Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

OPA “Rolls Back” Food Prices
to a 75% Increase

(7 June 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 23, 7 June 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Since 1939 milk has gone up thirty per cent, butter almost fifty per cent, eggs more than fifty per cent. Since last year, meat costs around fifty per cent more, flour twenty-five per cent more; potatoes and cabbage over a hundred per cent more.

The OPA is talking about a “TEN PER CENT (!) roll-back” on meats, coffee and butter. In view of the above figures, that is a laugh. The OPA is also promising a roll-back in the price of cabbage and lettuce. That also is a laugh. For, according to figures of the UAW-CIO, the new store prices will still leave farm prices on these items three times those of a year ago.

75 Per Cent Higher

It is no journalistic embellishment to talk about millions of underfed people. In a report by diverse New York welfare agencies – such as the Community Service Society, the Department of Welfare of the City of New York, the Jewish Social Service Association and the Catholic Charities – strong confirmation is given to the fact that many families are now “finding it difficult, if not impossible, to buy the milk, eggs, fresh vegetables, etc., that they need for a proper diet.”

And no wonder! In January, 1939, “a family of five had to spend a minimum of $8.27 a week for food, the kinds and amounts of which were specified by nutritionists from various welfare agencies.” But now, due to increased prices, “the same family must spend at least $14.30.” A little arithmetic shows that the family food bill per week for five people is seventy-five per cent higher than in 1939.

These welfare organizations also agree that while the worker’s income has increased, the increase is “not enough to compensate for the decided rise in food prices.”

Undoubtedly, the fight for food is the fight for higher wages. This means that organized labor must break the death grip in which the Little Steel formula holds wages.

But also, on the food front itself, the working people of this country can and must act in their own behalf.

Back in April 1942, President Roosevelt’s “stabilization” program laid an egg – except, of course, that wages were put into steel chains. Six months later another “stabilization” blast came from Washington – which tore more holes in workers’ pockets. Then came the infamous presidential “hold the line” edict – the “hold” applying only to wages.

No “Holds” on Prices

There are still no “holds” on prices. They balloon merrily upward. To be sure, new ceilings are being fixed and unfixed all the time. That makes life, more complicated, but it doesn’t lower prices – for the simple reason that the new ceilings are not lower, and in many cases are actually higher.

And, of course, everybody knows that ceilings are not observed. The UAW-CIO states that a store-by-store survey in Detroit reveals that forty-seven per cent of the chain stores and super markets and sixty-seven per cent of the independent stores are violating ceiling prices. This is true of the whole country.

It is everybody’s secret, furthermore, that the black markets grow like stink weeds. Plucking a few out here and there only makes room for more. Not the OPA, but the black markets are fixing prices!

Workers and working class housewives are registering the fact that nothing is being done for them – and they are bestirring themselves to do something for themselves. Such a step was recently taken by the New York City Joint Board of Hotel and Restaurant Workers when it urged upon the 50,000 members of twelve locals A BUYERS’ BOYCOTT. In other words, the hotel and restaurant workers of New York City are starting to do a little price controlling on their own.

The New York board is also suggesting to the Hotel and Restaurant Employees International Alliance and Bartenders International League of America to make the boycott general among the international’s 300,000 members throughout the country.

For Public Exposure

Jay Rubin, president of the New York Hotel Trades Council, with a 5,000 membership, is sure “housewives could organize picket lines to proclaim that a certain shop is really a black market.” He declared further:

“Public exposure of black markets would produce great pressure for closing them up, or at least forcing them to conform to legal price schedules. It may be illegal to paint the words black market on the windows of such shops, but it would prove highly salutary.”

Exactly! Labor Action has been pioneering for some such action for months. Picketing, painting, or some other method – the main idea is to DO something. There is absolutely no doubt at all that a buyer’s boycott organized by the unions of this country, rallying working class housewives to active participation, would go far toward pricking the price balloon.

David Siegel, president of the New York Joint Board, which has approved a buyers’ boycott, had this to say:

“If the 50,000 members of our twelve locals, as well as other trade union members cooperate in this movement, it won’t be long before the sight of fresh vegetables, fruit and other edibles spoiling on shelves will result in the profiteering merchant and wholesaler seeing the light.”

That sounds like sense. A most important item of business at the next union meeting of every organized worker should be the question of carrying out the idea of the hotel and restaurant workers, with demonstrations and picketing by housewives. Such action by the working people of the country will make not only profiteering merchants and wholesalers see the light – but also official Washington.

And out of such a boycott can grow permanent committees of organized workers, housewives and working farmers, to take over and do the job on the food front that the powers that be have wilfully flunked. Such committees can fix fair prices, force observance of ceilings, institute real rationing for rich and poor alike, exterminate the black markets, take steps to overcome food shortages. Such committees can do the job because organized labor, housewives and working farmers constitute that portion of the population which thinks of food IN TERMS OF LIFE – not in terms of farm blocs and profits.

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 16 February 2015