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Gertrude Shaw

Food or Profits?

Big Business Profiteers and Their Political Lackeys
Join Hands to Soak the People

(12 July 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 28, 12 July 1943, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Senate has overridden the President’s veto of the anti-subsidy bill. The farm bloc has its own ideas on what will further the interests of big business farming.

The extreme crisis on the food front is due to one cause, and one cause alone. The largest private profit interests of the country dominate the food industry, as they do every other branch of the country’s economy. These interests are bent on using the war to increase their fortunes, come what may.

The picture has not been changed because the President has prevailed on the House of Representatives to give its very reluctant and very limited- – if not nominal – agreement to the temporary payment of some food subsidies. Even if the Senate had followed the action of the House in sustaining the veto, the food crisis would remain unrelieved.

To hail such feeble and farcical gestures as a solution of the muddled food question is to play the part of the ostrich. To interpret such misleading maneuvers as a yielding by the rapacious big farm bosses to the needs of the people, is to understand nothing about politics.

Just how ominous the food situation is, is indicated by the recent increase in ration point values on meat, canned fruits and other items. There is no meat to be had for love or money because the cattle kings are keeping millions of pounds of meat on the hoof for higher profits.” The OPA scratches its head and produces a “solution” – RAISE THE RATION POINTS ON THE MOST POPULAR CUTS OF MEAT SO MAYBE PEOPLE WON’T ASK FOR THEM.

The high prices of fresh, fruit put this indispensable food outside the reach of most working class families – the War Labor Board admitting a 57.9 per cent increase in the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables from October 1942 to April 1943. THE OPA “SOLVES” THIS PRICE PROBLEM BY RAISING THE RATION POINTS ON CANNED FRUITS SO THAT PEOPLE CAN’T BUY EITHER CANNED OR FRESH FRUIT. And pours ,oil on the fires , by increasing the prices of canned vegetables.

So critical is the food situation that a milk strike is threatened by the dairy producers.

So tight is the control by black markets that a strike by the kosher butchers of New York City against the poultry ring accomplished absolutely nothing.

So rapidly are prices rising that even the timid leaders of the CIO and the AFL, who hesitate to fight for the basic needs of their workers, have had to warn their smiling pal in the White House. They told the President that there must be a roll-back in prices or there will be an unrestrainable movement by all workers for a roll-up in wages.

Mark Sullivan, shrewd Washington reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, observes: “To persuade the labor leaders not to make their demand, Mr. Roosevelt undertook to roll back prices of food. It was for this he used subsidies.” Mr. Sullivan says that the President’s insistence on present subsidies “appeased the labor leaders” and “prevented them from demanding a general raise in wages.”

But what real grounds are there for labor leaders to feel “appeased?” What reasorf is there for labor not demanding wage increases to meet the stratospheric food costs? What hope is there for a solution of the food mess in all this business about subsidies?

Oh, yes! Food subsidies will allow for a roll-back in prices, we are told. What, of ALL prices? Oh, no! The President is speaking about a roll-back only of the prices of meat, butter and coffee. IF prices of these three items can be rolled back, that will be very nice indeed. Then we can butter our meat, which we can’t get at all, with butter that we often can’t get, and wash it down with coffee.

Seriously speaking, the roll-back proposed by the President is so trifling that it won’t be seen against the mountainous height of all prices. According to the calculations of the United States News, they might save the average family about fifty cents every week. Some saving!

How about all the other necessities of life? There are fruits and vegetables, canned foods and dairy products, shoes, clothing and household supplies? The prices of all these commodities roll up and up and up.

How about quality, on which every consumer is cheated? And the no-grading holiday that the food bosses are enjoying at our expense? All these and many other grievances are part and parcel of the food problem and of the high cost of living. It isn’t a gesture of “appeasement” that the working people want but a real solution!

The workers must understand what this subsidy plan is all about, why Congress first rejected it, and why the House finally consented to a makeshift acceptance only after the President’s veto message to the effect that he didn’t want his hands tied in his attempt to “appease” labor with this gesture of a roll-back in prices, though the Senate still can’t see the president’s point.

The idea of the subsidy plan is to roll back prices without the bosses sacrificing any profits. So that the bosses can keep on pocketing profits in the war style to which they are accustomed, the government pays – with a subsidy out of the U.S. Treasury, which, incidentally, is replenished BY TAXES EVERY WORKER PAYS – the difference between roll-back price profits and former profits.

The bulk of the subsidies go to big business farming, beef producing, dairying, processing. This is true of all government subsidies and benefit payments in general – THE BIG BOYS GET MOST OF THEM. For instance, of the 1943 increase in farm parity levels amounting to $1,500,000,000, big business farming gets at least sixty per cent.

Then why, if the big boys get the subsidies, did Congress – dominated by big business and the farm bloc – oppose subsidies and submit to the President their anti-subsidy bill? The answer is that subsidies are small potatoes compared to the profits that come their way when the big boys set their own prices.

That is also why Congress has been trying so hard to shove the OPA off the map. Weak and ineffectual as OPA price control is, it still is a nuisance to the farming and industrial big shots who like things all their own way.

After the President’s message, the House could not longer hold its former intransigent position. The “representatives of the people” saw the point. It is one thing to pass an anti-strike law over the President’s half-heated veto, after every propaganda device has been used in an anti-labor campaign. It is another matter to ignore the strong injunction of the President not to tie his hands in making this gesture to “appease” not only labor but all elements whom the cost of living has made hot under the collar. The Senate, however, still holds out for a full measure of “rewards for private enterprise.”

That the President has made only a political maneuver is very plain. For nothing has been changed basically. Big business is still in complete control.

The beef producers who keep millions of pounds of .meat off the market for higher prices continue their strike against meat-starved people in the armed forces and in civilian life. IN FACT, THESE ARE THE VERY BOYS REPRESENTED ON THE WAR MEAT BOARD IN WASHINGTON.

The “big four” of farming still practically own and control the land and the bounty thereof – AS WELL AS THE STRINGS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND IN CONGRESS.

No, nothing has been changed! So why should the workers wait around, do nothing, allow themselves to be pauperized by high prices, while the President tries to “appease” the labor leaders with an empty gesture?

The supporters of Roosevelt blame the reactionary Congress for the food crisis. The Republicans blame the New Deal. All this is simply the politics of politicians who alike are dominated by the private profit interests causing food shortages, black markets, skyrocketing prices.

The people themselves must buck these interests. To check the power and lust of big business monopolies in the food- industries – bloating themselves on the life blood of the people – the working people must get into action.

The small and independent farmers, the farm workers, organized labor in the processing industries and the organized housewives, can and must cooperate to bypass the food monopolists who strike at the stomachs of all of us. If the packing and processing industries were nationalized and put under the control of the organized workers there could be no such thing as this strike of powerful meat producers – who are keeping the workers pot empty while supplying the black market.

For organized labor, controlling the processing of meat, would naturally deal direct with the small and independent farmers and cattle, growers, get cattle slaughtered and, through cooperative markets, make meat available to the housewife. The same is true of the processing of milk and dairy products. The same is true of all farm products.


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