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Susan Green

Prices Up; Ceilings in Jeopardy

(24 December 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 52, 24 December 1945, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Prices are going up!

The Kiplinger letter of November 17 to businessmen predicts: “The prices of most things consumers buy are heading upward.”

Recently Senator Taft complacently declared that a ten percent cost-of-living increase would be “a secondary consideration” if full peacetime production could thereby be established. This is only another way of stating that the industrial overlords will bar full production until they get higher prices.

These incidents are more than straws in the wind. They are signs of the drive unleashed by business to sweep away all price controls.

Price Administrator Bowles, inside and outside of Congress, is fighting for the very life of OPA. The National Association of Manufacturers seeks the end of price control within sixty days. Bowles warns big business that its aim is “reckless,” “utterly foolhardy,” “a most dangerous threat to the future health and success of our entire free enterprise system.”

How Bowles Fights

Bowles accuses the powerful lobbies of manufacturers, wholesale and retail dealers and real estate boards of a determination to “make a killing on uncontrolled rising prices and rents” – which is of course true. And he is chagrined that these naughty boys are doing this bad thing in spite of the fact that, under OPA, “The truth is that never in our history have business profits been so large and business failures so few, and this applies to practically all types and sizes of business.”

But the super-profit-seeking big boys remain unimpressed. Their spokesmen, in and out of Congress, press the attack on price control. Senator Wherry, Republican from Nebraska, produces two ladies’ slips, both peach color, one of good material and fit, and the other like a shapeless sack. The first, the Senator points out, was made to sell at $1.95 but OPA ceilings forced the maker to discontinue the line. Whereupon the second garment, shoddy and sack-like, was put out by another manufacturer, as a new model to sell at $3.95. This, according to the Senator, is evidence of the evil of price control – not, of course, of the crooked profit-scheming of private enterprise, which incidentally, Bowles also fully supports!

More confusion around price control is contributed by the government.

On one hand, through Bowles it is supposedly trying to keep prices down; on the other hand, Stabilization Director Collet tells manufacturers that they can ask for price boosts if the average hourly wages of their employees have been upped thirty-three percent since 1941, that being officially set as the rise in prices since then.

Leaks in Price Control

So we ask: If, as Mr. Bowles so adequately proves, profits are better than ever before in history, why should manufacturers be allowed higher prices? It is also quite pertinent once more to call the lie on government figures. The cost of living since 1941 has been hiked not thirty-three percent but conservatively forty-five percent and more likely fifty percent, according to CIO President Murray’s figures.

Not only is Bowles thus left out on a limb by other government departments, he is himself acting like a dual personality. While he shouts for all to hear that leather profits for 1944 – along with textile profits – were 730 percent over prewar prices, he grants shoe manufacturers a four and half percent price increase. Of course he hastens to assure the public that the retail prices of shoes will not rise, but that wholesalers and retailers will absorb the increase.

Naturally the big-business foes of OPA point up these inconsistencies of Mr. Bowles. While they benefit from his “control of prices” upward, as with coal, steel, building materials, meat, milk, to mention .only a few, they prefer no control at all. Poor Mr. Bowles, so bravely “helping the consumer” with an eye cocked to keep profits the highest in history – and getting no thanks from big business!

To complete the picture of the current price situation is the expose of the black market in textiles. While low-income families pay twice and three times more than before the war for worse clothing, OPA price violations have been allowed to skyrocket to between one hundred and two hundred percent above ceilings. Every type of clothing, fabrics, linens, sheets, pillow cases, towels, blankets, sold in every little store on every Main Street, are under black market control. An ex-GI cannot get a suit of civilian clothes and his young wife cannot get household furnishings. Cheese cloth is being sold for marquisette at three and four times more. Unbleached muslin is palmed off as taffeta – at taffeta prices.

The Textile Scandal

But here is the pay-off on the textile scandal. While the Justice Department promises to go after the black marketeers in textiles, the government itself is holding a load of cotton. It owns 4,705,000 bales and has 2,000,000 more under loan. This is considered much “more than the normal carry-over” and the government is “seeking new uses for it.” Why not use it to make textiles for the consumer? Or would that be competing with sacred private enterprise – and with the black marketeers?

Out of this composite picture of the price situation, let us see wherein we can make rhyme or reason – rhyme or reason for the worker and for the housewife who are threatened with a further price squeeze.

There must, of course, be price control. Without it, the profit-lust of private enterprise let loose in the present market, would result in Stratospheric prices and ultimate catastrophic collapse. However, the OPA is like a kettle-cover that doesn’t fit and lets the steam escape all around. Textile prices one hundred to two hundred percent above ceilings vividly demonstrate the point. Also demonstrating the point are Mr. Bowles’ own figures showing that pre-tax profits of department and other stores in 1944 were 1,324 percent above 1936–39, and that profits of all businesses have been the largest in history. The OPA has proved that the needs of the common people cannot be served by the capitalist government concerned with the “rights of private enterprise” and with maintaining unprecedented profits.

To control prices in the interest of the worker who produces the goods and of the housewife who needs the goods, something else is required. Labor Action and the WORKERS PARTY have consistently called for the formation of price-control committees of these very workers and housewives. Only such committees, right from the people, can fix fair prices and see that price ceilings are enforced. But such committees could not function without emphatically pushing aside the so-called “rights of private enterprise.” The books of big business would have to be opened, the facts of costs arid profits made available. This is the only basis on which price control for the benefit of the majority of the people can be effectuated.

The CIO auto workers, demanding a thirty percent wage increase, without any price increase because the profits of the auto barons would still be twice prewar levels, have pioneered in taking, a fundamental approach to the question of prices. This also involves opening the books of big business to public view, and has therefore met with the most stubborn antagonism of the auto bosses.

The next demand of labor and the consumer has to be, as stated above, for price-control committees of workers and housewives, with access to all the facts of production – including above all the facts of profits, that lion’s share that goes to the capitalist parasites on production.

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