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Susan Green

Housewives Rebel Against
High Meat Prices

Soaring Prices Prove Need of Rounded Program
and Organization of Popular Price Control Committees

(28 October 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 43, 28 October 1946, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

And lo, a miracle was wrought. Monday night, October 14, at 10 o’clock, President Truman took controls off meat, and before dawn the empty stockyards of Kansas City, Chicago and elsewhere were filling up with cattle and hogs. Far outstripping all the wonders of nature, hordes of cattle and hogs were “raised” over night. And Tuesday morning, bright and early, city butcher shops and retail markets, up till ten the previous night displaying only their white enamel trays, became filled with juicy red meats of various kinds.

Such is the magic the President performed by capitulating to the meat industry in its anti-social demand to get all the profit the traffic will bear. The livestock and stored meat held for higher profits were rushed to market at prices making a new world record.

All-Time High

Choice steers were selling at the all-time high of $38.50 a hundredweight against the OPA ceiling of $20.26; medium cattle were bringing $35.25 a hundredweight; top hogs went for $27.50 a hundredweight, $11 above the OPA ceiling. In the early dawn of Tuesday, October 15, trucks carrying this diamond-studded livestock stretched for two and a half miles before the major stockyards, and special traffic police were engaged to control the undammed flood.

From the cold storage warehouses, till ten o’clock the previous night inhumanely closed against the needs of the people, trucks carried to the neighborhood butcher shops and retail markets ample supplies of porterhouse steaks, veal cutlets, lamb chops, pork chops, calves’ liver and even bacon. All this toothsome meat i was lured from its hiding place by the prospect of bringing prices something as follows: For steak, $1.00 to $1.25 a pound; for veal cutlets, $1.00; for lamb chops, $1.50; for pork chops, $1.00; for calves’ liver, $1.50; for bacon, $1.16.

What a blatant, unabashed display of the rottenness of the profit system was this over-night, magical appearance of livestock and meat—and the sudden skyrocketing of prices still keeping meat beyond the reach of the meat-starved working class family!

Buying Resistance

In the first rush on Tuesday morning, some housewives, famished for meat, who could afford a “treat” for their families, as it were, paid phenomenal prices. But soon buying resistance developed. The government having thrown the reins to the profit-motivated meat industry, the housewives tried using their power as consumers to stop galloping meat prices. This happened all over the country.

In Brooklyn, groups of women organized as if spontaneously. They entered butcher shops, asked the prices and meats, and deliberately walked out without buying. In Boston, flying squadrons of housewives organized picket lines before butcher shops. In Pittsburgh, the opposition almost reached the proportions of a buyers’ strike. In Buffalo, choice cuts were “going begging” because they were too expensive. In Omaha, Neb., the Iowa-Nebraska CIO Women’s Auxiliaries picketed meat shops with large placards and procured pledges from shoppers to boycott meat prices.

By the end of the week a slight rollback in prices was evident. In New York, for instance, steak could be had at 85 cents a pound along Ninth Avenue, and chopped beef “compounded of mysterious ingredients,” could be bought for 40 cents a pound. In Philadelphia, reductions of from five to ten cents below Tuesday’s high were reported, but beef roasts still sold for 80 cents a pound.

Rounded Program Needed

Retail butchers in some localities, notably Seattle, fraternized with the housewives, advising the latter not to buy at existing prices. In other places butchers went on a buyers’ strike of their own, refusing to pay exorbitant prices, as in Dallas, Texas, and in New Jersey. Butchers rebelled against buying poultry they didn’t want as a condition for getting meat for their counters.

The militant stand of housewives and the cooperation of retail butchers can, however, act only as an expedient and not as a cure. The meat situation for some time to come will be chaotic and at the mercy of private profiteers, unless a more comprehensive program is adopted by the people. The reckless slaughter of immature cattle and of breeding sows, together with other factors, will keep the supply of beef and pork below normal demand. The government having given the meat profiteers a free hand, prices will remain prohibitive, even if not at last Tuesday’s peak, unless the people step into the situation themselves.

The demand for the nationalization of the meat industry, under workers’ control, must be taken up by workers and housewives alike, as also the formation of their own committees to control prices effectively.

These measures are imperative throughout the food industry. While the release of meat, caused poultry and butter to drop a little in price, inflationary prices in general remain substantially the same. In line with the President’s announced policy to abandon the consumer to the tender mercies of the food profiteers, price controls are rapidly being removed. The question is whether the profiteers shall dictate what and how much we eat and at what prices, or whether the people will themselves take over the business of feeding themselves.

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