James P. Cannon

The Capitalist Offensive

Written: July 1931.
First Published: Editorial Notes, The Militant, New York, Vol. 4, No. 13, 4 July 1931, p.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. Additioanl bound volumes from Earl Gilman’s collection, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (January 2012).
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Wage cutting began with the first manifestations of the crisis and has been proceeding ever since at a continually accelerated pace. For quite a while this practice was masked by denials and all kinds of subterfuges. The notorious conference of employers and labor leaders at the White House, at which the solemn pledge to maintain wage standards was issued, was the first big smokescreen behind which the movement began. It was followed by a campaign of reductions all along the line. But the fiction of holding up the levels was maintained, and the wage cutters resorted, primarily, to indirect methods, such as laying off and rehiring at reduced rates, in order to conceal the actual trend.

But now the process of beating down the living standards of the workers has reached a new stage. The figures on wage cuts are accumulating in such a volume that the facts can no longer be hidden or denied. And there is no point in it, for the exploiters, emboldened by the practical absence of labor resistance, have begun a real assault on the wage scales. They are coming out in the open with this policy.

This was indicated several weeks ago in the blunt declarations of the leading bankers that wages must come down still further. In these statements the keynote of capitalist policy was sounded, and the offensive against labor standards began to widen its scope. The figures of the Labor Bureau, Inc., show 185 wage reductions, averaging about 10 percent, and distributed over 175 manufacturing enterprises, for the single month ending March 15. The campaign continues in full swing. The pious sermonizing of the early months of the crisis about keeping up the wage scales is giving place to editorial apology for the lowering standards.

The New York Times, the most influential and authoritative organ of the capitalists, salutes the program of retrenchment at the expense of the workers and recommends it to them. “Economists and practical men,” says the Times editorial of June 7, “are not all agreed that it has been wise ... to insist upon the maintenance of high wages.” And not only that. The Times does not think it “wise” to insist on other conditions and standards which interfere with the workers’ efficiency as profit-makers for the bosses.

“Is it not fair to ask of them that they contribute something to the general effort to tide over the days of hardship?” it asks. They haven’t contributed enough yet. So now, according to the Times, they should “yield something in the way of special privileges, and even arbitrary rulings, which have been established in good times, but which might be relinquished or modified.” In this sugar-coated declaration of war there is the essence of the capitalist policy for the ensuing period: an unbridled offensive against the workers.

Will the workers fight back? Will they take up the defensive struggle on a wide front within the year? There are a few signs of such a development, but they are isolated and sporadic as yet. It must be admitted that a serious defensive struggle, involving masses of workers, has not yet begun. The Department of Labor figures just published show fewer strikes in the year 1930 than in any year since 1918. Six hundred fifty-three strikes and lockouts last year against 3,630 in 1919 give a comparative picture of the state of labor activity. The first three months of 1931 showed 146 strikes and lockouts, a slight decline from last year’s low average.

These figures, taken by themselves, may well prove to be highly deceptive. The capitalists, proceeding full swing to a further attack on the workers, are quite likely to collide with an explosive factor hidden behind the bare figures of the strike movements for the past fifteen months. The figures alone take no account of the accumulation of grievance and discontent as yet unexpressed and therefore unspent. It is by no means assured that the new encroachments will pass unchallenged. On the contrary, they are more apt to bring matters to the combustion point.

The capitalists, bent on loading the burden of the crisis onto the backs of the workers, are preparing thereby the necessary conditions for a labor revolt. In this way they will convince the workers, as propaganda has been unable to convince them, that there is no way out but to fight. Under such conditions the prospect of a series of stormy battles, of which the American workers have many times shown themselves capable, is by no means unreasonable. In that event the communists would get a hearing the like of which has not been granted before.

Last updated on: 5.1.2013