946, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The executive of big business in the White House, after much hocus-pocus and shadow-play to fool the working class, has loyally responded to the bidding of his class by inflicting a “Big Steal” formula on organized labor.

The Trumsn edict on wages and prices is no more than a repetition in peacetime of the wage freeze imposed on labor during the war! But labor was dragooned into acceptance of the “Little Steal” wartime formula by the promises of Roosevelt and its own leaders that the formula would stand only “for the duration.”

Now a “Big Steal” formula marches upon the heels of the “Little Steal” pattern. Just as the wartime pattern had its origin in the settlement of the dispute in the little steel industry, so this new formula has its origin in the dispute in big steel.

The “Big Steal” formula, while freezing wages with 15 to 20 per cent of the 1941 average – which does not permit workers to come up to their wartime earnings – does even more for big business than even the elastic war price ceilings permitted. It gives the green light to price increases! This is best exemplified in the basic agreement in steel, where the price rise of $5.00 a ton exceeded the expectations of even the Wall Street Journal which had expected $4 at most.

As steel goes, so goes the nation. Because of its strategic importance in all industries, higher-priced steel will spread higher costs. Demand for price “relief” will now spread like wildfire throughout all of industry.

Labor won wage increases by its valiant, collective efforts on the picket lines of the country. It forced the companies to grant in- creases ranging from 15 to 20 cents an hour.

But labor is to be made to foot the corporation bill out of its own pockets by price increases.


Labor’s original demands for a 30 per cent wage increase were based on the solidly backed argument of bringing labor’s wage UP TO the war time level, which had sunk radically after V-J Day because of lessened hours, cutback employment, etc.

The Department of Commerce, hardly a labor-biased institution, reported at the time of the GM strike that an increase in wages up to 23 per cent could be granted without price increases.

The most militant section of the organized labor movement backed up their demand for the 30 per cent increase with the demand to open the books and demonstrate for all to see the ability of the big corporations to pay. The corporations have not dared to open those books to reveal the tremendous profits and the hidden reserves.

The demand of labor for holding the price line was in the interests of the entire public. It meant that wage increases should come squarely out of profits – that legalized plunder fund extracted from the sweat and toil of the working people.

Now comes the Truman decree. That “impartial referee,” “labor’s PAC-backed friend in the White House” and inheritor of the mantle of Roosevelt, gives business exactly what it wants: a formula to freeze wages and relax prices. Truman’s support of the Bowles-Porter team as against that of Snyder-Small was merely a see-saw game of big price increases as against bigger price increases.

Labor has done a valiant job on the picket lines. But that is not enough. As soon as the strike banners are furled and the new contracts signed, the struggle begins anew. Labor will be forced to continue the battle against the new assault on its standard of living inflicted by the price increases.

That is why labor must organize ITS OWN CLASS POLITICAL PARTY to assist on the political front its class battles on the economic front. It must free itself from the class parties of the enemy, the parties supported by big business, the Democratic and Republican Parties. Unions which are dominated by the bosses and permit the bosses to enter their meetings are known by all organized labor as COMPANY unions. Similarly with political parties. The Republican Party and Truman’s own PAC-backed party are COMPANY parties.

U.S. labor is husky, mature and undefeated in its economic struggles. Politically it is still in swaddling clothes. The first step toward political maturity is the break with capitalist politics and the formation of an independent Labor Party. That party should be a party of, by and for the working people.

It should open the books of the corporations. If the corporations refuse, or if their books show they cannot operate their business to provide a higher standard of living and plenty for all, then labor must demand the nationalization of big business and its operation under workers’ control!

For labor does not have any profit interests at stake. It has shown in its recent struggles that it wants a decent wage at the expense of profits and not, as the corporations and their Washington representatives desire, at the expense of labor and all consumers. Therefore, all of the little people who have no vested interest in the profit system of capitalism must support the movement toward INDEPENDENT POLITICAL ACTION, toward a LABOR PARTY!

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