Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

Workers’ Control Means Plenty For All

(11 December 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 50, 11 December 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It will be recalled that at the beginning of the war, Walter Reuther, vice-president of the United Automobile Workers, submitted what he believed to be a practically fool-proof scheme for the speedy conversion of the automobile industry to war production. The scheme was heartily approved by impartial industrial engineers but was viciously kicked into a government cubby-hole by the auto interests. For Mr. Reuther’s plan met the industrial problem involved, but didn’t bother too much with the sacred property rights of the auto barons.

That, the latter did not like. They raised all kinds of phony objections to Mr. Reuther’s plan. They just did not want labor’s “helpful” co-operation in planning conversion to war production. They wanted no “outside” interference in their industrial domain.

Now Mr. Reuther comes out with another plan of even more vital interest to labor. At the CIO convention just held in Chicago he made a significant proposal for the post-war utilization of aircraft plants – which, by the way, were built to their present proportions mainly by government money. Mr. Reuther believes that the aircraft industry can be converted to the manufacture of prefabricated houses, and urges that those plants not needed for peacetime production of planes be put to this needed civilian use.

The alternative, says Mr. Reuther, is to see 1,800,000 aircraft workers pounding the pavements in the army of unemployed. For of the 2,000,000 aircraft workers now employed, Mr. Reuther predicts that only 200,000 will be needed for peacetime production of planes.

So the conversion of aircraft plants into house-building plants would provide employment for 1,800,000 workers. But not only that. Large-scale mass production of pre-fabricated modern homes would reduce their price from the present $8,000 to around $3,000, thus making decent living quarters available to a greater section of the population.

This is the Reuther plan for the aircraft industry. He most certainly has something there. If peacetime jobs are to be provided for war workers and returned servicemen, this is the kind of far-sighted conversion to civilian production that must be planned and carried out on a wide scale.

So far – so good. BUT —

The auto barons and big business in general feel as hostile to any of labor’s plans for reconversion of industry to peacetime production as they did about labor’s ideas for conversion to war production. Big business wants a hands-off policy – not only with respect to its own plants but with respect to the tens of billions of dollars in government plants which – though public property – big business considers its own by the capitalist custom that those who have should get still more.

Every propaganda ruse will be used by the big boys to discredit the Reuther plan and other plans of labor for peacetime reconversion to make jobs for all and to produce the needs of life abundantly. Labor’s ideas will be “proved” absolutely “impracticable” by the capitalist propaganda artists. Wait and see!

Labor was given a foretaste of this tactic in the spring of this year when the Navy cancelled its contracts with the Brewster plants for the building of Corsair planes. The workers, on their splendid sit-in strike, demanded other work. In their placards they proclaimed: “We’ve got the tools; we’ve got the ability; we’ve got the experience; we’ve got the will – we’re sitting tight. We want work!”

At that time a bombardment of propaganda was let loose to the effect that the Brewster plants, being constructed to put out the Corsair planes, were practically useless for anything else. So what could the Navy do? What could the corporation do? They were very sorry, of course, about the plight of the thousands of locked-out workers, but, after all, what could they do?

The answer is: PLENTY – if they had wanted to! And here’s why:

It Depends on Who Converts

The industrial engineers of this country are wizards at converting plants from one use to another, quickly and economically. Both in speed and scope they make changes that look like magic. A Wall Street writer, William J. Baxter, puts his readers straight on the subject in the following:

“Many imagine that an armament plant, a shipyard or some other plant facility made for specialized war production must necessarily be dismantled because it cannot be used for anything else. They are overlooking the new science of plant conversion adopted by our engineers.”

As a matter of fact, while labor is still passing resolutions at its conventions, big business is surveying the field and buying up war plants to do with them as they wish. For instance the duPont interests acquired the San Jacinto Shipyards at Houston, Texas, used for the construction of concrete barges, to be remade into a chemical plant – a far cry from constructing barges, and illustrating what can be done in the field of reconversion.

Again, the United States Rubber Co. and the Kelly Springfield Tire Co. purchased government plants manufacturing ordnance, to be changed by these companies into tire factories. With the help of the Surplus Property Board, big business is already getting government property at bargain prices – and all ITS plans are of course, “practicable.”

In the light of the above, the demand of the Brewster workers last spring to be allowed to use their tools, ability, experience and will to produce something other than Corsair planes was a good, practical demand. The plan of Reuther to utilize aircraft plants for the production of pre-fabricated houses is a sound, workable idea. So are other plans of labor of a similar nature. The plank of the Workers Party, fully endorsed by Labor Action, that NO government-owned plants be turned over to private interests but be held as public property and converted to civilian production immediately under the control of the workers, is sane and sensible. This is an ABC requirement to prevent these plants from being gobbled up by private interests for next to nothing, to be shut down by them or used by them as their profits dictate.

If labor is to get to first base in solving its unemployment problem, it must make up its mind to fight to the finish on this point of FULL reconversion to peacetime production. NO government plants should be turned over to private capitalists but all should be immediately converted to useful civilian production under the control of workers through their unions and shop committees. NO private plants should be allowed to stand idle while workers are without jobs and the people need consumer goods.

The science of industrial engineering can make all the wheels of industry – now turning out instruments of war – revolve to produce the things people need by the people who need jobs. Labor can and must make this come true.

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

Last updated: 18 February 2016