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Susan Green

Meat Price Gouge Shows Need
for Nationalization of Industry

(21 October 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 42, 21 October 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The impasse of artific1ally created shortages and of fantastic prices to which the profit system has brought this country, poses the need for nationalization of industry as an imperative problem of the day. This is no time for pussy-footing. Labor must come out for a clear-cut program for the nationalization of industry under workers’ control, within the framework of the widest possible democracy for the masses. If labor does not assume militant leadership for attaining this goal of democratic nationalization, it will lose a great opportunity.

The above remarks are made urgent by the first plank of the seven-point program of the Packinghouse Workers Union, CIO, on the meat crisis. This plank calls the meat industry “a public utility.” In the October 7 issue of Labor Action the lead article assumed that this plank amounted to a call for nationalization, and very correctly added a most vital amendment, namely, that a nationalized meat industry must be under the control of qualified committees of packinghouse workers in order to protect their interests as producers and the interests of the people as consumers.

However, since then, judging by statements made by the president of the union, Ralph Helstein, declaring the meat industry “a public utility” does not mean nationalization to him. His interpretation is that the meat industry requires “regulation.” This throws a piercing light on the meaning of the plank and makes it clear that the words “a public utility” were chosen by the union leadership with reason – though not a good reason from the viewpoint of the interests of both workers and consumers.

The Public Utility Lure

What is “a public utility”? In this country that designation has specific meaning. Gas and electric companies, telephone service, natural gas suppliers, water works, these and a few other industries are considered public utilities. As such they are subject to a certain amount of so-called “government regulation.” Mr. Helstein, presumably, wants the meat industry included in this category and subjected to the same kind of regulation.

At the same time he thinks that “such regulation ... would insure reasonable profits to the packers, reasonable prices to the consumer and producer, and jobs to the workers.” We, of course, have no quarrel with the objective of reasonable prices to the consumer and jobs to the workers – though we are not too much interested in insuring what is called “reasonable profits” and prices for the monopolists. However, we must ask what justification Mr. Helstein has for thinking that by placing the meat industry in the category of the public utilities monopolies and subjecting it to similar regulations, will protect the interests of worker and consumer. Does he not know that “government regulation” has in no way broken the monopolistic powers of these sectors of industry? As a matter of fact, the public utilities maintain powerful lobbies both to boost rates and to prevent the development of government projects that might interfere with their private interests. They are responsible for holding up the development of the magnificent potentialities for hydro-electric power.

Such achievements as the Tennessee Valley Authority, with its cheaper rates for electric current, show up the extent to which the “government regulations” have allowed the public utilities to mulct the public, the consumer. Until very recently the public utilities have held the workers in the vise of company unionism, and are still the tireless opponents of workers’ initiative and power. In a word, public utilities are the very warp and woof of the banking and industrial monopolies of this country. They have thrived on “government regulation.” At the expense of the workers and the consumers. It is not for nothing that public utilities are Wall Street favorites.

For a labor leadership to come out for this kind of “regulation” is pussy-footing. It is half-hearted recognition of the spreading public sentiment that such a vital industry as meat production should no longer be left to the mercy of the profit system. It spreads confusion instead of clarity. For the words “a public utility” sound good, but really mean no lessening of the powers of the meat monopolists.

What Kind of Solution?

Would Mr. Helstein apply the same kind of plank to the other vital industries? How about the dairy industry with butter $1 a pound, eggs eighty cents a dozen, milk twenty cents a quart (under the counter)? What are these prices doing to the health of working class children? How about clothing and blankets and textiles, all so vital to life and health with winter approaching? How about the steel and construction industries, the essentials for building homes – which are not forthcoming? Do we demand that all these industries, which most intelligent workers see should not be owned by private monopolists and squeezed for profits at the expense of human life, do we merely demand that they all be placed in the category of the telephone, gas, electric and other public utilities? And, is this a solution?

It is even less of a solution than the very deceptive nationalization program of the British so-called Labor government. The deception there is that the government issues bonds to the capitalist owners, and then pays interest on the bonds amounting to more than former profits. Thereby the income of the nation is mortgaged to the bondholders and the problems of the people remain unsolved. Neither does the British government disturb the capitalist management of the nationalized banks, mines, etc. Instead of the workers taking control, the same old exploiting outfit is left in charge to so run the enterprises to net big salaries and the increased interest on brand new bonds.

To declare vital industries “public utilities” and place them under “government regulation” as with the gas, electric and telephone companies, does not even go as far as this profitcontinuing British plan. It does not even disturb private ownership by exchanging stock certificates for government bonds. And the kind of “regulation” the public utilities have “suffered” have made their monopolistic powers greater so that the government has been regulated more than the monopolists.

As stated above, labor should stand for a program of nationalization of industry of a kind that will oust the monopolists from production and place the controls of each industry where they belong; namely, in the hands of democratically elected committees of the most capable and responsible workers of each industry, combining on a national scale to plan production for use instead of for profit. Implied in such a defeat of the capitalist monopolies, is of course a change of government. For such a program can be carried out not by a capitalist government but only within the framework of a Workers’ Government, assuring the widest possible democracy for the masses.

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