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Harry Allen

Workers Relief Organizations to

Take Politics Out of Relief

(January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 4, 24 January 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Immediately upon the liberation of any area by the armed forces of the United Nations, the population thereof shall receive aid and relief from their sufferings, food, clothing and shelter ... to the end that peoples once freed may be preserved ... for the tasks and opportunities of building anew.” (Preamble of the United Relief and Rehabilitation Administration)

But there is no Santa Claus. Actually, food and other relief is dispensed as a political weapon by the United Nations; more precisely, by those of the United Nations which must provide the supplies.

Such relief as is now being issued in “freed Sicily” (which represents less than 1.5 per cent of the population under Axis control) is meager and a demonstrated failure.

On the island of Ischia, for instance (population 32,000), the people are “eating far less and a smaller variety of food than they had before the armistice”. (Chicago Daily News)

Throughout Allied-occupied Italy, emergency feeding continues to limp to this moment. Inflation and the black market aggravate the miserable situation of the hungry masses. At the outset AMG announced that TAXES in Sicily would be CONTINUED and tax revenues used to help pay for relief. Thus the expectation of the starving people that relief would be unconditional was soon shattered. They began to see that American intervention butters no parsnips. For food is a weapon of the counter-revolution in Europe, of which the United States is the spearhead.

Relief a Political Weapon

As a matter of fact, no one should have any illusions about American objectives in relieving Europe, from “freedom from want.” Ex-Governor Lehman’s first declaration, upon assuming direction of the Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation was to the effect that relief was a matter of feeding people to prevent revolution.

AMG indicated its role with equal clarity: To prevent “anarchy,” to restore “order,” to “establish” local authorities, to suppress any possible clashing of rival political groups aiming for power (that is, to suppress any revolutionary uprisings), AND THEN to feed the population. And that IS the way AMG and other agencies have actually functioned in Africa and in Sicily to date. Moreover, AMG, Washington’s instrument, further exposes its role, with subsequent discreditment among the masses, because of its reliance on and association with the upper Italian bourgeoisie and fascist elements.

Moreover, meager as actual relief is, even potential relief is in an important measure almost certain to be wiped out because numerous government agencies conflict with one another. For instance, AMG expected much of the work would be carried by OFRRO. However, the military quickly stepped in, presumably for ninety days, after which the civilian OFRRO was to take over. However, military control soon extended itself to six months, the prevailing situation. And AMG’s policy is to retard, where it cannot suppress, the workers’ independent actions and movement.

Further, OFRRO itself purchases food only as allocated by the War Food Administration. When AMG took over, WFA cancelled OFRRO allotments. Besides, other government agencies enter into the picture to help emasculate European relief. There are the representatives of Lend-Lease, the Navy, the Office of Economic Warfare, the Treasury and the Office of Foreign Economic Coordination.

Food ... But —

For instance, the policy of Foreign Economic Coordination is especially crude. It objects to food being extended through any political group which does not enjoy the approval of the State Department. Thus it virtually declares that food IS being used, and is to be used, as an instrument of international imperialist policy by the United States government. That is, to force starving millions into accepting U.S. policy and objectives in Europe – or go hungry!

But even aside from this, Hallett Abend writes: “When it comes to food, the bald prospects are that in most of the newly liberated lands there will be a full diet only for nursing and expectant mothers and for essential labor. The young, the old and the non-essential elements will have to forge for themselves.” Further, the government hopes to cover future food relief failure in Europe, in an important degree, by talk of a “food shortage” in the United States. Thus, a report of federal agencies states that food supplies will remain low for at least two to three years after the war, and even says that the United States can “easily sink to the level of downright hunger.”

The American workers must strongly register their objection to the policy of the American government, which is ready to permit starvation of great numbers of European workers who are determined to strive independently for their own democratic, social and working class objectives.

To what degree unconditional relief is possible has yet to be fully shown. But certainly, in the circumstances, the American workers must call upon and demand that the United States government provide the fullest relief to the starving European masses without attaching political or other conditions to this relief. In order to prevent abuse, discrimination and reactionary use of government relief, the American labor movement must demand that the labor unions be assigned responsibility and control of the distribution of relief, in conjunction with any existing and arising bona fide labor organizations in the respective European countries.

The American labor movement mast, be concerned to try to establish its complete independence of action in this field. It is a fact that the capitalist government will always attach or try to attach conditions to the actions and propositions of the labor movement. The aim is, of course, to curtail or nullify the independent aims of the working class. It is also a fact that war conditions make it more plausible for the government to say that it must control all shipping, all relief, etc. However, there is involved on this issue of relief the right and principle of the independent organization and action of the working class on behalf of its class brothers in other countries.

Moreover, the American labor movement must be concerned with stimulating the independence of the European masses in their struggles and to demonstrate working class solidarity between the working peoples of all countries. Therefore, even if necessarily limited in resources, the American labor unions and other workers’ organizations ought to aim to establish an independent workers relief organization, preferably a single, united labor relief body, to raise money, food, clothing, etc., to aid the starving European workers (and also starving peoples in other countries). Such workers’ relief organizations should demand the right themselves to administer relief to the European masses to insure that there will be no discrimination against European labor. As a minimum, such a workers’ relief organization should insist on its representatives being on hand in any country receiving relief in order to aid in and guarantee the fairest, most impartial distribution of relief to the workers and peasants.

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