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Ernest Lund

In This Column We Discuss the Need for a New Economic System

Parade of Milkmen

(March 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 11, 13 March 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Not long ago Nancy Nathan had an article in Labor Action on One Engine or Three? It revealed that the Big Three of the auto industry each supplied their own make of engine to the government to be used in the same type of tank.

Reading this over my breakfast and thinking about it, I heard the tinkle of bottles as the milkman made his long way up the stairs to our fourth floor apartment. On the way down he stopped to exchange greetings with the milkman who delivered milk on the second floor. A little later in the morning, I knew, I would hear a merry whistle as the milkman who delivered milk on the third floor arrived (he always whistles). Whether still a fourth milkman takes care of the family on the first floor I have never found out.

But with the Three Engines or One? article still fresh in my mind, I began thinking about the milk delivery situation.

“Bloody Murder,” Yell the Bosses

I want to propose a system of milk distribution that will REALLY be economical and efficient, but which would cause the milk companies to yell bloody murder.

Why do we have to have Company X deliver on the fourth floor, Company Y on the third floor, and Company Z on the second floor? Why do we have to see three different milk wagons in one block at the same time? Why does the Company X man deliver in one house, then skip three, and then deliver in the fourth house? And why does Company Y man come two blocks out of his way to make one delivery in the entire block, and that one perhaps on the third or fourth floor? Why are there trucks and wagons from five to a dozen different companies from different parts of the city which make their way to our neighborhood every morning to deliver milk?

Did someone say we should cut out waste? It could be done – if we also cut out profits. This is how we could go about it.

We could divide the city into districts of somewhat equal size. Each district would be small enough for one truck or wagon to cover. The milkman would serve his customers by going to every house and every floor. He could probably cover as many stops in half the time now required. In addition, he would save time now spent in driving around in a large area with customers scattered all over. If the milkman who whistles were assigned to my block, I would know that when he entered our building he would leave milk on floors one, two, three and four, and the building would be completely covered.

Some Good Questions

But wait! Someone says, how would we divide the city between the different companies, and how do you know I would get as good milk from the company given a monopoly in our neighborhood? And if there were no competition, wouldn’t the companies lose initiative and not give a damn about how they serve their customers? These are important questions and we won’t dodge them, because they lead right to the heart of the question.

Who said anything about “different companies”? What do we need different companies for? “Having different companies is just as wasteful and as much a duplication as three men delivering three quarts of milk in one house. Each company maintains its own fleet of trucks running in from the country. Each has its own plant, each its own set of books and accounts, each its own expensive advertising, etc.

But how would we get milk if kind-hearted capitalists didn’t go into business to supply it to us? (At a “reasonable” profit, just for their trouble, you know!) Well, how do we get water?

What if we had eight or ten water companies supplying New York City with water? Each would insist upon the right to lay its pipes in city streets wherever it had a customer. And when the customer moved tear them up again and lay them elsewhere!

Or perhaps a customer had read an advertisement by the Pure Hokum Water Co. that its water “contained Vitamin Q, enough in one glass to equal a beefsteak” – and was convinced and decided to change water companies. The pipes would be torn up all over again. This would be some mess.

Crazy? Not much more than three men delivering three quarts of milk in one building.

How It Should Be Done

Now to get back to distributing milk. We say, let the city take over the milk companies. What, says someone, and let a lot of politicians run it? But who said anything about politicians? They don’t bottle or deliver milk. So what do they know about it in the first place.

Let the men upon whom we depend for our daily supply of milk run it through their democratically elected committees. Yes, the bottlers, the sterilizers, the pasteurizers, the chemists, the truck drivers!

Don’t they know far more how it is done than either a gang of politicians in the City Hall or a gang, of idle rich getting Borden or Sheffield dividends mailed to them down in Florida?

But wouldn’t all the milk be the same? Yes, of course. That is what we want. Now we have good, bad, and indifferent milk. Under such a set-up we would have only good milk. We would have a board of chemists who would set certain standards for butter-fat content and other tests and all milk would be kept up to the required grade.

But wouldn’t the politicians conspire to get their hands on this set-up and use it to squeeze more graft out of the people? Yes, of course they would. They would be drawn to it like bees to honey. AND THAT IS WHY THERE IS LITTLE HOPE THAT SUCH A SYSTEM WOULD WORK IN THE MIDST OF CAPITALISM.

Socialism cannot be introduced piecemeal. All the experiences of the European socialists have proved this, not to speak of experiences in this country, as in Milwaukee. And that is why I won’t eat my heart out trying to devise a means ONLY of having one, instead of three, men deliver three bottles of milk, in our building. Because what is true about milk is just as true about almost everything else under capitalism.

I demonstrated this point in my little pamphlet, Plenty for All. However, the milk situation is an excellent example of how capitalism wastes and how socialism could plan. The real job today is to spread the ideas of socialism, organize the workers in their own political party, and establish a workers’ government that will wipe out capitalism with its waste and be able to plan production and PLENTY FOR ALL.

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