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Susan Green

First of a Series on Post-War Unemployment

20 Million Will Be Jobless

(30 August 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 35, 30 August 1943, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There isn’t anyone these days who does not harbor in his heart the fear of post-war unemployment. To the worker, unemployment means starvation. To the mogul of big business, a large starving army of unemployed may spell the end of his power on this earth – for there is a point beyond which workers will not tolerate the social system that makes them starve.

The most forthright acknowledgement of capitalist bankruptcy in the face of the unemployment problem has come from Sir William Beveridge, the British “social problems expert,” whose “generous” plan for so-called social security would allow about $1.86 a week for bringing up a child. Here are his own words on unemployment:

“If we have mass unemployment we may not be able to carry out the proposals of my report ... I don’t know how we shall continue productive employment after the war ... I do not know how it is to be done and do not even know whether anyone else does.”

More Baseless Promises

That’s not mincing words! No such honest statement has been issued in this country from any capitalist source. The New Deal demagogues, anxious to keep the votes of disillusioned workers, rant about freedom from want and the war against starvation and unemployment.

Thus Vice-President Wallace recently in Detroit spoke bright words about a world free from want and unemployment – and a few days later he assured reporters that “ninety-five to ninety-eight per cent of the corporations are harmless or beneficent and suffer Just as much from the small minority as any other group in the population.” So it isn’t the main body of capitalists who cause the trouble – they are “harmless or beneficient.” If it weren’t for a few chiselers, according to Wallace, everything would be hunky-dory.

Actually, of course, it is the ninety-five to ninety-eight per cent of these “harmless or beneficent” corporations which, for one profit reason or another, keep millions of workers away from the means of earning a living. Was it the few chiselers who created the depression army of unemployed at one time rising as high as 17,000,000?

The demagogues of the Republican Party, anxious to win the votes of the workers away from the New Deal, are just as ardent in their platitudes and vague promises. The more sober contingent among the conservatives, like Walter Lippmann, columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, can offer nothing more encouraging than “we have to learn by trial and error.”

It seems, however, that the workers have already learned by sufferings and trials that, as far as they are concerned, tragic “errors” are all they can expect from the capitalist system, whether administered by the Democratic or Republican politicians.

In the meantime post-war unemployment already casts its dark shadow before it. It looms before us when 2,500 to 3,000 workers are dropped at one clip from a New Jersey arsenal. It looms before us when a government contract for $60,000,000 worth of tanks is cancelled. Such news items presage the end of the war boom, which is now keeping 60,000,000 Americans pretty busy – and pose the vital question: WHAT NEXT?

Optimists whose understanding of economics is gleaned from the convincing advertisements in such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post and other literature of the same level stick their heads in the sand and hope the unemployment problem will solve itself. Why, they say, after the war there will be such a stampede to buy consumer goods that industry will be humming and workers employed to nearly capacity.

There may be, immediately upon the signing of peace, a short flurry of “prosperity.” And, while the workers are compelled to “hold the line” for the war program, the bosses have been preparing for the peacetime rush.

Dr. Julius Hirsch, able capitalist economist, connected with OP A, says: “American industry is already more prepared for conversion than most people, think.”

All right. So there will be a great rush to buy everything from kitchen knives to automobiles. Pots and pans, radios and refrigerators, beds and dressers, phonograph records and pianos – these and other such goods will be bought up by a goods-starved population. FOR HOW LONG?

Post-War “Prosperity” Short

The same Dr. Hirsch, in a very comprehensive article on the subject of post-war unemployment written for a Wall Street publication,’ Barron’s National Business and Financial Weekly, estimates the boom in consumers goods as follows: “As a result, the employment problem will not be pressing on Armistice Day nor for some ten or twelve months thereafter.”

As will be shown later on, by “not pressing” Dr. Hirsch means that there won’t be 20,000,000 out of work right off the bat. However, the production of consumer goods for -the immediate post-armistice rush will not employ all the war workers, the demobilized armed forces, as well as the civilian workers. First, the demand for consumer, goods, even at Its height, cannot begin to equal the enormous war orders. And second, the productivity of labor, due, to technical improvements during the war period, has made it possible to produce much more goods with fewer workers.


Twenty Million Jobless!

But how about war-torn Europe and the world-wide reconstruction needed after the war?

Dr. Hirsch believes the “requirements have been greatly overestimated.” He is not optimistic, His opinion is that this source of business will be dried up quickly – “Mainly because the productive power in Europe has risen to a degree which almost insures that its recon-struction this time will be much quicker and more efficient than last.”

Here is something we must not lose sight of. Not only in America has agricultural and industrial production been stepped up to meet war requirements – (the exact figures will be given in the next article); EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD HAS DEVELOPED ITS PRODUCTION TECHNIQUE IMMEASURABLY.

The Brookings Institutes figures that the two factors of stimulated consumer demand at home and from war-exhausted countries abroad will together keep the American industrial machine operating for NOT MORE THAN TWO YEARS.

Dr. Hirsch thinks the .boom will end much sooner, but asks the question: “IRRESPECTIVE OF THE LENGTH OF THIS REPLENISHMENT BOOM, HOWEVER, WHAT THEN WILL FOLLOW?”

And he answers this all-important question: “While a labor surplus of between eight and ten million people was never absorbed in any single one of seven peacetime years after 1929, THE PROBLEM AFTER THE WAR WILL BE TO ABSORB A NUMBER PERHAPS UP TO DOUBLE THAT FIGURE.”

In the next article it will be shown – industry by industry – that it is impossible for Mr. Wallace’s “harmless or beneficent” capitalist corporations to absorb 30,000,000 unemployed.

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