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Gertrude Shaw

Congressman Engel Discovers Profiteers;
They Are the Workers, He Avers

(26 July 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 30, 26 July 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One of the most common ways of lying is to take a fact which is the exception to the rule, pretend it is the rule, and proceed to draw utterly false general conclusions.

Representative Albert J. Engel, reactionary Republican from Michigan, has been tramping around to war plants – actually only forty-seven out out of the tens of thousands in the country – with pad and pencil in hand, taking down “statistics” of this unreliable kind.

He found a girl of eighteen making $65 a week. He inquired at a bank where workers deposit their pay checks and was told the checks average from $60 to $110 a week. He learned that newly trained tank welders in certain factories are being paid $67 a week. And, horror of horrors, he was told of a machine-gun assembler making $8,741 annually and he remarked: “Think of paying a machine-gun assembler $241 more than the base pay of Lieut.-Gen. Stilwell, who commands the armed forces in the Chinese theater.”

Are High Wages Justified?

“Is there any one in or out of labor circles who can look those facts in the face and justify them?” asked Mr. Engel with a dramatic flourish.

Certainly! Labor Action most certainly can – assuming Mr. Engel’s figures to be facts. The congressman has himself reported – from his personal investigations – THAT CORPORATE PROFITS ON WAR CONTRACTS RANGED AS HIGH AS 53 PER CENT AFTER PAYMENT OF ALL TAXES. So why shouldn’t workers whose toil produces the war material on which the bosses are reaping their war harvest, why shouldn’t the workers get high wages?

We might add that senators and representatives get $10,000 a year. Every workers has a right to ask: Why should these gentlemen receive such high salaries? On the basis of labor and productivity, a good many of these legislators are highly overpaid. As a matter of fact, on the basis of labor and productivity, many of these gentlemen owe the people of the country a large rebate!

Another point worth noting in connection with the salaries of senators and congressmen is that they are decided upon by themselves!

Furthermore, it should be noted that generals would be very unimportant persons indeed – way off in China or anywhere else – if there weren’t these tank welders and gun assemblers who produce materials of war. From the standpoint of basic importance, therefore, the machine-gun assembler actually rates as high pay as the lieutenant-general or general, or at least as a senator or congressman.

What the Workers Really Get

But the workers are not getting high pay. They, therefore, have other things to worry about than the pay of generals. These generals, who have none of the living problems of the workers, seem to get along all right. Here are some facts about workers’ wages which are not exceptions but the rule:

Secretary of Labor Perkins made it known some months ago that in July, 1942, there were 16,000,000 workers in this country making less than $16 a week. ON A YEARLY BASIS THIS ADDS UP TO LESS THAN $850, OR LESS THAN ONE-TENTH THE ANNUAL PAY OF A LIEUTENANT-GENERAL – NOT TO MENTION A GENERAL’S PAY.

More recently – on July 2, 1943 – President Roosevelt stated:

“It is too easy to act on the assumption that all consumers have surplus purchasing power and that the high earnings of some workers in munitions plants are enjoyed by every worker’s family. This easy assumption overlooks the 4,000,000 wage workers still earning less than forty cents per hour, and millions of others whose incomes are almost as low.”

From these facts Mr. Roosevelt has drawn the entirely erroneous conclusion that these underpaid workers must be fooled with such political twaddle as the payment of subsidies to the food bosses. However, what we are interested in now is that the President’s figures must considerably understate the actual case. For we have grave doubts that in one year’s time 12,000,000 of the 16,000,000 workers getting less than forty cents an hour and less than $16 a week in July 1942 have graduated out of that class.

But, of course, Mr. Engel does not want to lower the wages of these sub-sub-standard workers. Perhaps to him $16 a week is about right as the reward of those who toil and sweat to produce the wealth of this wealthiest nation on earth. He’s after bigger game – the war workers who get more than $16 a week.

Average Wages Are Low

But how about that girl getting $65 a week? Is she typical? Are the wages of those $67-a-week tank welders average? Are pay checks of $60 to $110 really the run of the mill? And is not the machine-gun assembler getting more than a lieutenant-general very extraordinary indeed?

Again we call into court official government figures from the U.S. Department of Labor. In September 1942 the average wage in all manufacturing industries in this country was not $110 nor $67 nor $65 nor $60. IT WAS THIRTY-SEVEN DOLLARS AND EIGHTY-EIGHT CENTS. In the manufacture of non-durable goods the average wage was AS LOW AS TWENTY-NINE DOLLARS AND SEVENTY-ONE CENTS. In the manufacture of durable goods the average was higher – FORTY-FOUR DOLLARS AND FORTY-SEVEN CENTS.

Let us assume that all war workers are in the higher-paid category. There is still a far cry between the average of $44.47 and the exceptional figures Mr. Engel puts to propaganda use to beat down wages.

The wage freeze, presidential hold-the-line edict, Little Steel formula, WLB stalling on wage demands and the entire anti-labor campaign have certainly not been conducive to raising the average wage since September 1942.

What has the cost of living and the tax squeeze done to that $44.47? The Consumers Union gives an eloquent answer. A recent thorough survey made by it of consumers in all parts of the country and at different income levels reveals the following:

Workers Face “Actual Disaster”

To meet the skyrocketing prices of food and other necessities – five per cent of the families earning below $1,500 are borrowing to make ends meet; in higher income brackets, 2.8 per cent are borrowing to pay their larger bills; 15 per cent of the lower income families are drawing on meager savings; 11.4 per cent of higher income families are drawing on savings also – 55 per cent in the former category are buying less of everything; in the latter category, 44.6 per cent are buying less food and clothing – all groups are cutting down on amusements and similar items – all groups have to count every penny they spend.

Consumers Union concludes from its survey that a large section of the nation’s population is faced with “ACTUAL DISASTER” – quite a different conclusion from that drawn by Congressman Engel that wages should be reduced.

The real facts mean that the struggle for higher wages is an absolute necessity for all workers.

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