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Priorities Joblessness Faces
2 Million Workers

Monopolies Oppose Expansion of
Production Facilities and Try to Limit Supplies
of Raw Materials for Small Companies

(August 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 34, 23 August 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Close to two million men and women will be thrown out of work within a few months as a result of “priorities unemployment.” They will be added to those now unemployed, numbering, according to Secretary of Labor Perkins, between 7,000,000 and 8,500,000 workers.

Attention was focused recently on “priorities unemployment” by the closing down of the women’s silk stocking factories. Plants employing 175,000 workers have been ordered closed. This was caused by the government order forbidding trade with Japan and the requisitioning of the stocks of raw silk on hand for military use. No reserves of raw silk, which comes entirely from Japan, are on hand, in spite of government promises to build up such reserves. Nylon plants can supply only a fraction of the demand for silk.

Besides the silk industry, “priorities unemployment” has already directly affected thousands of oil and aluminum workers. This latest form, of unemployment threatens particularly the auto, refrigerator and electrical appliance industries.

Jobs of all workers employed in non-war industries using steel, oil, aluminum, iron, copper, brass, zinc, nickel, tin, rubber and cork are also endangered.

“Priorities unemployment” arises from the government policy of granting preference to the war industries in the rationing of limited supplies of raw materials. As a result, plants working on non-military products are forced to curtail production: and in many cases shut down completely.

On July 19, 1941, Leon Henderson, federal price-control administrator, ordered a reduction of 50 per cent in the manufacture of autos to begin by October. According to the United Auto Workers Union (CIO) this would mean a lay-off of 215,000 workers.

Production of household refrigerators will be halved, throwing more than 27,000 out of work, while more than 3,000 workers will be unemployed as a result of curtailment of the domestic laundry and related appliance industry.

Sixteen thousand aluminum-ware workers are already unemployed.

Transportation Lack

Many industries will suffer from insufficient raw materials because of lack of train and boat transport facilities. The recent order of Secretary of Interior Ickes, closing all gasoline stations on the Eastern seaboard from 7 P.M. to 7 A.M. every day was due not to a shortage of gasoline but to insufficient tankers to bring the gasoline to its consumer outlet. In the city of New York alone 5,000 workers lost their jobs because of this decree.

Industries as far removed from war production as printing will feel the pinch of “priorities unemployment.” On July 21, 1941, the OPM predicted a shortage of most types of paper due to lack of ships to carry newsprint and pulp from Canada.

Industries using copper have had their supplies of this metal curtailed due, among other causes, to shipping difficulties which interfere with transport of refined copper from Chile.

The OPM foresees that the transportation situation will become more serious as rail and boat lines become congested with defense shipments.

A probable shortage of electrical energy in certain regions is expected as aluminum and other large consumers of electricity receive priority. Production of non-priority plants will suffer.

Small Concerns Hit

Particularly hard hit have been and will be the small plants producing consumers’ non-priority goods. In Illinois, for example, a state commission disclosed that 24 such plants producing articles as diversified as watch parts and railway cars and employing a total of 3,569 workers face complete closing within 60 days at most. These small plants have great difficulty in getting government orders, as 75 per cent of this work is monopolized by a few large concerns.

Not only will the workers directly engaged in manufacturing lose their jobs, but salesmen, warehousemen and other workers as well.

An indirect form of “priorities unemployment” will result from the recent curtailment of installment selling. Automobile production will be particularly hard hit as 64 per cent of the output in autos is sold on installment: 60 per cent of all furniture and more than half of all mechanical refrigerators and other household appliances are also sold “on time.”

Capitalist Anarchy

If we leave aside silk, shortages of steel and aluminum are at present the greatest causes of “priorities unemployment.” Yet, on July 10, Walter S. Tower, president of the American Iron and Steel Institute, falsely declared that there was no sound factual basis for expecting any shortage of steel. The steel monopolies are deliberately trying to maintain their dominant position by curbing competitive steel production. The big steel officials are trying to foist on the public the view that there really is no practical need for wholesale increases in capacity.

I.W. Wilson, vice-president of the Aluminum Company of America, stated before the Temporary National Economic Committee that his company alone could not only supply all aluminum needed for national defense but also “ordinary domestic requirements and normal requirements.” The OPM has given the lie to this statement by admitting the need for 2,100,000,000 pounds of aluminum in 1942, while ALCOA has a top productive capacity of only 700,000,000 pounds.

Workers Protest Planlessness

The AFL and the CIO have both protested the threatened job losses. The Auto Workers Union (CIO) and the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (CIO), whose member are most immediately and directly affected, have launched campaigns to resist “priorities unemployment.”

By the example of “priorities unemployment” and similar lessons, the workers of the United States are learning that capitalism cannot overcome its anarchy of production, which is inherent in the profit system, even in the face of its greatest emergencies. America’s 60 Families, in their mad greed for profits, not only cannot put millions back on the job, but on the eve of direct involvement in the war are throwing millions more out of work.

Thus, the capitalists are attempting to place the burden of their own incompetence on the workers in the form of unemployment, goods shortages, monopoly prices and real wage cuts.

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