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Susan Green

Capitalist Reconversion to Unemployment

(11 June 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 24, 11 June 1945, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Before the 1944 national election all kinds of reconversion plans were announced that would give full employment. At labor conventions last fall, CIO President Murray and other leaders gave the rosy details of a reconversion plan that they intimated was on President Roosevelt’s desk and all but had his signature.

(After election, however, reconversion talk was hushed. Labor leaders were ordered to hold their tongues – and the wage line! The people were told that reconversion plans were premature – that there was a war to be won. The reconversion plans fathered by Murray and others were put in the waste basket, since Roosevelt’s concern with them was merely to serve for electioneering purposes.

Now labor suddenly finds itself in the midst of partial reconversion without any plan for full employment adopted in Washington. War orders are being cut down drastically. War plants are being shut down all over the country. WPB Chairman Krug foresees 2,000,000 more unemployed two months from now. Senator O’Mahoney of Wyoming warns that if the war with Japan should end suddenly, the unemployment crisis would be greater than that of the “great depression.” Furthermore, his realistic estimate for the post-reconversion period is that only one-third of war production workers will find jobs in the same plants.

This unemployment catastrophe is not, as every worker knows, a sudden visitation from heaven or hell. It was fully foreseen by all thinking people. More than a year ago the Workers Party came out with its reconversion program for giving every worker a job and a guaranteed annual wage. Labor Action has been urging upon the labor movement that it adopt the demands presented by the Workers Party and fight for them under the banner of an independent Labor Party.

But the labor leaders held fast to FDR’s misleading hand. Then hurriedly and nervously they transferred their grasp to Truman. Now labor is holding the reconversion bag. And it is labor alone that is, as always, holding the bag.

Capital Taken Care Of

For, while the worshipful labor leaders shut up like dams on the subject of reconversion when FDR ordered them to do so, capital got busy looking after itself. Quietly and efficiently, with government help, re-planning and retooling of plants began, and priorities were obtained.

Another point won by capitalists was to get a government prime policy high enough to provide profits even though plants operate at less than capacity and workers are unemployed. And the pressure for still higher prices continues.

Next, President Truman gave his sanction to Congress to present big business with $5,700,000,000 in the next two years in the shape of refunds, and reduced taxes – just a tidbit to induce capital over the rough reconversion road, with the promise of more substantial fare to come.

Finally, the other day WPB Chairman Krug reported on government reconversion policy, which the New York Times found “admirable.” In essence, the WPB policy is to keep hands off business and let it reconvert as its own profit-seeking fancy wills. While controls on labor, such as the Little Steel freeze and the no-strike pledge, are still in force, Mr. Krug revealed that many wartime controls on industry have already been dropped and that the government intends to let go entirely as soon as war production needs permit. Thus freedom is assured to “free enterprise.”

Truman’s Proposal

Against this background, President Truman has seen a “loophole.” “Dear me. We’ve forgotten all about the workers, haven’t we!” So he made his request to Congress to increase unemployment benefits to $25 a week and to lengthen the period for benefit payments to twenty-six weeks. However, even the slight and wholly inadequate improvement implied in the President’s request seems fated not to be realized – judging by the reception the recommendation received.

While the jobless multiply daily, such headlines as the following meet the eye: “Truman’s $25 a Week Jobless Pay Proposal Provides Material for Debate” – NOT for food, clothing and shelter that the unemployed workers need. One reads such comments as: “Congressional circles apparently viewed the President’s plan coldly.” But the most outstanding crack on the President’s proposal came from Chairman Doughton of the House Ways and Means Committee: “I don’t know when we will take it up. We have got a good many other things to do.” For contemptuous disregard of the vital needs of. the workers, this statement by a “representative of the people” takes the cake.

The only other attempt in Washington to meet the unemployment crisis is in the Murray bill. This contains the provision that the government should be responsible for jobs that private industry cannot provide. Commentators say about this bill that its prospects are not bright. They predict that it will be “under discussion for months.” They recall that the Murray-Truman-Kilgore bill, a much milder one, was lost in the last Congress.

So, while the army of unemployed grows day by day what have the jobless workers and their families to rely upon?

Is it on the unemployment insurance that the states now provide? We know that these average payments are from $15 to $18 a week for an average sixteen-week period. These insulting pittances are not always that high when you realize that in some states payments are $10 and less per week.

The CIO, realizing that in a depression a year of unemployment is not unusual, translated the state unemployment payments into terms of yearly allowances. It found that thirty-one states provide maximum payments which average less than $6.00 a week if the worker stretched them out over a year. For a family of four, that would mean $1.50 per person per week. Comments the CIO: “Today $1.50 would just about buy in most cities one quart of milk per day and one loaf of bread per day for a week.”

But the “representatives of the people” are too busy doing other things to bother with the problem of unemployment!

However, the workers have something else to rely upon than insulting unemployment doles and capitalist politicians. They have their own economic and political strength. With an enlightened and realizable program for lull employment such as the Workers Party has, the workers can go places and do things.

Workers Party Program

To face the issues squarely, organized labor must come out for a progressively shorter work week with the same pay, to provide more Jobs. Likewise every worker must be guaranteed a wage of $2,500 a year. To make jobs for war workers there must be a housing and public works program of at least $250,000,000,000 for a five-year period. The money for public expenditures should come by paring down the swollen war profits of the merchants of death – a paring down to five per cent on invested capital and no more – and by taxing accumulated wealth.

Other absolutely essential demands to help full employment involve keeping government-owned war plants as national property to produce civilian goods. The big monopolists must be ousted, and finance, big industry and transportation have to be nationalized. To assure that industry is run for the benefit of the common people, labor must insist on workers’ control of production.

The Workers Party and Labor Action say to the organized labor movement: Only by such measures as outlined above can jobs be provided for all workers and can the consumption needs of all the people be produced. We urge organized labor to cut loose from capitalist parties and politicians, to launch its own independent Labor Party with this program for full employment.

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