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Susan Green

The Case for the 30% Wage Increase

(5 November 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 45, 5 November 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The unions, have backed up their demands for wage increases by their own unbeatable statistics. But that’s not all. The figures of the economists of the Office of Reconversion also support the unions – at least, to the extent of eighty per cent of their demands. These economists, have published figures which prove that industry can grant wage raises of TWENTY-FOUR PER CENT and still make $4,800,000,000 profits in 1946, which is more than twice as much as the pre-war average and almost as much as in the war year 1942.

At the same time these government economists show that average take-home pay has FALLEN TWENTY-EIGHT PER CENT below April of this year and that, after tax deductions for 1946, the worker’s average purchasing power will be TEN PER CENT LOWER than what his wages could buy in January 1941.

This actual lowered standard of living is bringing more and more workers into the fight for maintenance of take-home pay at wartime levels.

The vote of the UAW workers of General Motors, 6 to 1, for a strike in case their demand for a thirty per cent increase is not met has brought to a crux the war of wages-prices-profits between the Auto Workers and this colossus of industry. With each, encounter between the union and the company, on the air, in the press or in reported conferences, the strength and progressiveness of the union’s position is emphasized against the untenably reactionary and profit-bound position of the company, whose stockholders have in the last nine years received dividends of one hundred and forty-five per cent on investment.

The same is true of the bitter controversy between the giant United States Steel Corp. and the Steel . Workers who have made a demand for a $2.00-a-day wage raise – the same steel, workers who even during the war were going into the red each, week because wages did not meet a minimum budget.

Another large group of workers to join battle with their profit-bloated employers are the electrical workers, comprising 170,000 in General Electric, 100,000 in Westinghouse, 30,000 in General Motors electric divisions, etc. The demand of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers is that of steel, for a $2.00-a-day boost in, wages to make up for cuts in take-home due to shorter hours, downgrading, etc.

Over-All Fight

Pushed by the determination of the CIO rank and file not to be left holding the postwar bag, union officials have placed the wage fight in its proper relationship to the whole postwar problem. In the first place, the workers are determined to break the vicious circle by which wage increases are passed off by corporations in higher prices, thus at least partly nullifying the wage increases. In the second place, the unions are treating their demands for higher wage levels to sustain worker purchasing power as an absolutely necessary measure toward full employment.

Union facts and figures leave the industrial barons without a leg to stand on. Indeed the unions have such great confidence in their position that in a nationwide radio broadcast, Walter P. Reuther, vice-president of the UAW, threw down the challenge to the corporation that if it can prove in public that the union’s demand for a thirty per cent wage boost is unsound, the union will retreat from its demand!

The reader will recall that the union’s statistics show that, allowing for the thirty per cent wage increase demanded as well as for a ten per cent advance in material costs, the corporation can not only net more profits but can actually, reduce the price of cars!

However, with typical capitalist arrogance, GM declares that prices and profits are none of the union’s business, nor anybody’s business except that of the industrial overlords who own GM. As the struggle becomes more intense, it is increasingly clear that GM has no interest in real collective bargaining op the issues, but is bent on forcing the workers out on strike. The union claims GM wants “a strike so they may turn it into a springboard for anti-labor legislation in, Congress.” This is undoubtedly the case.

Unwilling to yield to the workers on their irrefutable demands, the corporation is spending millions on propaganda. Pull-page advertisements are run to gain support for GM President Wilson’s plan to have Congress increase the work week to forty-five hours instead of the legal forty. According, to the ads, this plan “would be good for the working man, good for the employer, good for the farmer, good for the professional man, good for the housewife – good for America” – no less!

GM, Steel Profiteer

So shockingly reactionary is this proposition that even the writers for the capitalist press, despite receiving huge fees for GM advertisements, are constrained to condemn it. The financial page of the Washington Post points out the obvious, that GM’s plan would cut jobs; and the financial editor of the New York Times thinks GM’s idea “unsound.” Do the GM moguls really think they can get “public opinion” behind a scheme that will take bread out of the mouths of millions of returning soldiers and other workers wanting jobs?

Better beware, you lying auto and steel barons, lest workers ask: If it is true that the giants of industry cannot pay us a decent wage and cannot even keep themselves out of the red, why don’t we throw them out as a lot of reactionary bankrupts, and: take control of production ourselves?

The low-down is that corporations, fattening on steadily advancing war profits, don’t want any interruptions. “What is all this nonsense about wage rates to maintain take-home pay and the workers’ standard of living? And what is this unheard-of demand not to raise prices and pass wage increases on to the consumer? Aren’t we, the industrial masters, the ones to determine all that?”

The workers have answered an emphatic “No!” to that question.

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