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Gertrude Shaw

Only Workers’ Control Can End Chaos
in Rationing and Price Fixing

(15 March 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 11, 15 March 1943, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Officials of OPA, discussing price control at a recent convention of some wholesalers’ association, stated that “THE PLAN OF SELF-ENFORCEMENT WILL BE GIVEN A CHANCE IN THE COMING MONTHS.”

This and other straws show the way the wind is blowing. The in-adequacy of the OPA – for long apparent to the housewife – is now becoming clear to the OPA itself. It is passing the buck – to the public. Long ago Labor Action predicted that no bunch of boss politicians, could separate profits from food – so that the latter can be supplied to the masses.

According to government sources quoted in the press this week, fully 17 per cent of all meat sold to consumers in this country is black market meat!

But the “public” – into whose lap the OPA tosses the thorny food problem – is too all-inclusive. It takes in those very elements to whom the crisis in food is a welcome opportunity for profiteering, such as the “legitimate” big-farm bloc and the illegitimate black market manipulators. The “public” includes bankers and brokers, bosses and business men, large chain stores and wholesalers – that fraternity united by the profit-motive, to whom high prices mean more profits.

How Stop Chaos?

The interest of the masses in getting food at available prices can be carried out only by committees of their own – namely, committees of trade unionists, working farmers and working-class housewives. This is the part of the “public” upon whom depend the control of prices and rationing, and the freeing – from the grip of private profit – of food for mass consumption.

The anarchy and chaos reigning on the food front make absolutely imperative the immediate organization and functioning of such working class committees. “Anarchy and chaos” are exactly the right words, the proof of which is far more plentiful than many foods.

Canned and dried foods, for instance, have been rationed at such high point values that many are almost prohibitive. Comes along the American Institute of Food Distribution, a top-notch research organization, with the statements that “the government’s 40 per cent purchase of the 1942 canning pack is open to question” and that “the reserve stockpiles seem to be excessive.”


So – what are the working people to make of that? Is the government right or is the research organization right? Some really reliable research is definitely called for. Committees of organized workers, working farmers and housewives could supply it.

Again, on the one hand the Army buys up the entire crop of No. 1 Idaho potatoes. A couple of weeks later it cancels 50 per cent of the order. Why did it order twice as much to begin with? Where is the rhyme or reason?

Ceilings – and Meat

Beginning April 1 meat, and cheese as a meat substitute, will together be rationed at four ounces per person per day – a ridiculously small ration if you consider what is left of four ounces of meat after it is cooked. How do the workers know that such deprivation is indeed necessary? Certainly the official handling of the food situation to date does not inspire confidence.

Ceilings are being put on meats to become effective with April 1 rationing. Most of the ceilings are an outrage – bacon, for example, being about 58 per cent above 1939 prices. But even such high ceilings are meaningless because the powerful farm bloc does not allow ceilings to be placed on cattle and hogs – from which, as everyone knows, meat comes.

Thus the OPA, which set ceilings on meat, taking profits well into consideration, is still at loggerheads with the Department of Agriculture and Congress, which are pretty much under the thumb of the rich farm corporations – hankering after even greater profits. If the working people are to eat any meat at all, they will have to do something about it – outside the realm of profits and politics.

The above enumeration by no means exhausts the instances of the pandemonium on the food front.

It Is – And It Isn’t

To go on, then. Meat not being available, the housewife is big-heartedly urged to buy chickens – though she is not told where to get the money to pay the fancy prices. But – presto, a poultry shortage also develops. Why? Poultry dealers – with an eye peeled for the most profitable pastures – send their supplies to the markets where the ceiling prices on poultry are higher or where there are no ceilings at all. What kind of ceiling system is this anyway?

To cap the climax, Mayor LaGuardia makes an eleventh-hour revelation that there isn’t so much poultry on hand after all – there actually being in storage now only 55 per cent of the amount of a year ago.

In a recent issue of the New York Times, John D. Morris writes an article under the head: Policing Food Front Up to Housewife in the End.

It is unusual for a writer in the boss press to be so blunt, but Mr. Morris hits pretty near the mark. However, the “housewife” is as helpless as an unorganized individual as a worker is as an unorganized individual.


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