J.R. Johnson

Next Step in Meat Crisis Up to Labor

“Free Enterprise” Is Sacred Only
to Those Who Profit from the Misery of the People

(21 October 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 42, 21 October 1946, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“The dread specter of malnutrition is stalking the streets of this city. The children of the city cannot get meat. It is a crime that cattle can roam the plains and that meat cannot be obtained here. It is a conspiracy against the American people, and I indict the meat industry for it because they can get meat to the dinner table in spite of any regulations. I know the American public will not stand for it ...

“Let us remove the duty until the meat barons are on their knees. Let us do anything until we get these people thinking the right way, the American way.”

Who is this speaking? Is it Max Shachtman, revolutionary socialist candidate of the Workers Party for Congress??

No. It is the Democratic majority leader of the New York City Council, Joseph Sharkey. Was it merely the usual talk to fool the people? It certainly was talk to fool the people. But it was not “merely” talk.

The City Council actually passed a resolution demanding that the government seize all the meat. These Democrats and Republicans, capitalist to the bone, passed the resolution with only two votes in opposition. The workers should note this resolution well and see what it implies.

Cattle Private Property

Cattle today is private property. Meat is produced by what the capitalists are always calling “free enterprise.” Yet here they are telling us that the robber capitalist barons are using this private property to conspire against the people and starve their children. In addition, they propose that the government seize the private property, that is to say, make it state property and use it for the people’s needs.

Why they should say this is not too difficult to understand. The people of New York are really mad at the meat shortage. The Councillors do not know what to do. Therefore they issue this proposal. They are pretty sure, of course, that the government will do no such thing.

And this is exactly where the workers come in. There is malnutrition, there is a conspiracy by the robber barons. The meat ought to be seized. At any rate, the robber barons ought to be brought to their knees. We agree. But here we separate ourselves sharply from the City Council. It is the poor and the workers who suffer. They are the ones who should act.

Labor Leaders’ Role

Murray, Green, Reuther, these leaders of 15 million organized workers, don’t they know what the New York City Councillors know? Why don’t they propose plans to bring the conspiring robber barons to their knees?

The organized labor movement in the U.S. is the most powerful social force in the country. It can investigate the meat situation, find out what meat there is in warehouses, place this meat under its own control, discuss with the farmers the price not only for meat but for the industrial goods the farmer uses, discuss with the truck drivers and railwaymen transportation of this meat.

If the meat industry is nationalized, the workers can even arrange with the small butchers, retail distribution of the meat. That is the program. And if the workers want to, they can do it tomorrow.

Sacred Hogwash

The fact remains that the sacred principle of private property is now being recognized as sacred hogwash.

There is yet another aspect to the question. Let us admit that the whole labor movement is not ready today to take the action we propose. If it is not ready it is because for all these months the labor leaders have done nothing to prepare them. The crisis continues.

But let us suppose that in Detroit or in Pittsburgh or Los Angeles some sections of the workers, in a disciplined manner, and in combination with housewives’ committees and other consumers’ bodies, carried out an action against one of the big packing companies.

Startle the Government

That would startle the government into immediate action of some sort. That is the only kind of resolution that robber barons and capitalist politicians really understand and respect. For the rest, the politicians talk and the robber barons sit tight.

No. The solution rests with the workers. And more and more the whole situation is pushing the country to realize that new and drastic steps are needed to solve its problems.

The New York Times is deeply disturbed at the resolution of the City Council. It has a right to be. It says:

“It is not difficult to understand why the Communist members of the City Council voted for this resolution. But that men should vote for it who profess to believe in the private enterprise system, in private property rights, and in the constitutional guarantees of due process of law is an ominous sign of the direction in which die-hard retention of wartime controls may drive us.”

OPA a Joke

But the retention of wartime controls is not die-hard at all. OPA today is a joke. The kind of control that should be instituted and retained is workers’ control. The private property system is breaking down. The government plays at control. Frantic capitalist politicians shout for government control and thereby still further discredit the so-called free enterprise system.

Yet the crisis continues. The workers should realize that the next step for them and for society is their own control. For, to confine the issue to meat, if the workers controlled the meat, they would not conspire to deprive themselves and their children of meat, and they would have no reason to deprive even the robber barons of a steak, richly as these scoundrels deserve a few days of the thin diet to which they condemn the people.

Last updated on 8 July 2019