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David Coolidge

Northern Monopolists Pull Strings
of Southern Economy

(16 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 37, 16 September 1946, pp. 3 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There is a great deal of propaganda and agitation in the South concerned with industrialization. Before the industrialization outburst, many in the South had become convinced that in order to prosper and feed its population, it would be necessary to this region to escape from the practice of putting all of its eggs into one basket. Many leaders took the position that for prosperity it would be necessary for the South to resort to a system of diversified agriculture and produce foodstuffs for the population. A great deal of progress has been made along this line but the area is still overwhelmingly covered with cotton. Not only that, but the cotton producers have resisted the mechanization of cotton growing. To date there is not even the beginning of technological improvement in the growing and harvesting of cotton such as has taken place, for instance, in wheat planting and harvesting.

This is to be accounted for not only by the difference in the technical problems involved, but also by the differences in the labor supply and the social and political contrasts in the cotton and grain regions. The Western states are scarcely populated and it is necessary to use a migrant and mobile labor force. In the South there are millions of Negroes and “poor whites” ready to hand for year-in and year-out labor in the’ cotton fields. In the South the labor force lives on the plantation or in communities adjoining the big plantations.

Down at the Heels, But a Capitalist

There is another reason, however, why the South resists the advances of modern technology: the lack of the necessary capital for experimentation and the introduction of mass production machinery. Furthermore, the cotton planter has at hand a source of “cheap” labor. When cotton is selling at from 20 to 30 cents a pound and the planter gets it picked for $3.00 a hundred, for $1.00 the hundred or in any number of instances for what amounts to actual or mere subsistence, in a very practical sense, he is not likely to think seriously about mechanization and the introduction of the mechanical picker.

What must be understood is that the Southern cotton planter is really a capitalist, quite often a sort of bedraggled and down-at-the-heels capitalist. it is true, but a capitalist. The cotton economy is part and parcel of capitalist production in the United States. The planter therefore is primarily concerned with capitalist profits. He functions in a similar way to the Northern manufacturer; for instance, he does not change his method of production until he becomes convinced that the change will be profitable in a very concrete way. He. like the manufacturer, will be concerned with the return on his investment, the per cent of profit and the demands of the market. Also, just as with the manufacturer, he will be influenced by such a factor as the availability or the scarcity of labor. The fact that the cotton planter today is faced with an acute labor shortage may do more than all the sociological golden texts to turn his thinking toward the mechanical cotton picker.

In order to attempt to escape from the dilemma in which they find themselves, the Southern “liberals” of the type of Governor Arnall and other latter-day Henry Gradys, fight against freight differentials and proclaim the necessity for industrialization. This is the real inner content of Southern liberalism. They want a greater democratization of the South, increased participation of the people in the political affairs of the region. They are against the poll-tax for this reason primarily. They seek to form an alliance with the masses against the socially backward planters who today wield the political power.

Relations Between North and South

These white Southern liberals face more than one difficult problem in their industrialization program. While it is they who will eventually come over to the unionization program of the CIO, because they will become convinced that such a step will be a necessary one for industrialization, they will incur the increasing enmity of the planters and landlords. Every concrete step in industrializing the South is an attack on the plantation system. The workers will leave the plantations and swarm into the factories. The planters will be forced to pay higher wages for production in the hand economy or be forced to resort to mechanization which will tend to transform the old-fashioned plantation into a “factory in the field.” This would make organization easier and also necessitate the payment of higher wages.

The main problem, however, is the poverty of the South. Also, leading Southerners are divided on what is the proper manner of attacking the problem of industrialization. There are the patriots who want the industries to be indigenous. This group desires that the industries be owned by native Southerners in order that the wealth may remain in the South. The other group are the economic and political deputies of Northern monopoly capitalism. It is this group which is in the best position to prosper and make economic headway. It is in this group that one finds the representatives of the great Eastern public utility holding companies, banks and insurance companies, the representatives of Northern manufacturers, of U.S. Steel, of railroads owned in the North.

These managers for Northern monopoly capitalism are concentrated in Atlanta, Dallas, Birmingham and other large Southern cities. They are the defenders of the high tariff, freight differentials and low wages, and they are the financiers of the horde of anti-labor proto-fascists and equally anti-labor religious mountebanks who infest every corner of the South. “He commands the colonial outposts for Northern overlords who have never been averse to the maintenance of the entire South as a slum area, a gigantic sweatshop dedicated to Northern profit.” The manager for his Northern employer “knows the whys of the eighty-five per cent ownership in Georgia, the meaning of the fact that fifty cents of every dollar on deposit in Georgia banks is owned in the North.”

Northern Monopolists Pull Southern Strings

The Southern demagogue and political rabble-rouser is often as not in league with the Northern monopoly capitalist through his deputy in the South. It was revealed, for instance, that Talmadge was financed by the Georgia Power & Light Co. The only thing Georgian is the word Georgia. It is an operating subsidiary of a Northern holding company. The congressional tie-up between certain reactionary and blatant Southerners and reactionary Northern Congressmen is not an accident of history or a bloc made, for instance, to keep Roosevelt from becoming a “dictator.” Both of these groups of Congressmen are the political fronts for Northern monopolists. The lineal descendants of Northern abolitionists can and do make such blocs for the reason that not only do their general class interests coincide, but also because they often share more objective economic interests. And so a relatively cultured Taft can find himself arm in arm with stupid and ignorant clowns such as Bilbo and Rankin,

Right now, therefore, it is of no concern to the Northern capitalists that one of every four citizens in the South is denied real political rights. They are not aroused over the fact that Bilbo was elected by only 15 per cent of those of voting age voting. They know that the South has 40 per cent of the natural resources of the country, but produces only 12 per cent of the manufactured goods. The owners of U.S. Steel know the value to them of the Alabama poll-tax. It helps to keep both taxes and wages low.

In the Southeastern states, eight per cent of the people can neither read nor write. Forty-five per cent of the youth below 24 in Mississippi do not attend school. Northern monopoly capitalism is not disturbed by this, for all of these people can pick cotton, cut lumber, mine sulphur and iron and do the many other unskilled tasks of a region used primarily for the production of raw materials. Furthermore, even though a man is illiterate, he is nevertheless a part of the great national market.

Monopoly capitalism today is not disturbed by the high disease and mortality rate of the South. Even here a profit can be made. All the medicinals (except the quack nostrums) and the coffins are made in the North. While the government was disturbed by the fact that 16 per cent of the men rejected for the Army from the South were rejected because of syphilis and only 9 per cent from the North were rejected for the same disease, such things do not disturb the capitalist marketeers, bookkeepers and bondholders.

These are a few of the problems which the labor movement must face and deal with as it moves into the South. The Southern manager who conducts the negotiations with the unions can sign no agreements until he has telephoned New York. The champion of locally owned industries cannot go far because he too must deal with Northern monopoly capitalism with which he is confronted.

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