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Gertrude Shaw

Food – Or Profits?

Workers Must Take a Hand in Critical Food Situation
to Decide Which It Shall Be!

(January 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 2, 11 January 1943, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Malnutrition and actual hunger threaten the working people of this country – unless the production and distribution of food is taken out of the hands of the capitalists and politicians. The burning question of food for the people is now clearly defined: Will the people eat – or will the food barons be allowed to accumulate profits as usual, and better?

Even bread and milk – the mainstays of life – have not been exempted from the selfish machinations of the economic and political bosses working hand in glove. The new year has been ushered in with boosts in the prices of bread and milk!

In the case of each of these indispensable foods, the OPA and Mr. Wickard claim that it was a toss up between raising prices, paying government subsidies to the private owners of these food industries, or cutting down their profits. THE GOVERNMENT CHOSE TO BOOST PRICES SO THAT PROFITS SHALL CONTINUE.

The statement at the beginning of this article that malnutrition and actual hunger threaten the American working people is no propagandistic gag.

James Staniford, a Washington correspondent writing for the magazine, American Mercury, states: “the United States has the greatest food producing plant in the world. In spite of it, however, Americans face hunger and all that the word implies – -malnutrition, bent and ill-formed bodies, increased susceptibility to various types of physical ailments and a lack of stamina and staying power.”

Mr. Staniford failed to add that this calamitous prospect is due – along with “the unusual demands of the war – to the fact that the production and distribution of food is the source of enormous private profit for a bunch of bloated capitalists and bankers who also dictate political policy.

Borden Profits

An instance in point is the 1942 profits of the Borden Company which amounted to ELEVEN AND A HALF PER CENT a share on the market value of its stock. Such profits, however, do not stay the hand of the OPA from ordering an increase in milk prices to FIFTEEN CENTS A QUART in the New York area. Nor do such swollen profits bother the conscience of the dairy bosses.

The Vice-president of the Borden Company hastens to inform the public that “Whatever adjustments are allowed, the industry will take advantage of them, because it has been too hard hit not to welcome this easement of a difficult situation.”

The difficulties of the Borden Company resolve themselves into the aforementioned eleven and a half per cent profits on the market value of its stock.

The price-raising order of the OPA which applies to milk in the New York, Chicago and Duluth-Superior areas, will soon be extended to include Boston and other Massachusetts districts, Denver, Si Louis, Toledo, Memphis, Louisville, Kansas City and areas in Indiana.

Higher prices for milk will, of course, affect the already exorbitant prices of butter and cheese. Furthermore, there is talk in Washington about reducing the butter-fat content of fluid milk, thus giving the consumer even less food value for the twenty per cent increase in price.

The Department of Agriculture – Mr. Wickard’s bailiwick – in 1941 issued a statement that scarcely one family in four had a diet that measured up to a satisfactory level. Will increasing the price and decreasing the quality of milk improve this alarming situation in 1943 – which was already worse in 1942 than in 1941?

The ten per cent increase in the price of wheat flour just allowed by the OPA will also be passed on to the consumer – in spite of Mr. Wickard’s fancy plan to keep bread prices the same. Just whom is he trying to fool? Wickard bread will contain less sugar, milk and fat. And if it will be sold unsliced, that will constitute an element of waste. Every housewife knows that slicing bread at home involves considerable waste. Neither will putting a few vitamin pills more into the flour make up for the decrease in the food value of bread. Honest doctors and dietitians are exploding the idea that pills can take the place of vitamins in their organic form as contained in food. Price of Bread

But the big baking companies are by no means satisfied with these “minor” ways of robbing the consumer. They will not pass up the opportunity for an outright boost in the price of bread afforded them by the OPA increase in the price of wheat flour. Big business bakers are right on the job pushing with all their might for higher bread prices.

Higher prices that are transformed into more profits, must mean less; consumption of the necessary foods. What else can this procedure result In? Malnutrition and actual hunger will be the ghosts at the feast of war profits. Mr. Wickard himself reported to the President in 1941 that to provide every American with a satisfactory diet there would be needed for consumption 50 per cent more milk, 12 per cent more eggs 33 per cent more tomatoes, citrus fruits and other vitamin C products, and 80 per cent more leafy, green and yellow vegetables.

Will the price-boosting policy of the OPA and of Food Boss Wickard – to allow big business “adequate” profits – help the people get the required food? Or will not the deplorable situation existing in 1941 – which became worse in 1942 – grow truly alarming in 1943?

Because the bosses of the food industry will not produce food except for profit – the government has chosen to raise the prices of all foods so that the Borden Company and its brethren may not be interrupted in the fascinating pastime of scooping up profits to the tune of eleven and a half per cent.

Profiteering Sit-Down

The people must remember that in the early days of the war program the big bosses would not accept government contracts for war goods until certain profit returns were assured them. Today, as many workers know from their own experience, the bosses are more concerned with “COST PLUS” than with anything else. The question must therefore be put: Can the production of the wherewithal of life be allowed to remain in the hands of these profit-seeking citizens?

Rationing is, of course, absolutely essential. But if the production of food is permitted to remain on a guaranteed profit basis, the people will never be able to tell what are actual food shortages, and what are shortages due to big business “sit-down strikes” for more profit.

Price fixing is also absolutely essential. But with the bosses and politicians in control, how are the consumers to know what prices are fair prices?

There is no other way out: The food industries must be under the control of the people themselves through committees of workers and working farmers. Rationing and price fixing must also be carried out by committees of workers, working farmers and housewives.

This is no program for some distant future. In 1943 there will be such suffering from lack of food as this nation has not known – unless feeding the nation is undertaken by the people themselves.

This program will benefit the city and farm workers, the small retailers and small farmers. Such a step will mean more and better food for every man, woman and child. Only big business will be irritated by the controls on its criminal profits.

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