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David Coolidge

Mass Action

(16 April 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 16, 16 April 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Action Necessary for Guaranteed Annual Wage

“Workers should not be too jubilant over the announcement that President Roosevelt “orders Byrnes to study annual pay plan.” An annual pay plan is already in effect: the Little Steel formula. This annual pay-plan has the working class chained not only to its already low standard of living but has acted as a plan which actually lowers that standard of living.

With the high withholding tax, the steady increase in the cost of living, the scheme of manufacturers to eliminate, low and medium priced clothing, the reduction in quality of goods while holding the price line, all of these reduce real wages and thereby lower the standard, of living. To this must be added the plain and clear efforts of employers to reduce even the money wages by various methods of eliminating workers at relatively high hourly rates and replacing them with workers hired at a lower hourly rate.

We can be certain that any study which Vinson and all his “experts” produce will be based on the assumption that the annual wage must be at such level that capitalist “free enterprise” will be guaranteed a high per cent of profit. This means that the Roosevelt annual wage will be too low to sustain even the present standard of living.

Standard of Living Level

The problem before the working class today is to raise the standard of living to a higher level than ever realized before. The time has come now for labor to quit thinking in terms of holding what we have. This is the way too many labor leaders think, and it has been especially true during the war.

Every advance indicated is pushed aside with the assertion, “we must win the war first.” This despite the fact that the capitalist employers have always taken the position, “we must arrange for our profits first.” On this the position of R.J. Thomas is: “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Thomas graciously concedes to labor that the capitalists are wrong to push for profits first but, adds that labor would also be wrong to demand and act for wage increases.

The Workers Party and Labor Action advocate a “guaranteed annual wage.” But we don’t stop there, we say what the wage should be. A guaranteed minimum annual wage for each worker of $2,500 and $5,000 annual income to all workers’ families.

If doesn’t make sense to talk about or demand an annual wage unless amounts are specified and the amounts should be high enough to raise the workers’ standard of living! Workers think too much in terms of just getting by. That is precisely the size of’ any annual wage which Roosevelt might supply.

How and By Whom

Any demand for an annual wage under capitalism must also be accompanied with thinking0, by workers, on the question of how an annual wage can be guaranteed and by whom. We also have to think over what is the meaning of a guaranteed wage enforced by a capitalist government. The workers in Hitler’s and Stalin’s slave factories also have a guaranteed wage. They also have a guarantee that they will work every day. The Gestapo and the GPU will see to that.

Any guaranteed wage, that will mean an elevation of our standard of living can only result from the organized and militant activity of the working class. Any guaranteed annual wage engineered by Roosevelt can be taken away by Roosevelt and his capitalist confederates and would be an annual wage at the lowest possible level.

In the thinking of labor about an annual wage we must also begin thinking of WORKER’ CONTROL OF PRODUCTION. There are far too many tricks in capitalist bookkeeping and far too many tricks in capitalist politics and lawmaking for us to put any confidence whatsoever in their intentions about an annual wage.

What Is Workers’ Control?

If workers have some effective say in control of production we will have access to the financial, sales and production records. Also we will have some say about what is produced. We will know production costs, including “labor cost.” This will eliminate capitalist employer shenanigans about “high labor cost” and expose all the accounting mumbo-jumbo in the “system of free enterprise.” If we know these things we will know something about selling price and the working class will not be milked as it is today in the capitalist “open market.”

There is really something very sinister about this Roosevelt annual wage business. First he bobs up with the National Service Act. This is a slave code for American labor with savage criminal penalties for violation. After they get us chained to the factories, Roosevelt bobs up again with Balm of Gilead: the annual wage. First the government rounds up labor for the capitalist factories. Then they say to the capitalist employers: “now that you have labor, you must make some concessions. Mr. Byrnes will work with you on this.” I suppose this is what Murray and R.J. Thomas would call “equality of sacrifice.”

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