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Susan Green

Corporations on Strike for High Prices

(4 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 9, 4 March 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The ex-GI tramps from store to store in search of a suit in which to reconvert himself from a soldier to a civilian. But unless he is willing to pay black market prices, his search is in vain. Yet there are reported to be nearly a million suits on manufacturers’ shelves, being hoarded for higher prices.

Women are patching and mending men’s shirts to make them last a little longer because this essential bit of haberdashery is either not obtainable in retail stores or is priced so fantastically high as to arouse indignation. However, many millions of men’s shirts are kept in warehouses for higher prices, while the black market asks and gets up to $10 for a shirt worth not more than $1.98.

Butter production is at the lowest level in twenty-five years. All over the city long lines of women and children wait for a hand-out. Wholesalers take advantage of retailers, making the latter buy much they don’t want in order to get the coveted tub of butter. Retailers follow the same practice, compelling the housewife to shell out for a considerable order before surrendering that quarter of a pound of butter.

What is it all about? The dairy corporations are frankly declaring to Congress that they will not produce more butter until the price is increased by at least ten or twelve per cent, and some corporations are demanding the end of all price controls on dairy products. These same interests are asking for higher milk prices, on top of the heavy subsidy the government is paying them, and they threaten to cut down the supply of the basic food of children, the sick and the aged, unless they get what they want by July 1.

In the big granaries of the nation, feed for animals, corn, soy beans and other grains are held from the normal markets—for the same reason. The powerful farm interests are pressing for the passage of the Pace bill, which would advance farm prices; so food for man and animal is being hoarded for expected higher profits. This immoral practice is permitted at a time when millions throughout the world are undernourished and actually on the verge of starvation.

Women’s hosiery in rayon or cotton is as hard to find as the needle in the haystack, because manufacturers are holding out for price increases. Nylon hose is released in dribbles and people wait in endless queues to buy a couple of pairs all packed up like a pig in a poke, without any choice of color and at whatever price is asked. But commentator Drew Pearson reveals that big hosiery firms like Kayser and Gotham actually have millions of pairs in stock, reserved for a more profitable ceiling set-up.

With millions of new housing units absolutely imperative and with the capacity to build greater than ever before in history, private enterprise is holding back construction. Construction companies speak of a few hundred thousand units, and they are in no hurry to get started. They are pressuring Congress for an end to all rent and price controls. They want to be able to take advantage of the shortage in housing to charge all the market will bear.

Contrast This with Labor’s Stand

Contrast these obstructive actions of the capitalists with the strikes of workers for higher wages. The capitalists use their position as owners of industry for antisocial purposes. On the other hand, workers strike to get adequate food, clothing and shelter; to give their children an education; to maintain the purchasing power of the whole people and provide an outlet for production; to keep employment high. The obstructionist tactics of the capitalists for higher profits at the expense of the people is an irrefutable argument for the nationalization of industry under workers’ control.

The powers in Washington naturally do not take this view of the difference between capital and labor. The pace has been set by the $5.00 per ton boost in steel. Without losing a minute. Stabilization Administrator Bowles tells the House Banking Committee he would favor a rise in ceiling prices on clothing to “sweeten up” the manufacturers and “encourage production.” In this connection the reader will be interested to know that the before-tax profits of the textile industry in 1944 was 772 per cent above the pre-war levels.

Mr. Bowles is also said to be in favor of raising meat prices regardless of the facts that meat packers’ profits in 1944 were 424 per cent higher than in 1936–39; that the government pays a meat subsidy of $595,000,000 yearly; that this subsidy may be upped by $125,000,000; and that the consumer actually pays these subsidies with the taxes deducted from his pay as a worker.

Again, House Administrator Wyatt shows a willingness to placate the construction interests by advocating a subsidy for them too, and this will be another reason why our pay envelopes will continue to feel the clutching grasp of the tax department.

Facts Point to Only One Conclusion

What then is the difference between Mr. Bowles, who stands out as the chief administration advocate of price controls and who wants the OPA to be continued beyond June 1946 and the National Association of Manufacturers, which campaigns with full-page advertisements for the end of OPA and of all price controls? One may well ask the question in light of the fact that since V-J Day Mr. Bowles, as OPA Administrator, allowed price advances on 4,982 commodities and altogether exempted from ceilings 1,300 other items or groups? One may well ask the question in light of the additional fact that President Truman has placed Mr. Bowles UNDER Reconversion Director Snydeh, whose leaning toward the position of the NAM is notorious. But perhaps in light of these facts the question answers itself!

The failure of both government and industry to meet the needs of the people for adequate supplies of the needs of life at prices low enough to make them available to all, is indisputable. Patience on the part of the working people is no longer a virtue. The demand for the nationalization of industry under workers’ control to plan adequate production and a fair price set-up, can no longer be deferred. It is the issue of the day, and it involves the formation of an independent Labor Party and fighting for a workers’ government to carry out the nationalization of industry and place it under workers’ control. This is the conclusion to which commodity shortages and price gouging leads.

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