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Susan Green

Of Special Interest to Women

(24 April 1924)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 17, 24 April 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The vast range of commodities that go under the name of textiles makes that field of manufacturing of special interest to women. Whether it’s panties for the baby or overalls for the man of the house, whether it’s a kitchen towel or drapes for the living room, the housewife is dealing with textiles.

And they are plenty dear these days – and the quality is terrible.

You have heard it said, no doubt, that it is those awful wages that account for skyrocketing prices. With textile prices as high as they are, on that theory, the wages of textile workers should be right up on top.

However, when you pay fifty cents for a pair of panties that used to cost ten or fifteen cents, it it NOT because the wages of textile workers are making war millionaires out of them. Here are the facts about textile wages.

The CIO Texile Workers Union is now, arguing before the War Labor Board for a raise for textile workers. The average cotton-rayon textile worker makes fifty-seven cents an hour. If he works a forty-hour week, he earns $23.80, from which taxes, etc., are deducted. He can’t exactly roll in milk and honey on that wage.

Taking five typical textile communities in the North and South, the union showed that on the basis of a budget devised, BACK IN 1935, by the WPA for relief workers, it would take $29.33 a week for a family of four to subsist. That miserable budget allows for only the cheapest food and housing; for no automobile, of course; but not even for haircuts or newspapers; and for no recreation other than one movie a month. This budget is based on making an overcoat last six years, a summer suit five years, a sweater four years, a work shirt three years.

Now get this point straight! The textile workers can’t afford even this kind of substandard budget that was the miserable lot of WPA relief workers in 1935! And this is at the height of a war boom that is making the war profiteers Midas-rich.


The interest of women in the textile industry is not only that of the housewife buying wearing apparel and household furnishings. Women workers have always been employed in the textile industry in large numbers.

In fact, about the first machines to be used in manufacture were textile machines, and a great majority of those first mill workers were women. Before the war over a half million women operated the machines in the textile mills of the country, by far outnumbering the men.

Textile employers’ preference for women workers is not that they want the feminine influence in their mills, but because women workers were and are paid low wages. Cheaper labor equals higher profits. For the same reason, a great deal of child labor has been used in textile mills, and textile companies have been bitter enemies of child labor laws.

This is the background of the textile industry. It was built on cheap labor – on the meanest exploitation of women and children. In1944 the textile companies are living up to their traditional practices. The wages of textile workers are so low that the WPA relief worker of 1935 was better off.


The prize package, to be unwrapped last, is this:

The textile companies have the gall to declare before the War Labor Board that if the textile workers get “any substantial wage increase” it will have to be passed on to the public in the form of higher ceiling prices “on practically all cotton products.”

But the OPA doesn’t even wait until the wages of textile workers are increased to raise prices on textiles.

A week or so ago a New York Times headline read: “TEXTILE PRODUCERS GET PRICE RELIEF.” The OPA allowed the manufacturers to pep up their prices on chambray shirting, basic denim and other weights and finishes of denim. In other words, the prices of work clothes will be going up some more.

You may think you need relief from the already exorbitant prices of textiles. But the OPA doesn’t see eye to eye with you. It figures that when textile mills doubled their profits in 1942 over 1941, that wasn’t yet enough. When fifty-three specific textile companies made even more than that and in 1942 tripled their pre-war profits, that still was not enough. So you will pay more for shirts, overalls and many other things – WITHOUT THE TEXTILE WORKERS GETTING A PENNY MORE IN WAGES.


While on the subject of prices, profits and wages, here’s a morsel much more juicy than the kind of steak a working class family can get these days.

With prices of meats doing their bit to have made the increase in food prices today nearly 75 per cent over 1941 prices – and packing house wages so inadequate that workers leave that industry to try for better jobs – George A. Eastwood, president of Armour & Co., is one of those who do all right for themselves.


Do you think there may possibly be some connection between the high prices you pay for meat and the high salaries the packing house big shots pay themselves?


Just as happened during the last war, so now talk is beginning about women sitting in at the peace conference. Mrs. Roosevelt, who says she “adores being sixty,” feels she is too old to fill the bill. Such women as Madam Chiang Kai-shek and Queen Wilhelmina, Mrs. Roosevelt thinks, should be included – Wilhelmina not being too old because she has spent all her life in the field of diplomacy. Mrs. Roosevelt believes that Anne O’Hare McCormick, columnist for the New York Times, would be a good choice – and so on.

Can serious people really read such nonsense?

What, in the name of common sense, has age or sex to do with the matter of making peace?

From the point of view of working men and women, Queen Wilhelmina does not qualify because she is the head of the old Dutch Empire, living off the exploitation of workers at home and of colonial slaves. Madam Chiang Kai-shek cannot represent the workers because the Chiang Kai-shek regime is for building up the capitalist class of China at the expense of the Chinese workers and peasants. Anne McCormick could not be a well-paid columnist in the No. 1 capitalist paper of America if she stood for workers’ interests against capitalist interests. And Mrs. Roosevelt herself – were she a chick of twenty-one – is a member of America’s ruling class, and by “benevolence” to the working class goes only as far as ruling class interests permit.

But even members of the working class sitting in at a conference of imperialist governments, would be about as effective as a hot water bag to cure cancer.

The thoughts of all working people today should go to the problem of cutting out the cancer of capitalist imperialism which will always bring wars – no matter how many women and representatives of labor sit in at imperialist “peace” conferences.


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