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Gertrude Shaw

Food Shortages and Price Rises Spell Hunger!

We Must Control Food Production!

Labor and Working Farmers Must Control
Rationing, Prices and Food Production

(1 March 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 9, 1 March 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

With the rationing of canned and dried foods beginning March 1, we get a realistic idea of the extent of the food shortage.

The consumption of items which have been the backbone of the American diet will be cut down to 43 per cent of normal. From 30,000,000 cases of canned fruits and vegetables each month civilian consumption will be slashed to 13,000,000 cases.

Back in November 1942 James F. Byrnes, economic stabilization director, was very reassuring. “A POSITIVE PROGRAM THAT WILL GUARANTEE OUR PEOPLE THE BASIC LIVING ESSENTIALS THAT THEY MUST HAVE AT PRICES THEY CAN PAY,” is what he promised.

That was only sand thrown in the eyes of the worried people. From March 1 on an individual will get for his 48 points a month one small No. 1 can of peas, one small can of tomatoes, one large can of peaches – and that is all of such vegetables and fruits as are so extensively used – THAT IS ALL FOR A WHOLE MONTH.

The housewife is told not to be panicky. She to assured that the stores are bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables that she can buy instead of the rationed canned foods. But can she?

Realizing the cynical humor implied in the advice to housewives to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at prices beyond her capacity to pay, the OPA hurriedly placed “emergency price ceilings” on fresh tomatoes, snap beans, carrots, cabbage and peas.

Why “emergency ceilings” were put on these five vegetables alone, only the great minds in the OPA know. IT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH THAT HUMBUG CALLED PARITY.

That is why such common vegetables as lettuce and sweet potatoes are excluded Irom the “emergency ceilings.” Others, like, broccoli and spinach, aren’t covered because they are limited in quantity anyway at this season of the year – so why not let the prices go merrily up?

But even with the “emergency ceilings,” which are effective from February 23, the prices of the five favored vegetables are exorbitant. String beans cost 23 cents a pound, cabbage nine cents a pound, tomatoes 27 cents a pound, anemic carrots 10 cents a bunch, half-empty green peas 15 cents a pound. These are A&P Supermarket prices in New York City.


Just what is a working class family going to eat?

Meat is almost unobtainable and when obtainable, untouchable because of price. Fish is very dear. Butter and fats are, scarce. Supplies of dried beans and dried peas are already 20 per cent below normal. The high point values of ordinary prunes and raisins – so indispensable for certain minerals and vitamins – will make them prohibitive.

Mr. Byrnes’ “positive program that will guarantee our people the basic living essentials that they must have at prices they can pay” – has gone the way of all such official “guarantees.”

The Kiplinger Washington Agency, circulating its weekly letter privately to business men, made a most interesting disclosure about the food shortage in its letter of February 6. Mr. Kiplinger informed his paying clients that even if there were no lend-lease demand and no drain into the armed forces, the USA could not supply the 1943 food requirements, because food production in this land of plenty HAS BEEN GEARED ON THE BASIS THAT ONE-THIRD OF THE NATION NORMALLY GOES HUNGRY.

Increased employment for war production has put wages into the hands of wageless millions, placing them in the market for food. Without the demands of the armed forces and lend-lease, the government estimates it would require the cultivation of 30,000,000 more acres of land to be able to feed all three-thirds of the nation! But food production has shrunk while war production has expanded. And, there IS the drain of lend-lease and of the armed forces.

The Roosevelt Administration has known right along about the peacetime curtailment of food production. But instead of doing something to get more food produced, it issued false and frequent assurances to the people. The only perceptible food policy that the government has consistently followed is to yield to the demands of the rich farm corporations growing richer on the war.

The menacing mess of food shortages, outrageous prices, black market cornering of scarce goods, is the result of government bungling plus aiding and abetting private-profit manipulations. The present food emergency is an unequivocal condemnation of the government, its agencies and big-business-farming corporations.

This is only the second year of war for the American people and already hunger lurks around the corner. All the signs point to a long war. What will another year of war bring if food control is allowed to remain in the hands of big-business-farming corporations with the government in their tow!

The working people must take certain urgent measures on their own and in their own behalf. Committees of workers, farmers and housewives just have to get into action.

These committees are a crying need to expose and smash the black markets that get the cream and half the milk of available supplies, thus making a mockery of rationing. Such committees must start functioning not only to keep prices from rising but to effect price cuts so that working people can buy what there is to buy.

Furthermore, committees of small farmers and workers must get in on the ground floor, contest the profit manipulations of the big-farm bloc, and get people’s control of he production of food as an elementary step for self-preservation.

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Last updated: 13 February 2015