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Susan Green

A Job For Labor, Housewives and Farmers —

Destroy Black Market!

Billion-Dollar Scandal Revealed by OPA Head

(6 March 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 10, 6 March 1944, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is one thing to acknowledge the existence of an evil and quite another to have a program for removing the evil.

Informative it is indeed to get the figures of Chester Bowles, OPA head, that the black market in food alone; costs the housewives of the country $1,200,000,000 annually.

As individual consumers we have all known that the black market reduces our dollars and our standard of living. It is interesting indeed to be told the extent of the black market squeeze on a nation-wide scale.

But what is to be done about it? That’s the question.

Mr. Bowles gave a long talk on black market machinations at a panel discussion on The Black Market vs. the American Housewife, sponsored by the New York Times.

A few days before Mr. Bowles’s speech the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor asserted that the figures of the CIO and AFL that the cost of living had gone up 43.5 per cent since January 1, 1943, are “absolutely wrong.”

Government vs. Housewife

However, the statistics of the report on the cost of living are “based on evidence from hundreds of American housewives.” In a joint statement, Meany, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor, and Thomas, president of the United Automobile Workers, CIO, added that

“No group of government bureaucrats have ever before had the audacity to insult millions of American housewives by telling them that their experiences are all wrong and that they should instead try to live on Bureau of Labor Statistics statistics.”

What conclusions must we draw from the above? Mustn’t we conclude the obvious, that not only is the Black Market vs. the American Housewife, but that Government vs. Housewife is also a fact?

What housewife who knows her onions, and most of them do, does not laugh out of the other side of her mouth at the “statistics” of the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the cost of living has gone up only 23.4 per cent in the past three years!

If all the facts presented by Mr. Bowles on the operation of the black market were included in the cost of living – which even the Meany-Thomas report did not do – that is no doubt that Mr. Bowles himself would be supporting the CIO-AFL contentions on the cost of living rather than those of the BLS.

The OP A head spoke not only of the food black market but of over-charges for clothing, tires, gasoline, furniture, second-hand refrigerators and other home equipment – whose effect can be only roughly estimated.

And the question is still: What is going to be done about it?

Mr. Bowles talked about public understanding, about some arrests, about checking done on wholesalers, about the honesty of most merchants – and about his own very good intentions.

We Have Our Doubts

Can the American housewife rely on this same old palaver? We doubt it.

We doubt it for exceptionally good reasons. The reasons are:

It is all right for Mr. Bowles to reveal the function of “the man named Gus” who “simply stops in for a talk before an order is delivered and says that on payment to him of $100 the order will be delivered on schedule and at the ceiling price.”

This individual black market stuff is, after all, comparatively small-time as compared with the “legitimate” take of individual war profiteering with Washington connections.

A Working Class Problem

Let no American housewife be lulled into inaction by speeches like those of Mr. Bowles. As stated at the beginning of this article, giving information is one thing – acting on the information to remedy the evil is quite another.

The whole question of the high cost of living, involving the black market, ceiling violations, ration violations, unnecessary shortages, can be handled to relieve the working people only by working people.

The call for the organization of committees of labor, housewives and working farmers to tackle this problem must be heard and acted on.

What better proof is there that the working people must demand control of the food situation through their own organization than the facts revealed by Mr. Bowles?

After years of so-called fighting the black market from Washington, this is still the deplorable and menacing situation that prevails.

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Last updated: 10 August 2015