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Susan Green

Of Special Interest to Women

(25 May 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 21, 25 May 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The other day, Mrs. Green, housewife, noticed – as she should – that her husband’s shoes were down at the heels. So they were taken around to Pete, the shoemaket, for the necessary repairs, consisting of rubber heels and leather patches inside the shoes where the foot had rubbed through the lining.

“What will that set me back?” Mrs. Green asked Pete. “One dollar ten,” he said.

Mrs. Green opened her mouth to protest, but was so flabbergasted that no sound came out. Several months ago this was a sixty or sixty-five cent job. When her vocal chords began to function, Mrs. Green exclaimed: “That’s robbery!”

Pete has been fixing shoes for Mrs. Green for six years. He was very apologetic – very, very sorry, but he said he just couldn’t help it. “So help me God, Mrs. Green. It hurts me more, than it hurts you,”

“OK, Pete, OK. I know you’re not a chiseler. But how come? After all, how come?” So. Pete told Mrs. Green “how come.”

Recently when he went to the supply house with which he does business, he was assured by the salesman in the outer office that there was a shortage of material and that Pete could not have any of the heels or leather he had come to get. Pete protested. He wanted to know how he was going to carry on his business, how he was going to earn a living for his family. “Well,” said the salesman with mock thoughtfulness, “I’ll let you speak to the chief.”

In the inner office the alarmed shoemaker was given a line by the head of the firm: “Seeing as how you’ve been a customer of the firm so long, I may be able to fix you up. I got a little goods – a special shipment that cost me plenty. If you want to pay the price, you can get yours, but it’s got to be over the counter – cash and carry. No bills, no statements, no checks, no deliveries, Get me!”

Whereupon the big shot submitted, his take-it-or-leave-it prices which made the local shoemaker open his mouth even as Mrs. Green did in his store. “Well? I’m a busy man,” snapped the big shot.

Pete mopped his brow and began to stutter: “H-h-how can I charge such prices? I’ll lose my trade.” “That’s gonna be the prices everyone will charge. And, I might as well tell you it’s no use you should go somewhere else for supplies. You won’t get past the telephone girl somewhere else. Everyone is careful with whom they deal these days. Whaddya say? I’m a busy man.”

The harrassed shoemaker still hesitated. “I’m surprised at you,” continued the big shot. “What kinda salesman are you? How about telling your trade there is a war? How about telling them the armed, forces is using all the domestic leather? How about telling them this is much finer stuff that comes from Argentina? Got to know your geography these days. Ain’t that what the President said?”

Pete explained to Mrs. Green that while the big mouth was talking, his imagination was plenty busy. He was seeing. the street on which his store is located. There is another shoemaker on the block. Besides there are two chain stores, which also do shoe repairing. On the next block and. on the next of that business street of a thickly populated district, there are more shoemakers’ shops and more chain cleaning stores. He imagined his customers taking their shoes to his competitors, if he didn’t have the leather and material he needs. Pete felt he had no choice. Reluctantly he paid the blackmail prices and took the goods from the shipping clerk.

“What could I do, Mrs. Green?” concluded the shoemakcr. “Could I go to the OPA office and report that chiseler? So what would I do for leather, anyway? How could I hold my trade? Even if I do complain, the big shot anyway gets away with it. And he ain’t the only one. You know how those things are – like fighting City Hall. I only ruin my own business. So every week I go and get my stuff and pay through the nose.”

Mrs. Green had listened with intense interest to Pete’s story.

“Pete, by yourself you can’t do a damn thing,” she commented. “All right, give me the check. I’ll come for the shoes this evening.”

A look of apprehension came into the shoemaker’s eyes, as he handed Mrs. Green the check. “Maybe I talk too much, Mrs. Green. I trust you. I want no trouble. I try to make a living, I’m in this country twenty years and an American citizen. But it could be easy to make trouble for Italian-born.”

“Don’t worry, Pete,” Mrs. Green assured him.

“People like me don’t want to hurt people like you.”

This columnist can vouch for the authenticity of the above incident for the simple reason that Mrs. Green, housewife, is nobody else but this columnist.

Pete may have over-dramatized his story. He may even have added five or ten cents more to the charge than he had to. All this, however, is unimportant. For Pete’s story contains the essential pattern for all war profiteering, for the Black Market, for the unpunished flaunting of all price ceilings under the present capitalist set-up.

Let us follow the streamlines of the pattern.

There is a big shot corporation that has hidden caches of priority goods or knows how to get them. It pegs prices at what the traffic will bear. It hides its illegal practices by doing a cash, and carry business so as to eliminate all bookkeeping records of its profiteering.

There is the helpless small retailer like Pete, threatened with ruin if he doesn’t come across. There is his fear of bis competitors, his justified lack of confidence in the government, his knowledge that the little man and the big shot are just that in the eyes of the law. There is finally the filthy flimflam of passing the illegal prices onto the consumer under the false cover of war necessity. And if that doesn’t work, just tell the customer that the quality is much better, that the cheaper grades are no longer available. So what? For better goods you must pay more money, no?

There is only one way to check these vicious profiteering practices: THE WORKING CLASS MUST CONTROL PRICES – both at the production and consumption ends.

At the production end, the workers must fix the prices of the goods they produce and handle. They alone must decide whether prices are right. If they let the chiselers’ prices get by them, it means that their wives have to pay them.

At the consumption end, housewives must band together in neighborhood committees to be able to act on such stories as that told by Pete. These committees must go before the OPA and demand action against black-mailing corporations. These committees must picket the profiteering capitalists and the procrastinating OPA until they know by the lower retail prices that the correct action has been taken.

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