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Susan Green

Housewives Fight High Meat Prices

(23 August 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 34, 23 August 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

While the big-party politicians kick the inflation problem about and do nothing but hope that somehow they can get credit for doing something, housewives have definitely expressed their lack of confidence. Throughout the nation housewives have gotten together to try to prick the inflation balloon by boycotting meat.

It is indeed a hopeful sign that the people who suffer most from ruinous prices are doing something about it.

In one month New York City housewives saw the price of meat rise eight per cent. Porterhouse steak was marked at $1.10 a pound and loin lamb chops at $1.20. That seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. A campaign was started In New York for a Boycott Meat Week from August 9 to 16. To gain support for the idea 500,000 leaflets were prepared, 200 outdoor rallies were planned, the women were aroused by the chain telephone method, baby carriage parades were staged. In front of butcher shops and markets, picket lines could be seen. For instance, in front of the city supervised market at First Avenue and Tenth Street, housewives and children in a baby carriage parade, marched and chanted: “Roll back prices! Don’t buy meat!”

Spontaneous Prices

But even in places where there are no organized consumer councils as in New York City, Chicago and other large cities, housewives spontaneously banded together to make a meat boycott effective. As an example, in Dallas, Texas, an old lady of seventy-one, Mrs. R.D. Vaughn, started a boycott that spread to eighteen other Texas cities. In Camden, N.J., thirty-three women organized a “Petticoat Brigade” with the purpose of gaining support for a meat boycott. They circulated pledges among housewives to undertake a ten-day stoppage of meat purchases. In the town of Lakeland, Fla., women picketed butcher shops with placards bearing the slogan: “Leave the pigs in clover while we put this over.”

An example of a wider and better organized effort is what happened in Memphis, Tenn. There 20,000 members of the Shelby County Civic Club were mobilized to fight meat and milk prices, and they proceeded in getting support and action from the 30,000 members of the Memphis Trade and Labor Council.

In upper New York State the “Budget Brigade,” consisting of 3,000 Utica women, pledged themselves not to buy beef for two weeks. And in Syracuse by chain telephone calls and chain letters women were rallied to a one-week meat boycott and a pledge to buy meat only three times a week after the boycott.

How effective has this nationwide boycott been?

Almost immediately upon the commencement of the boycott the Grand Union Company announced cuts in prices of two to four cents a pound on various meats. Just a drop in the bucket, to be sure, but still the result of the boycott. Some retail butchers have given the boycott support. In Los Angeles twenty-five retail butchers planned to close down until wholesale prices ease. A Camden, N.J., butcher in expressing his sympathy for the boycott, said: “I’m tired of feeling like a thief every time prices take a jump.” Further, the New York City market commissioner reported that purchases by butchers for weekend sales to housewives dropped markedly because of the boycott.

Must Be Widened

However, this is not the whole story. Most butchers pooh-pooh the whole idea and declare the boycott is just a rash of dissatisfaction that will pass. More serious than this is the fact that the New York Department of Markets weekly food survey showed pork prices at brand new highs, climbing two to four cents a pound on different cuts, in spite of the boycott.

That seems to be the situation seven days after the beginning of the movement by housewives not to buy meat until the prices come down.

The movement should be continued. It should be continued and it should be widened in scope. While many women all over the country participated, the vast majority did not. More housewives must be induced to take action. There can be no doubt at all that if the meat boycott is widespread and persistent, it must result in a drop in prices. Once this happens to meat prices, the profit-laden manufacturers of other foods will see the handwriting on the wall.

Unless action is taken on what we might call the home front, there will be no relief for the working people. Predictions are for further spiraling of prices. A Professor Rasmussen, professor of marketing at Cornell University, speaking before the convention of International Apple Associations – yes, there is such a group – sadly told the delegates that because meat, eggs and dairy products will continue to be so high-priced, the people will be unable to buy apples, other fruits, vegetables and similar foods essential for a healthy, balanced diet. It was not reported that the professor said anything about the unreasonable prices of apples.

It is noteworthy that the New York Tribune, which is inclined to go along with the do-nothing policy of the Republican Party on the inflation question, shows definite wrinkles of worry. In a recent editorial, it fretted: “The only question is whether something more drastic may not be necessary ... people are going into debt at an alarming rate ... mortgage debt, installment debt, personal debt are all rapidly rising. ”

Undoubtedly it is true that people are going into debt just to enable them to live – not to buy durable goods, not to buy luxuries, just to live. But nothing drastic will be done now that the Democratic president has gone through the campaign stunt of calling a special session of Congress and the Republican Congress has unashamedly met and done nothing. Only the people themselves can take drastic action.

Such actions as the meat boycott, but involving great masses of people, participated in by unions and all peoples organizations, will proclaim that the people will not docilely allow their pockets to be picked by inflationary prices only to swell corporation profits.

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