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Susan Green

What to Do with Surplus Army Goods

(8 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 14, 8 April 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Of more than three hundred billions of dollars of war goods produced by the United States for World War II, one hundred billions is surplus and subject to peacetime disposal. This vast reservoir of goods, ranging from shoes to ships and pins to plants, is the product of American workers. Those goods were paid for out of taxes directly lifted from our pay envelopes. So the disposal of war property that was not blown up in the holocaust, is definitely the concern of the workers.

In the first place, civilians were led to expect that up to twenty billions of consumption goods would be released to fill the vacuum made by intense shortages. Nothing of the kind happened. Sheets and shoes, jackets and blankets, jeeps and housing material, and many other consumable items have been held back. Only a trickle of a few items has materialized.

On V-J Day there were 62,000 new and reconditioned jeeps ready for shipment to the United States to fill the demand of veterans. However, a mere 10,000 have been released, and since the price is $800 most veterans cannot afford them.

Under pressure of public clamor for housing, the Navy has released some building materials for temporary housing. Still the House Expenditure Committee has accused the Army and Navy of obstructing the flow of surplus material and in many instances destroying it.

Are the Army and Navy yielding to the pressure of business, which does not want a flood of released goods to interfere with high prices?

The Crime of Destroying Useful Goods

The working class must raise its voice in angry protest against the destruction of goods by official order. In a world where millions of people lack almost everything, destruction of useful goods is a crime. Drew Pearson has reported the dumping of jeeps, gasoline, leather jackets, watches. Representative Albert Engel charged the burning of gloves, jackets, parachutes, engines, beacon lights, magnetos. Letters have come from the Pacific telling of the burning of boats, of sinking material into the sea, including new electrical equipment and tires, of dumping hundreds of cars and then covering them with earth from adjoining hills. Air force headquarters recently announced that 6,000 planes costing nearly a billion dollars are considered obsolete and will be scrapped.

Why cannot army clothing be sent to warm the needy? Why cannot material be converted to peacetime purposes wherever possible and sent to those in need?

What about the guns and ammunition scattered throughout the world and estimated to have cost many billions? Besides a ten million dollar purchase of planes, tires and trucks by Dictator Franco, two American ships docked at Barcelona loaded with machine guns. This information comes from the reliable Christian Science Monitor. Will the American workers permit the guns they manufactured to be sold to the forces of reaction to be turned upon fellow workers abroad?

In this country the industrial powers are the chief beneficiaries of surplus property disposal.

Lush bargains are available for those in the know. For example, a hundred navigation instruments were sold at $1 apiece, each instrument containing three pounds of mercury worth $2 a pound. Understanding this trend, experts figure that not more than seven to ten billion dollars will be realized for the estimated hundred billion dollars’ worth of surplus goods. What a steal!

Big Business Takes What It Wants

But the most important aspect of the question pertains to government property of a permanent character. This means plants and industrial equipment costing twenty billion dollars, including aircraft, electrical, synthetic rubber, aluminum, steel, magnesium plants and shipyards – all the last word in technique. These splendid assets are offered to big business on a bargain counter. With nose in air, big business picks and chooses. General Motors, United States Steel, Aluminum Co. of America, the monopolists take what they want.

The Workers Party demands in its program that government-owned plants, equipment and utilities not be turned over to private monopolists and not be allowed to stand idle. These valuable assets must remain public property, placed under workers’ control and be reconverted to peacetime use to provide goods and services, and jobs for workers.

To show the correctness of the Workers Party demand, here are two instances. The United Electrical Workers, CIO, has charged that General Electric and Westinghouse have given up fifteen war-built government plants. These stand idle. They could have been converted speedily to the production of tens of thousands of radios, refrigerators, washing machines and other electrical equipment for an electrical-appliance-hungry public. Instead, five thousand workers were laid off, and the companies sought sites in low-wage areas where the union is not strong.

Again, during the war the State of Texas was industrialized to the extent of one and a half billion of government cash. These plants can be easily converted to produce stoves, kitchen cabinets, light metal furniture, aircraft parts, sheet metal, chemicals, oil-well equipment, rubber and tin products for peacetime use. But pressure is on to dismantle the plants because industrialization of the South means unions, enlightened workers, political advancement, a ray of light in the dark South.

In the next period the bad smell emanating from war property disposal will get worse, not better – unless organized labor acts. The situation calls for the following: demand for the immediate release from war stock of all goods, fit for civilian consumption; protest against the destruction of goods; demand that government-owned plants industrial equipment and utilities be placed under workers’ control and converted to peacetime production, as national property.

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