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Susan Green

A Genuine Socialist Program
for Post-War Unemployment

(13 September 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 37, 13 September 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On the farms and in the agricultural industries of this country the productive capacity per worker has risen one-third above the 1935–39 average. In war industries – which means in modern industry as a whole – the productive capacity per worker has increased from fifty per cent to seventy per cent above 1935–39 – and in some industries, like aircraft, even more than that.

Under the rational system of socialism, this would be exceedingly good news. It would mean more things to eat, to wear, to enjoy – and at the same time more leisure for farm and industrial workers. Under capitalism, however, this splendid technological improvement tarns into a great social disaster – fewer jobs, more unemployed, more worry, more hunger, more starvation. In fact, the predictions of post-war unemployed run up to 30,000,000!

The figure settled on in these articles is a conservative 23,500,000 of post-war jobless. In the previous article it was shown that the possibilities for absorbing any considerable number of these 23,500,000 prospective jobless in the field of non-durable consumer goods are very slim indeed.

So now we come to the consideration of those avenues of production in which most hope is placed by the bolsterers of the boss profit system. You will see that – at the very most – these so-called promising industries can provide jobs for two or three million more workers than they employed in 1939, still leaving at least 20,000,000 unaccounted for.

How About Auto Production?

The automobile industry is expected to have a tremendous revival, due to the almost complete stoppage of auto manufacturing during the war. Optimistic estimates are that the demand for auto vehicles of various kinds will be seven to eight million.

I haven’t the figures for 1939 production of automobiles, but in 1941 some 448,000 auto workers turned out some 4,800,000 vehicles. On this basis, due to the great productivity increase of labor, the same number of workers ought to be able to turn out about one-half more cars – or 7,200,000!

It is only by foolishly supposing that the automobile industry will get going for post-war business at its old productive capacity – disregarding the new mechanical and efficiency improvements – that we can see the chance of employment of more workers. Supposing the same productivity level as 1941, perhaps 250,000 to 300,000 additional auto workers would be needed to turn out seven to eight million cars. But why suppose this?

To view the subject of auto production comprehensively, we must remember that military jeeps, army trucks and other vehicles used by the armed forces, can be converted to civilian uses – and why should they not be? Furthermore, the logical question pops into one’s head:

For how long, anyway, can there be a super-colossal demand for seven to eight million cars?

Airplane and Hot Air

Ah, but, airplanes! The optimists rub their hands in great expectation. Here will be a great industry that will do for capitalism what the auto industry did several decades ago.

Undoubtedly there will be an increase in the use of all kinds of airplanes – air flivvers, big cargo planes, big ocean-crossing passenger airships. However, to suppose that air traffic can assume the popularity and proportions of road traffic is fantastic. The solid ground is still what the average family man will want to drive his children on and the average business will want his goods carried on – leaving aside other weighty considerations.

American industrialists do not place the possible post-war market above 2,000 to 2,500 planes a month – or 25,000 to 30,000 in a whole year. And how many workers would the airplane industry require to turn out this number of planes?

Top estimates run to 500,000 men. More conservative figures are only half of that. In any case, there will not be many more than 250,000 employed in airplane production for some years to come.

How, pray, can this new industry that will at the very most give jobs to 500,000 workers, solve post-war unemployment? The auto industry, it will be remembered – producing several millions of cars, trucks, buses and stimulating roadbuilding, petroleum production, etc. – did not prevent the 1929 collapse, with unemployed rising to 17,000,000 and with 9,500,000 remaining unemployed right up to the war.

Construction the Trump Card

The “planners” who are going to build a post-war paradise right in rotten capitalism’s backyard, envision the erection of new houses, schools hospitals, nurseries, playgrounds – like the sprouting of weeds. All right. Let us give them the benefit of every doubt – and there are many. How many workers will this possible construction demand? That’s what we are interested in now.

The National Resources Planning Board reported that “highly exaggerated hopes” have been aroused for post-war construction as the solution for unemployment. Even if peacetime civilian construction were to continue the same as for war plants, shipyards, war housing, etc., etc. – in itself extremely doubtful – “this would not at all be decisive” in attaining the goal of full employment. No, indeed! A glance at the figures will show this.

In 1939 both private enterprise and government employed in the construction trades about 1,250,000 men. At the high level of wartime construction reached in January 1943 only twice as many workers were employed in these trades. Therefore, the most to be expected would be 1,250,000 more construction jobs than in 1939.

We could go into other fields of production to show that the prospects for jobs for those 23,500,000 to 30,000,000 post-war unemployed are very bad indeed – under the capitalist status quo. For instance, the manufacture of refrigerators required only 36,000 workers in 1939; radios and phonographs needed only 44,000 hands. This is mere chicken feed – even assuming a greater demand than in 1939.

Some people misguidedly think that the manufacture of the wonderful labor-saving machines used in production, themselves require lots of labor to produce. But the production of labor-saving machinery is also done with labor-saving machinery. Thus the manufacture of agricultural machinery never absorbed more than 60,000 workers, and in 1939 all the electrically machinery installed in modern plants was turned out by only 256,000 workers.

A Workers’ Solution Needed,

What, then, remains? To be drafted into the post-war armed forces which are expected to police the “bright new world”? To be shipped. Off to some CCC camp in the wilderness? Maybe to hold down a charity job on something equivalent to the WPA. or PWA? Maybe to get on relief? Or perhaps to produce for a world market which will be highly competitive and in a chaotic international situation?

That is all that remains if the workers want to leave the problem of 23,500,000 to 30,000,000 unemployed to the mercy of private enterprise and of the boss government.

But if the workers consider the solution of unemployment their own affair, there is an entirely different prospect ahead.

The labor movement must fight for a short enough work week to employ all workers, and at decent wages befitting this age of plenty. The unions must prepare themselves to take over and operate under workers’ control all plants shut down in the postwar period for reasons of profit – so that workers can have jobs and the things they need to live. The labor movement must fight for a real program of housing and public works – with financing covered by taxes paid by the rich, not by the poor.

To carry through such a program, organized labor needs to grow both in militancy and in numbers – taking into its fold masses of workers whose unorganized state is honey for the bosses.

But the workers must also realize that unemployment will be abolished once and, for all when production is carried on for use, and not for private profit. Therefore, organized labor has to acquire political wisdom – TO GET ONTO THE ROAD OF INDEPENDENT POLITICAL ACTION LEADING TO A WORKERS’ GOVERNMENT, AND TO SOCIALISM.

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