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Susan Green

We Must Organize Action to Control Prices:

Nationalize the Food Industry!

Congress Spurs Runaway Prices

(1 July 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 27, 1 July 1946, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

If the OPA’s “controlled” inflation is ended either by the passage of the emasculating Senate-House conference bill or by the outright defeat of all price control, the cost of living in the next 6 or 8 months will go up at least 20–25 per cent – as admitted even by the enemies of OPA. The supporters of OPA claim the swing upward will be even steeper, namely, 40–50 per cent in the coming year.

The CIO News illustrates the point It shows that chickens now 47 cents a pound will be 71 cents; eggs now 50 cents a dozen will be 75 cents; carrots will be thirteen cents a bunch instead of nine cents; lemons eighteen cents a pound, not twelve; onions three pounds for twenty-five cents will cost thirty-seven cents (pre-war price was three pounds for ten cents).

Other sources estimate meat prices up 40 to 50 per cent and bread up 50 per cent, bringing the price per loaf to 18 or 19 cents.

OPA Administrator Paul Porter, figuring on a 40 per cent boost in living costs in the next year if OPA is abandoned, shows that a family now spending $2,500 per year would have to have $3,450 to maintain the same standard of living.

The American Veterans Committee, fighting in Washington for the retention of OPA, circulated the following protest, appropriately printed on stage money:

“Mr. Congressman:
For your pay raise
AVC has only praise,
But if OPA is made impotent
Your raise won’t be worth a cent.”

Neither will the wage increases of 18½ cents an hour received by auto, steel, mine, rail and some other workers be worth a cent. And what of the workers whose raises were less than that? And what of the workers who have received no wage increases at all?

Living Standard Will Fall

What will happen to the American people, the great masses? Their standard of living will fall. The people will consume less food; will own less clothing; will have poorly furnished homes, if they have any at all; will get inadequate medical care; will afford less education for their children; will allow themselves less relaxation and entertainment. In these flesh-and-blood terms will the masses feel the absence of price control.

Furthermore, the lie must be nailed that the people will be able to bolster their standard of living from their fabulous caches of wartime savings. These are non-existent. The Federal Reserve Board in May of this year had a survey made of accumulated savings. The findings are as follows:

The top 10 per cent of American families have 60 per cent of the savings, namely from $3,400 and up! The second ten per cent owns 17 per cent of the wartime crop, namely savings from $1,800 to $3,400 – hardly a fortune by any standard. The bulk of 50 per cent of the families wallows in 23 per cent of the accumulated wealth, namely from $50 to $1,800 – yes, don’t laugh. The remaining 30 percent of American families luxuriate in savings from NOTHING UP TO $50. These most revealing figures on who got rich out of the war come from the United States News, a weekly business publication; these figures were not featured in the daily press.

Is it then an exaggeration to say that the removal of price control means the impoverishment of millions of working people? At the expense of millions of us, the capitalist government is tearing down the last bar – inadequate as it is – to run-away inflation. Yielding to the pressure of the farm bloc, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Dry Goods Association, the government deliberately proceeds to reduce our standard of living. The capitalist government does this because the 10 per cent that has piled up unsavory war profits in banks and company reserves refuses to use idle capital to produce unless these octopi are permitted to fix their own inflationary prices.

Bowles Gets an “Idea”

On June 17, Economic Stabilizer Bowles had a bright idea that he might be able to appease these gangster-like profit-grubbers. He wanted – no less – that labor make another no-strike pledge in return for NAM et al. laying off on OPA and allowing it to be extended for another year as is. This was hardly cricket on Mr. Bowles’ part, for he knows very well that the cost of living is going up steadily even under OPA, and that the workers must have the right to strike for the maintenance of their standard of living. The papers advise us of the OPA boosts in butter and milk, and we are immediately aware of these increases when we go marketing. But every day and in every way the all-around cost of living is being upped without unseemly publicity.

For instance, the Washington Memo of the New York Post, on the mailing list of OPA, learned in one day of twenty-six price increases, including 12 per cent on work shirts, 10 per cent on leathers, 28 per cent on lawn mower parts, 19 per cent on types of lumber. Hundreds of items are constantly being priced higher, inevitably reflected in the decreased value of the dollar. This “controlled” inflation is the greatest boast of the OPA.

Needless to say, Mr. Bowles’ bright proposal for another no-strike pledge came to naught. It would be risking their heads for the labor officialdom to try now to put that over on the rank and file.

Planting Booby-Traps

As this is being written on Monday, June 24, the Senate-House conferees are expected to iron out their final differences and insert the last “time bomb” and “booby trap” – as Mr. Bowles described their amendments to the Price Control Act. The points still at issue are whether or not to remove all ceilings on meat, poultry, dairy products, tobacco and petroleum products; whether to extend the mortally crippled act for one year or only nine months; whether or not to establish a de-control board empowered to overrule both the Price Administrator and the Secretary of Agriculture; for how much and for how long shall the government continue to subsidize the big food producers.

Already accepted by the conferees are enough amendments to take the last loose tooth out of OPA. They agreed to allow manufacturers, processors and producers 1941 prices plus added costs since then, stipulating that the added costs should be passed on to the consumers. They have accepted the abolition of OPA’s maximum average price lists and of OPA’s method of keeping some low-cost clothing in production. They will allow regular peacetime discounts and mark-ups on scarce reconversion items. They unnecessarily divide the toothless OPA authority and openly give the farm bloc a victory, by putting the Secretary of Agriculture in control of farm product prices.

The $64 question in Washington is whether or not President Truman will veto the bill when it gets to his desk. Just as many congressmen, when it came to voting on the issue, no longer knew whether they were voting for or against price control because of the amendments and counter-amendments, so Mr. Truman will be hard put to decide whether a veto will indicate one thing or another or anything at all. Undoubtedly Mr. Truman would rather fly to see his dear old mother and in general enjoy himself as President than be bothered with such sticklers.

Want Buyers’ Strike

At any rate, there is an indication that veterans, workers and housewives are losing faith in government action. They feel they themselves must do something about prices and shortages. A great clamor has arisen for a buyers’ strike. Walter P. Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers-CIO, came out with the idea. It was taken up by John Green, president of the Ship Workers-CIO. On June 24, in Washington, demonstrating workers, housewives and others listened to speakers urging a buyers’ strike.

A well organized and tightly disciplined buyers’ strike, directed by the unions and other people’s organizations, will be a dramatic and effective demonstration of consumer strength, and if carried out long enough, will accomplish some good. However, what the masses need above and beyond a buyers’ strike is permanent price control machinery.

It has been proved that this cannot be provided through the channels of capitalist government. What is the alternative? Committees of workers at the point of production, with access to the books of the corporations, the committees themselves fixing prices and volume of production to meet the nation’s needs. Such committees together with housewives and consumers’ committees at the consumption end to act as control agencies in every neighborhood, will have to be created to solve the price and shortage muddle.

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