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David Coolidge

Union Action on Prices Effective

(29 July 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 30, 29 July 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Reports coming to The New York Times from its correspondents in “key centers,” reveal the fact that labor’s drive led by the UAW (CIO) against the price gouging of the big capitalists, is beginning to bring results.

This isn’t the way the Times puts it of course. This big capitalist daily, like less pretentious organs of big business around the country, is more subtle. In a two-column head for July 21 the Times admits that “Consumers Fight Price Rise, but adds Not in ‘Buyers’ Strikes.” According to the Times, its own survey shows that the public is merely “more selective,” “hoarding is absent,” but “organized resistance is negligible.”

Why No “Hoarding” Now?

According to the “corner grocers” interviewed by the Times buyers have become more “insistent on quality standards and less inclined to buy for hoarding purposes.” That is to say housewives and others are mainly concerned with quality and not with prices. They believe that business is entitled to a fair profit and of course ground meat at 75 cents a pound gives only a “fair profit.” There is some falling off in sales due, not to any buyers strike, but to the fact that housewives are not “hoarding.”

And why aren’t they hoarding? The answer is implicit in the Times story and very simple. Housewives are not “hoarding” because there is no need for hoarding. There is plenty of butter in the stores, so why hoard? From reading the Times story one would be led to believe that the price of butter and meat, and very low real wages have no relation to what the Times calls “hoarding.”

It is all very simple according to the Times. The OPA is out and the country has returned to normalcy. Free competition is with us again since the government at Washington took its bureaucratic hands off. Overnight the big capitalist manufacturers and processors began to produce. The Times would have not believed that all of the beef, butter, shirts and hosiery now on the shelves have been produced since the elimination of OPA; that not a single capitalist manufacturer has done any “hoarding” throughout 1946; that their warehouses and refrigerators and granaries have been empty; that its millions of workers who were coming around every day put in 40 hours a week twiddling their thumbs; that it was all a vast feather-bedding operation.

“Prices of some foods,” says the Times, “which rose steeply with the end of OPA appear to be settling back in the face of buying resistance.” The gentleness and caution of the Times are superb: some prices are “settling back.” “Not in buyers’ strikes,” but due to the inexorable, benign and self-correcting operations of “our system of free enterprise.” There is “buying resistance,” but this is concerned with quality only, never with price. This “buying resistance” is not a buyers’ strike. The Times would perhaps explain the difference by saying that there is no violence, no bricks are being thrown, housewives are not yet storming the meat markets.

In New York City, the merchants report that there is nothing to this buyers strike propaganda, there are “only changes of buying habits” among the masses. One creamery company reported that the drop in the price of butter was due to “restoration of open market conditions and not to any buyers strike.” Another dealer reported that any drop in prices was due to the “ordinary good sense of the average housewife.” This dealer also was of the opinion that housewives were using up “hoards they had accumulated during the war.” One department store official said that “buyers’ strikes so far represent merely propaganda talk by the union, which ... should be offset by counter-propaganda.”

This same executive admitted that “in foodstuffs ... prices undoubtedly have risen, but I believe, compare favorably with former black-market prices.” This is really making merry with “our system of free enterprise.” This is known as capitalism putting its best foot forward and revealing its most delightful aspects.

“No Strike,” but ...

In Boston there is no “buyers strike,” of course, but the Emergency Committee of Citizens and Labor are preparing “to participate in a buyers’ strike next Tuesday.” Boston merchants perhaps feel that this is unnecessary for they have pledged themselves to “absorb added costs as far as humanly possible.”

In Philadelphia there is no buyers strike but the Mid-City Reading Terminal Market was picketed for three days. We take it that each of the picketers had filled a basket from this market before the picketing began and were only walking the picket line to protest, against the “quality” of the meat and butter they had purchased.

In Camden, also, there is “no buyers’ strike.” Local 1, of the Shipbuilding Workers (CIO) only picketed 100 food stores. This had “dramatic results” says the Times. The storekeepers agreed to cooperate with the union against rising wholesale prices.

In Washington, “while organized buyers’ strikes ... have been mostly in the way of scattered ... picketing... housewives ... simply leave high-price butter in the refrigerators and costly meats on the counters. These tactics must force prices down somewhat, retailers agree.” There is something wrong in this part of the Times story. Either these housewives have hoards of butter and meat at home or they don’t like the quality of the meat and butter in Washington.

In Atlanta there is no buyers strike; the customers are only “becoming hard to please.” Either the Atlanta workers have butter and meat stored away at home from the war years or they are very snooty about the quality of Atlanta butter and meat.

The St. Louis CIO industrial union council is putting on a vegetarian program. Housewives are urged to boycott meat and butter. Meat sales have dropped and “slow-moving meat” has been marked down. In Chicago butter was reduced, and according to the Times’ “no buyers strike” survey, this was a reflection “to some extent” of “the wide-spread consumer resistance against the high prices.” In San Francisco, the consumption of butter and meat “has not been up to expectations.” In Los Angeles there has been “a possible backing up of commodities” but the businessmen say that this is due to the hot weather.

Capitalists All Worried

This is the way things stand according to this country-wide survey of the New York Times. There is no buyers strike, only picketing, resistance, caution and refusal to buy. A demonstration in Detroit by housewives carrying signs saying: “Drive Meat Prices Down. Don’t Buy It!” is only a sporadic affair.

The fact is that the Times and all the capitalist press are worried. They are worried now just as they were last winter during the wave of strikes which covered the country. That strike wave was really only a ripple in comparison to what organized labor could have done if it had had the proper leadership.

Up to now the present drive of organized labor against high prices is a mere ripple. But the capitalist press and their masters, the monopoly capitalists, are beginning to be uneasy. The reason is clear: the capitalist price gougers and fixers are striking at the masses directly. They strike not only at the industrial and agricultural workers, but also at the middle class white collar groups, the working farmers and the very small showkeeper. Housewives who do the spending begin to understand what low wages really mean, and above all they begin to understand the value of the unions, to which their husbands belong, as never before.

This whole campaign of the unions therefore will bring support to organized labor, and also tend to unify the labor movement itself. The capitalist press and the big capitalist employers understand this. The top leaders of the CIO and the AFL seemingly do not understand it, however. The AFL is far worse than the CIO. This slow- moving leadership only sits and waits.

Real Action Needed

If the CIO and the AFL or the CIO singly would get into real action, the workers and the masses of the people would rally to the support of any program they would advance for bringing prices down. They could, organize and carry through demonstrations of millions of workers and the middle class to cover every city and town. Every working class and middle class housewife would rally to a call for such demonstrations and show up on the picket lines.

Only a very feeble start has been made. That is why the Times and other capitalist papers can write as they do. But they can be forced to change their tune. Labor can force them to send their reporters and photographers scurrying to a thousand demonstrations around the big stores, the big packing plants, the big distributors and the homes of the big capitalist gougers.

The unions can organize to prevent rent increases and evictions. They can throw picket lines around the home of every worker whose family is threatened with eviction and stop the eviction. They can support tenants who are faced with rent increases. If tenants are evicted the union flying squadrons can put the furniture back into the house. If a relatively weak organization of the unemployed could do these things during the depression surely a strong and powerful labor movement should do no less today.

All that is needed is for the militant leaders in the CIO to get started and keep the heat on the top leadership. There is no time to waste waiting to see what Congress and Truman will do. They are only playing a game with each other and with the masses of the people. This is a job for the unions and the whole working class and its supporters.

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