MIA: History: ETOL: Document: SWP-US: 12 National Convention of the SWP-US

The Fight to Defend the Workers’ Standard of Living

Supplementary Resolution of the Struggle Against Inflation

Adopted: November 12-18, 1946
First Published:January 1947
Source: Fourth International, New York, Volume 8, No.1, January 1947, pages 24-25.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Daniel Gaido and David Walters, February, 2006
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

The monopolists have launched an all-out offensive to bring down the workers’ standard of living through sky-rocketing prices. Their pliant tools in Washington have accommodated them with an OPA which in reality gives government sanction to the upward spiraling of prices. The workers’ purchasing power is declining rapidly while the war-fattened monopolists continue to pick up billions in profits.

The terrific impact of the brazen price-gouging attack by Big Business is arousing ever broader layers of the workers and consumers generally to the realization that they must fight back through their own organizations and with their own program. Protest demonstrations have been held. Wage increases have been demanded. Buyers’ strikes are spreading. Consumers’ committees are forming. However, these struggles are as yet localized and uncoordinated both in program and in organization.

It is the task of our party and every class-conscious worker to introduce into this movement clear objectives and correct methods for an effective struggle. Toward this end we recommend the following:

1. The Sliding Scale of Wages

Our central transitional slogan for the unions in this period of inflation has been and remains the sliding scale of wages to meet the rising cost of living. This slogan has already taken hold in some sections of the trade union movement.

The powerful Goodrich Local 5 of the CIO United Rubber Workers in Akron has raised a demand through its newspaper for the sliding scale of wages. In Detroit, the General Council of Ford Local 600 and the Briggs and Budd locals of the CIO United Auto Workers have likewise raised this demand. Similar action has been taken by the Executive Board of UAW Local 659 in Flint and the AFL Cannery Workers and Fishermen’s Union in San Diego. Numerous other unions are bringing forward a demand for the sliding scale of wages. The CIO Packinghouse Workers Union has raised a modified version of this demand by calling for a cost-of-living bonus to meet the rising cost of living.

These concrete examples of the application of the demand for a sliding scale of wages should be freely applied in introducing the slogan within each local union and in the general agitation for the demand. Those unions which have already adopted this demand should be urged to bring pressure for its adoption by the rest of the trade union movement. For example, local unions should bring pressure on their parent bodies by means of resolutions, telegrams, letters, delegations, etc., as circumstances permit. Similar action should be taken to spread the demand within the central labor bodies in each locality and the various union conventions. Publicity should be sought both in the labor press and the capitalist press. This can be done through formal union statements, through articles by individuals and letters to the editor from unions and individuals. When the time is propitious, organizational expression should be given to the campaign for this demand by forming inter-local caucuses of the unions favoring the demand.

The pressure of the workers has already compelled Murray, Reuther and some other top union officials to raise the issue of wage increases to offset rising prices. Every possible advantage of this opening must be taken to demonstrate that in the face of inflation limited wage demands on a fixed basis are utterly inadequate. There is only one effective wage demand in this period—the sliding scale of wages, an escalator wage clause in all union contracts to provide automatic wage increases to meet the rising cost of living.

2. The Sliding Scale for Veterans

Inflationary prices play havoc with the standard of living of all groups in the population who are compelled to live on a strictly limited income. Especially does this apply to veterans who are receiving unemployment compensation, attending school under the GI Bill of Rights, or drawing disability pensions. In addition to the demand for trade union wages for veterans in the above categories, the workers must raise immediately a demand for a sliding scale of compensation to meet the rising cost of living. The trade unions and veterans’ organizations should raise an immediate demand for legislation to provide such a sliding scale based retroactively on the price index at the time the GI Bill of Rights was passed.

This demand could be applied also to cover unemployment compensation for all workers and to cover old age pensions, widows’ pensions, etc., both state and federal.

3. Committees of Prices

Committee for struggle against high prices, originally sponsored by the Stalinists and some sections of the trade union bureaucracy, have recently been formed in many localities. The Stalinists and the trade union bureaucrats have sought to use these committees as a substitute for a renewed fight for higher wages. Price committees operating with a correct program are effective as a means of struggle parallel to the fight for higher wages, but they cannot be a substitute for the fight on the wage front.

