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Susan Green

Control Prices at Their Source!

“Open the Books!” Is Vital Slogan in Tackling
Price Problem at Point of Production

(12 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 32, 12 August 1946, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The great mass of people in this country are arriving at the unanimous conclusion that prices will not be held down by the government. After June 30, workers and housewives demonstrated, demanding a return of the OPA. Now that “dear Harry” has signed a worse OPA bill than he first vetoed, the people begin to see they must rely on themselves. For the very first thing that happened after the President signed the zombie OPA bill, was a rise in prices.

Shoes and coal led the list. Then came men’s shirts, shorts and pajamas, followed by men’s clothing. On foodstuffs, prices of the not so important items were, officially speaking, rolled back to June 30 levels; but meat, dairy products, poultry, eggs are decontrolled until August 20 at least. The price of coffee will go up, and of course bread has gone up. Clothing will be even dearer. Vacuum cleaners, washing machines, refrigerators, furniture, these will be beyond the reach of even more people than now. The auto companies which already got two price boosts this year, are slated to get $100 more on a car. In a word, Congress passed, and the President signed, not a price control bill but a deal between politicians and capitalists for higher prices.

What Are Fair Prices?

More and more people understand that this is what was put over on them. Therefore, workers and housewives have taken to mass action in the form of a buyers’ strike, picket lines and similar steps.

But the question of the hour is, WHAT ARE FAIR PRICES? How are they to be arrived at? If consumers are not to buy overpriced merchandise and foodstuffs, they must know what prices are right for buying.

When OPA lapsed on June 30 and prices escalated upward, there were some people depraved enough to say that these prices were fair because they were less than black market prices. The cock-eyed conclusion to be drawn was that the cost of living was actually going down. Of course, this was fantastic. The mass of consumers did not pay black market prices because they couldn’t afford to. They simply did without the things monopolized by the black market.

However, most people aroused by price pyramiding do not take the black market as a measure of fair prices. Most people seem to think that the pre-June 30 levels, that is, OPA ceilings before the OPA lapsed, would be fair enough. But here is where most people are dead wrong. They are wrong because the only way to fix fair prices is to relate them to profits and wages.

Related to Profits

This is exactly what the General Motors strikers did last year. They demanded a thirty per cent increase to bring their wages to cost of living levels – and they coupled this demand with the one that the prices of cars not be increased. The UAW-CIO proved, in a documented brief, that the auto companies could grant this thirty per cent wage increase without raising prices, and that the companies could actually decrease prices and still make more than pre-war profits.

Facts and reason did not, however, triumph. The auto workers got only 18½ cents an hour raise, far less than the thirty per cent needed to parallel the cost of living. And car prices were not held, but from the time of the strike to June 30, OPA granted the auto barons two unwarranted price increases.

Can it be said, that the June 30 prices of cars are fair prices? Indeed not; they are profiteering prices. The auto workers and the car buyers are the goats for the auto companies.

The same situation prevails throughout industry. At about the time of the auto strike at least two government surveys informed the President that manufacturing industries could afford to grant wage increases of around twenty-five per cent, without boosting prices to the consumer and without any loss in profit. But, by and large, workers got only 18½ cents an hour increase instead of the twenty-five per cent that industry could afford to pay without raising prices. And, instead of holding the price level, between the settlement of the steel strike in February 1946 and June 30, OPA director Paul Porter approved no less than five hundred industry-wide price increases.

There is no disputing these facts. The conclusion is that June 30 price levels are not fair. Relating wages, profits and prices, June 30 levels are profiteering levels.

Open the Books!

The nation has obviously arrived at a pass where fair prices have to be fixed. Prices today reflect wartime profits, government cost-plus contracts, National Association of Manufacturers lobbying, big business in government, black market. A new evaluation must be made in order to fix fair prices at which the masses can buy and feel warranted in buying.

There is only one place where the facts and figures for fixing prices fairly can be found. That place is the books of the corporations. In the books of the companies is kept the information as to cost of raw material, cost of labor, wear and tear on machinery, profits per article, profits in bulk, backlog of orders, new orders in prospect, and so on. Here is hidden the secret of fair prices. The books of the corporations must be opened. But to whom?

Certainly it will not do much good to open them to the capitalist government or any of its agencies. More information will not alter the class character of the capitalist politicians. The whole history of war and post-war prices shows that even those politicians who stood for price control, developed weak knees when the capitalists bellowed loud enough for higher prices and bigger profits.

The logical group to whom the books of the corporations must be opened are the workers. The General Motors strikers made this demand. It is the basic answer to the question of how to fix fair prices and fair wages. The principle here is that profits are the concern not alone of the profit-grabbers but of all the people. In each corporation the interests of all the people can be represented by Price Fixing Committees of workers, democratically elected. This is how price levels can be fixed that will be fair. And then the neighborhood committees of workers, consumers and housewives can see to it that these democratically fixed price levels are actually adhered to.

So while Labor Action and the Workers Party support the buyers strikes, the picketing of price gougers, the shopping committees and mass demonstrations, we must point out that the questions of what are fair prices and how they are to be fixed still remain for solution. For that we go to the point of production, by Price Control Committees of workers using all the information that the profiteers keep hidden in their books.

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Last updated: 5 July 2019