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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

(27 January 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 4, 27 January 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“I don’t care what you say,” Scissorbill Sam (the bosses’ man) was protesting, “You’ve got to have executives.”

“Why of course you have,” said Pop soothingly, “of course you have.”

“Well that screwball Slim says things can run by themselves.”

“Nope, ’taint so,” Pop replied, not making it clear whether he meant it wasn’t so that things could run by themselves, or it wasn’t so that Slim had said they could run by themselves.

Anyway, feeling thus encouraged, Scissorbill Sam got under way. “And even if you had your own executives – Slim was talking about a bunch of two bit bookkeepers – huh! – even so, they’d have to have someone over them, wouldn’t they? Even Eugene Grace has someone over him, hasn’t he?”

“Who?” said Shorty.

“The stockholders!” was the triumphant reply.

“Oh, the thirty-eight million dollar a year boys. Grace is in on that gang as well as being president of the corporation. So he must take orders from himself.”

“That’s only accidental.”

“Pretty happy accident,” Pop chuckled.

“I mean incidental,” snapped Scissorbill.

“Now don’t get excited. What’s your point?”

“The point is that these engineers or bookkeepers or whatever they are, won’t have anyone to make them toe the line. Who’s going to call them to order, who’s going to fire them?”

Who’ll Do All the Firing?

“Well for that matter, who’s going to fire us underthat kind of a set-up? Things’d come to a pretty pass,”said Pop “if there was nobody to fire us.”

“Yes, for that matter, when you come right down to it,”said Scissorbill, looking all around with a challenging look, “whois going to?”

Then he calmed down and was very patient with the fellows. “Whatyou guys don’t understand is that even these big executives,even Eugene Grace himself, has to make out reports for thestockholders. And if they don’t manage the business to show aprofit, the stockholders give them the air.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” said Shorty. “Atleast it’s systematic, if it really works that way. But whatI’d like to know is this – if it really is the executivesthat make the business show a profit, and if the stockholders reallydo fire them if they fail, how come the stockholders get thirty eightmillion dollars a year just for firing people? Why CrabappleJennings, over to the main gate, does all the hiring and firing forthis whole plant, and he makes hardly any more than I do.”

“It’s their plant, don’t you understand?”shouted Scissorbill. “They own it – that’swhy they get so much ... You’d get it too,” he saidgrudgingly, “if you owned it.”

“Yeah, I’ll buy you a drink when I own it. But thatisn’t the point. You were tryin’ to tell us why you haveto have the owners. Sure they are the owners right now. But supposeall of us here, including Scissorbill and all the other workingpeople, was to be the owners. – Suppose we were just asextravagant as the present incumbents and paid our stooges a half amillion or so a year just like they’re doin’ now –we’d still save the thirty eight million profits, which isn’tpeanuts. But according to Scissorbill, we wouldn’t have senseenough to fire these half a million dollar babies if they acted up.”

“I didn’t say that. But who would you have over themto do the firing? A couple thousand jerks like you couldn’tjust walk up in a body and do it.”

“If a couple thousand jerks like me walked up to EugeneGrace in a body, it’d be lots of fun” mused Shorty. “Herecomes Slim. Hey, Slim, if you get this here Socialism, who’sgoing to make these organizers of industry, the bookkeepers and allthat, toe the line ? Scissorbill was tellin’ us they wouldn’thave anybody to prod them.”

“You mean there wouldn’t be anyone over them with awhip, like the foreman over us?”

How We’ll Manage Socialized Industry

“Yeah, I was just coming to that. I was figuring we couldsave a lot of money just to give some guy three or four thousandbucks a year and give him a bull whip. And the only thing he’dever have to do would be crack somebody with it when they got out ofline. That would save us thirty seven million, nine hundred ninetysix thousand dollars. Right?”

“Right,” said Slim solemnly. “But I’mafraid we’d have to spend a little more of our thirty eightmillion than that. In the first place there’d be hell of a lotmore than thirty eight million anyway, but say there was only thatmuch more produced than the wages we’re getting right now, wecouldn’t add all of that onto our wages. We’d have tospend a little making this place a little more decent to work in.We’d get the new wheel on that number two crane right away, forinstance, instead of waiting for the insurance company to make us doit, after somebody got killed.

“As for the guy with the whip. Well, that’s gettingby pretty cheap for us. But it’s too much like capitalism formy taste. We want to produce more than we do today. We’ve gotto have a more efficient system that won’t break down indepressions and bust out into wars. You can’t bring that aboutwith a whip.”

“You mean the capitalists will let us walk in like cowsgoing to clover?” queried Shorty.

“Oh that’s something else again. I’m talkingabout how we’re going to work things – how we’regoing to make production go.”

“We could elect an industrial commission, sort of inspectorson a nationwide scale. Only instead of holding a rule or a pair ofmikes on the margin of a piece of sheet metal, they would have tomeasure up the total production of the whole country. If the steelplants weren’t up to specifications with the auto plants, theguys who were organizing the output of steel would be told about it.”

“There you are,” said Scissorbill. “Thesesuper-inspectors of yours would eat up your thirty eight million.You’d have to give them a damned high wage.”

“I don’t know about that – ” Slim startedto reply.

“Now don’t tell me they’d work for the kind ofmoney you do.”

“Well, the capitalists get their Congressmen to work for ten thousand a year. Thirty eight million dollars would buy thirty eight hundred Congressmen for a year. It ought to buy the services of three or four production experts for the steel industry. If it doesn’t, we’ll train our own experts – send them to a college for expert planners on the understanding that they’d have to work for a measly ten thousand a year when they come out.”

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