Vince Copeland Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

(20 January 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 3, 20 January 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“When you stop to think of it,” said Shorty out of the blue, How much organizing and managing do the big shots do themselves?”

“They manage well enough to give you a job,” Scissorbill Sam (the bosses’ man) shot back in swift and brilliant repartee.

“A few years back in peacetime, I was carrying the bucket two and three days a week. Looks like this war is giving me the job – not the big shots. Course you could always say they gave me the war, too – so it all evens up.”

“Don’t change the subject,” said Scissorbill, “First you guys think you can get along without a foreman. Next you’ll be saying that the whole of Bethlehem Steel could run by itself. If you had your way, there’d be no one responsible at all. What would you do without leaders? One plant would make too many beams and not enough plates. Another wouldn’t make enough bars. One shipyard would be clogged up and the next one empty. Why, the railroad trains would be piling up on the tracks if you didn’t have a BRAIN to direct them,” he said with a final burst of eloquence.

“Yeah,” Slim said, “Scissorbill’s got something there.” The bosses’ man looked surprised. “You’ve got to have organization all right. You’ve got to have Brains to direct things.”

“There’s a high price on brains too,” Pop broke in. “About 38 million a year for the owners during the war ... They only made 18 million before the war.”

“Well, they’re usin’ their brains twice as much now on account of the war,” said Shorty.

“Must be. Can’t be the cost of living, because that’s only gone up 15 percent.”

“You got to remember the cost of living for brains may go up faster than for stomachs.”

A Fancy Price for Brains

“I don’t know why you fellows should kick about payin’ for a little brainwork,” Slim said. “Although I admit that 38 million bucks ought to buy you some pretty fancy brains. It does seem like a pretty high price to pay just for them tellin’ you how many plates and I-beams to roll, too. But I can’t see where they are telling you that, anyway. They’ve got the government orders now and the pushers are all pushing like hell. As soon as an order is finished they put a bunch of guys back in the labor gang, or lay some off. Then the government or some admiral reorders, and the bosses yell at the War Manpower Commission because they can’t get enough workers. That’s 38 million dollar brainwork for you.”

“You’ve been doin’ okay, anyhow, Slim. You haven’t missed a day out of six for a year and a half. So what if we do all kick in a little bit to give them that 38 million. We’re livin’, aren’t we?”

“Sure, for today, we’re living. But what about tomorrow? And the next year? I have to live ’til I’m sixty or seventy years old – if the flue dust and coke gas don’t get me first. How do I get through all those years yet? Live on the interest?”

“We’re living today because we’re rolling the steel,” he went on. “Can all their brains tell you how long it’ll keep rolling? Do their brains know how to sell steel when the war’s over and Liberty ships are being sold at a dime a dozen for scrap metal? It might not be so bad if they knew what they were doing – these brains. If they could keep the mills percolating as well as the furnaces, make the stuff and roll it out all the time, you wouldn’t kick at the 38 million bucks.”

“Not much, anyway,” said Shorty.

“But the trouble is, they don’t do it.”

“I don’t see anything so brainy about that,” mused Shorty. “If they want to keep making that 38 million a year, why don’t they have enough brains to keep things rolling?”

“Because they can’t,” said Slim. “They can’t do it and make a profit.”

“Now that’s pretty good,” Pop said. “We pay them 38 million dollars worth of profits one year.. And we’re out on our ear the next. Brains is brains. But they don’t look good to me.”

“Oh, brains aren’t so bad,” Slim explained. “It even helps to have a few extra brains around. It depends a good deal on how they’re used – and who they’re used FOR.”

Produce for Use – and Not for Profit

But Shorty was warmed up to the subject now, and he said, “Nope. It wouldn’t do a bit of good. The best brain work in the world don’t stack up next to that 38 million bucks. No bloodsucker is gonna listen to your brains if it interferes with his profits.”

“That’s right, Shorty. So what’s the answer?”

“What do you mean,” said Shorty, “Have Socialism, or something?”

“That’s the general idea,” Slim replied. “If that 38 million dollars is the big obstacle between us and steady work with decent pay, I say let’s eliminate it.”

“Well, if you split up the 38 million among the boys, it would still be profits, wouldn’t it? You’d still have a depression from overproduction and all that, wouldn’t you?”

“Not at all,” said Slim. “The whole idea is we wouldn’t be producing for profit – for sale on the market. That’s the main thing. The 38 million is just an item.”

The fellows whistled. “Sure, we could manage the whole industry ourselves – or pay a few brainy bookkeepers a couple of bucks to do it for us. We’d co-operate with other industries doing the same thing. We’d give them our steel. They’d give us their products. Automobiles, wash-machines, foods and all that – all the stuff we can’t get now because they’re not making any, and probably won’t get after the war either because the boss will lay us off on account of that 38 million dollars not coming in on tick.

“As a matter of fact,” he went on, “we wouldn’t need any superbrains either. We could use the same office force, the same accountants and bookkeepers they have now and double their wages. They get less than we do on the average, anyhow. We could put them to work calculating the amount of our products we can reasonably get out in a year – what we need from the other industries and all. That should be fairly simple. Of course it would mean a sharp fall in the price of BRAINS,” he added. “But you can’t please everybody.”

“Our Steel! Our products!” Scissorbill Sam (the bosses’ man) was aghast. “I’ve heard about enough,” he said indignantly. “Don’t you know this corporation belongs to the stockholders? There’s laws in this country. You can’t do anything like that. It wouldn’t be right. That 38 million dollars belongs to them, not to you – even if you did make the steel.”

“Oh is that so?”, said Slim, all interest. “Well, in that case, just make out like I never said anything.”

But all the same, the fellows thought it might be a good idea, at that.

Vince Copeland Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 5 April 2018