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Susan Green

Unemployment Jumps by One Million

2,650,000 Jobless at End of January; More to Come in 1949

(21 February 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 8, 21 February 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the months of November and December 1948 and January 1949 the army of unemployed grew by one million. Those 60,000,000 jobs boasted by the apologists of capitalism have gone a-gleaming. Official figures admit to 2,650,000 jobless at the end of January.

Expectations are for what is called “more levelling off” in 1949. While lay-offs are heaviest in textiles and clothing, the “readjustment process” is felt in food processing, in the shoe, furniture, fur and tobacco industries, in coal mining, in logging and lumbering. Workers in non-durable consumer goods have been hardest hit, but those in durable consumer goods have not entirely escaped. Even in steel and aluminum some lag is felt.

By the end of 1949 there may be as high as 4,500,000 shut-out workers for whom capitalism does not provide jobs in peacetime.

It may be said that the crazy, skyrocketing profit-price structure touched off the “levelling off” we are now experiencing. With the incomes of the working people falling foul of the cost of living, consumer buying decreased and factories received less orders. The cycle is completed as the very people who need more money to buy things are thrown out of work and deprived of all wages.

The textile workers led the parade out of the factories. Tens of thousands of them were fired, in largest numbers in the states of New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont. But they were out on the pavements also in the southern states of Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

Shoe workers were laid off in St. Louis and New York, in Maine, New Hampshire and Virginia, “to decrease inventories” – the same old story of workers having produced so much that they cannot buy anything at all. Furniture workers were given the same treatment in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and Indiana. In New York City fur workers are generally unemployed. The mild weather winter here in the east had something to do with the shut-downs in the fur industry.

However, fantastic prices in the early season had a good deal to do with the decline in consumer buying. The mild winter in the east may account for the accumulation of unmoved stocks of coal and the lay-off of miners. Severe weather in the west is partially responsible for the unemployment there.

Perhaps the most significant curtailment is in food processing. The decline in buying of this most essential of all commodities registers the pinch the consumer feels. To illustrate how the chain of unemployment is forged, unemployment in food processing means, for example, unemployment in the tin can industry.

In the field of durable consumer goods the decline in orders for electrical appliances reflects the trend. Electrical appliances translate themselves into less work for the housewife and into more entertainment for the family, but consumers cannot afford to buy these gadgets. So workers in Ohio, Missouri, Indiana and Connecticut have been cordially invited to leave their work benches.

In some cases factories that closed down have reopened, but with a difference. The personnel has been cut down so that workers who hoped to ride out a short period of unemployment on unemployment compensation, cannot get their old jobs back. Again, part time work is more prevalent, quite a number of plants opening for only three or four days a week.

The over-all picture is not pleasant to behold. More and more workers are finding it hard to find new jobs. They are taking jobs below their skills and experience, and for less pay. Part time work has slashed take-home pay. Those most likely to become chronically unemployed are the older workers, women workers and the unskilled. Unemployment compensation is in general very low and covers too short a period. Relief is the next step down, relief which provides a very inadequate standard of living.

As unemployment becomes so much more sever, the issue of a guaranteed annual wage takes on real urgency. Also, the need for better unemployment insurance and for decent relief payments must be translated into fighting demands.

The most important section of the over-all picture today is that even this 1949 prosperity with 4,500,000 expected unemployed, rests on the continuance of the Marshall Plan, on the fifteen-billion military budget, on the prospect of arming the west European countries. A “prosperity” based on war!

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Last updated: 30 December 2018