The activities of these committees have included protest demonstrations, buyers’ strikes, picketing of merchants, demands for government price control, etc. These committees have so far been loosely organized and more or less local in character. Nonetheless, they have already had the effect of drawing large numbers of people into direct struggle against price increases.

The program imposed by the Stalinists and the trade union bureaucrats is false and can lead only to disillusionment and frustration among the masses. Buyers’ strikes are extremely limited in their effectiveness because the worker is in any case able to buy little more than the bare necessities of life and these he must have. The callous withholding of meat from the market for many weeks by the big packers in their fight against price control already demonstrated to what lengths monopoly capitalism will go in starving the people to protect profits. Picketing of small merchants can have real effect only if it is used as one step toward the exposure of the real robbers, the big trusts.

It is the task of every class-conscious worker to participate in committees on prices, to initiate them where none exist and to imbue them with a correct program and with militancy in action. Through these committees an alliance can be forged among the industrial workers, white collar workers, veterans, professional people, and even the farmers and small merchants in their capacity as consumers. The object of this alliance must be to demand its own control over the fixing of prices, since the government has already demonstrated that its price-fixing measures are a fraud.

The following are some of the steps the committees on prices could take in their struggle against high prices: They should demand the cooperation of the retail merchants in the fixing of prices. Those merchants agreeing to cooperate could be supplied special display cards to indicate their pledge of cooperation. Regular checkups on prices should be made to see that the pledge is kept. Merchants refusing to cooperate should be picketed. Experience has shown that independent merchants usually cooperate, while chain stores most often refer the committees to the “home office.” Thus the role of the trusts quickly reveals itself in this limited form.

Even if the retail merchant is willing to cooperate, he is limited by the price he must pay to the wholesaler. The committee must therefore demand that the retailer open his books and reveal the price lists of the wholesalers with whom he does business. This step brings the committee face to face with the wholesaler from whom they must likewise demand a pledge of cooperation to control prices.

The wholesaler in turn is limited in his ability to cooperate by the prices he must pay the manufacturer or processor. Therefore, the committee must demand that the wholesaler open his books and reveal the price lists of the manufacturers and processors with whom he does business.

By this process the committees ascertain the financial operations and profit margin of each capitalist in the chain beginning at the point of distribution and extending to the point of production. Finally they will reach the big monopolists and demand of them that they open their books. By this means the workers will be able to prove that the real reason for high prices is the exorbitant profits of the capitalists.

In the books of the monopolists will be found the evidence to prove who are the real big-time profiteers. In these books will be found proof of withholding goods from the market and deliberate destruction of goods to create artificial scarcities; collusion to corner markets; adulteration of products; super profits; fantastic executive salaries and bonuses; stock swindles; huge expenditures for anti-labor propaganda; payrolls for industrial spies; huge sums spent for advertising as a means of controlling the press and radio; lavish expenditures for lobbying in state and federal legislatures; huge contributions to the capitalist political parties; mammoth tax steals; funds used to corrupt officials; and numerous other devices for controlling the government, the press, and the radio in order only more ruthlessly to plunder the general population.

The struggle for control over the fixing of prices has meaning only if linked to the demand for the opening of the books. This demand, which will be fiercely resisted by the profiteers, will thus become the point of departure for the whole unfolding struggle. This struggle will assume the most variegated forms, such as picketing, demonstrations, boycotts, publicity exposes, demands upon the politicians to support the committee in its struggle, proposals to clean house on the non-cooperating politicians, etc. We can best develop the present unfolding struggles along these lines.

As recent experiences have already demonstrated, these struggles have been essentially local in character. As the local struggles assume a sharper and more politically defined character, we will have an opportunity to broaden the movement on a regional scale. And at a further stage, as the struggle between the workers and the profiteers becomes intensified in character, the question will necessarily be posed of uniting the local and regional organizations into a national body of struggle.

4. A Unified Conference of Labor

Only the labor movement can rally the broad mass of consumers to carry on this fight. This pressing task, along with the other key problems of the workers, emphasizes again the urgent need for a broad United Conference of Labor embracing the CIO, AFL, Railroad Brotherhoods and other unions. Such a conference could coordinate and broaden the struggle to defend the workers’ standard of living. Such a conference could launch a united struggle for a sliding scale of wages to meet the rising cost of living. Such a conference would coordinate the fight of the committees on prices to control the fixing of prices. Furthermore, a broad United Conference of Labor would give an impetus to the building of an independent labor party.