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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

(24 February 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 8, 24 February 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“But look,” young Mike was saying, “a man’s entitled to what he earns, isn’t he?”

“Sure, but you don’t think Eugene Grace earned all his millions, do you kid?” asked Shorty from behind the orange he was peeling.

“Oh no,” Mike said, and he turned a little red, because he was just a kid. Only eighteen. Just out of High School and waiting around for the draft to catch him. But he was twice as big as Shorty and stuck to his point. “But somebody earned it. His father and grandfather maybe. And they passed it on to him and he built it up.”

“So what?” Shorty threw a peeling at Pop, but missed.

“Well, that’s why you can’t take it away from him. It wouldn’t be fair,” Mike insisted.

“Somebody earned it all right,” said Slim. “But it wasn’t him.”

“Well, it wasn’t me,” Mike said with a generous wave of his hand.

“It was your old man, then,” Slim kept on. “It wasn’t Grace’s old man, or his partner’s, or any other big shots.”

Mike thought this was silly. And he said so.

“No ’tain’t,’’ said Slim. “Your old man and mine – and Shorty’s here, and Pop’s and all the working people earned it. Only they didn’t pass it on to us. They had to turn it over to Grace and his pals. When we take things over, we’ll just be taking what’s rightly ours.”

“Oh, I see what you mean,” Mike said, although he didn’t exactly. “But that’s their capital you’d be taking. The workers got paid wages for their labor. The investor had to take millions of dollars and put it into industry to give people those wages.” Mike took economics in High School. And he sounded pretty sharp.

“Just what is this capital you’re talking about?” asked Slim.

“It’s money used as an instrument of production – didn’t you know?” Mike quoted the best school book. And then Slim turned a little red because he hadn’t ever got to High School and hadn’t read all that stuff.

“There’s your instrument of production,” Breezy piped up, as he showed his arm and flexed his muscle. Mike waved him down derisively. Here was one subject, he thought, where these old timers didn’t know a tenth as much as he.

“The way I figure it,” reasoned Slim “is this. A million dollars might be money that someone has in the bank. But if you were to add up all the millions in banks and stocks and bonds it would be more money than there is anywhere. Could you change all that into money at once, Mike?”

“Of course not,” chirruped Mike.

“Then all this capital must be nothing else but factories and mines and the things we work at. Right, Mike?’’

Mike didn’t say anything. And now Slim really got going.

“Let’s say Eugene Grace is worth a hundred million dollars. That’s just the same as saying he owns a lot of blast furnaces, open hearths, coke ovens, rolling mills and such, that anybody’d be willing to pay a hundred million for – if they had it.

“Now you were saying,” Slim went on “that you own what you work for and you’re entitled to it, didn’t you? OK. Who worked to build all those things? Eugene Grace or your old man and mine?”

“Well, of course, they did in a way,” said Mike, a little confused by this strange departure from High School Economics. Then he remembered. “But they got paid for it, didn’t they?”

“You might call it pay. I ball it upkeep,” Slim replied. “They got enough to keep them going, and to come back the next day to work again, and to bring up kids like you and me to work for Grace later on.”

“And what have the workers got,” he continued, “after all that work is over? They got their old age or a grave. Eugene Grace inherits what THEY made. And we inherit the same working conditions they had.”

“Looks like the old boys should have got a better lawyer,” gagged Breezy.

“Say!” Shorty exclaimed. “Look at that strip mill across the way. They just built that ten years ago. Now the company’s making big dough out of it. And where are the guys that built it? Half of them are in the army. Fifty lousy bucks a month” – he threw the orange peelings at the trash box in disgust.

“Yeah,” Slim said after he thought a minute, “all their sweat and part of their lifetime is locked up in that building. And more than that. Remember how a couple of the riggers got killed? Think the insurance paid their widows and orphans what they would have made the rest of their lives? Like hell it did.” He stopped because he was beginning to burn.

Then, he said, “That strip mill belongs to us working people. I don’t care what the present laws say. The working people paid for it with their labor and their lives. And all that was ever paid to them was just enough to keep them going so they could build more mills and run them so Eugene Grace could suck the blood out of more of us than ever.”

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