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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

“... And This Is a Boa Constrictor”

(25 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 47, 25 November 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Boa constrictors are nasty creatures, and, along with several slimy Virginia Military Institute graduates we ran across in the ETO, are nothing a person would want to have around the house. But they are interesting reptiles to study, nevertheless. Any serious practicing capitalist must certainly find much to admire in them. They’re so well adapted for the job they have to do.

For instance, the jaw of the boa can be unseated permitting it to engulf animals several times larger in diameter than itself. Of course, after having swallowed a whole pig, say, the huge snake is temporarily sated and lies around torpidly for hours on end blissfully digesting its meal.

And therein the snake reveals itself as inferior to the capitalist, whose appetite is insatiable. Not for pigs, of course, but for profits, which are the capitalist’s food and drink.

The latest juicy morsel they are slithering up on is the last survivor of the OPA program – rent control.


What they want is very plain: “a 15 per cent overall increase in rent ceilings and immediate elimination of rent ceilings on new residential construction.” This proposal has been taken under advisement by the OPA – which in more truthful language means that rent controls will be lifted shortly.

Veterans to Be Hard Hit

Veterans will be among the hardest hit for, in general, they have less money to pay rent increases with and are in greater need of new residences.

The Census Bureau recently conducted a survey in New York City and eight surrounding cities and towns which statistically shows the plight of the veteran. The results are revealing.

Of the 765,000 veterans covered by the survey “150,000 married veterans last summer were living doubled-up with friends or relatives or, in. certain areas, in tourist cabins, trailers or rented rooms. Only three per cent of the married veterans owned their own homes, and one-third of them had purchased these homes following their discharges from service.”

In spite of this crying need, however, only “18 per cent of the veterans said they could afford to buy or rent new quarters under prevailing conditions.” Only two per cent “declared that they planned to buy or build homes in the next year if the present prices and quality of housing prevailed.” What these percentages will be once rent controls are lifted is not hard to imagine, especially when it is understood that the veteran’s average weekly wage at the time of the survey was $40.


Action Is a Paramount Need

There is dirty weather ahead for the consumer. Just how rough it’s going to get depends upon how long the veteran and other consumers permit the big real estate operators and their congressional cronies to hold on to the helm.

Every veterans’ organization worth its salt should now be drawing up a program to meet the coming assault. The rent strikes which have begun in the West, anti-eviction squads, the squatters’ movement and militant actions for a national governmental housing program are steps in the right direction. Labor is the natural ally of the veteran and should be approached for the formation of a common front.

The veteran in the shop and in his union must popularize the movement for a sliding scale of wages, the escalator clause, the cost of living bonus, or similar measures designed to permit wages to keep abreast of soaring prices. He must know the history and the significance of the UAW program centering around the slogan, “Wage Increases without Price Rises” and introduce the concept into the active thinking of the union membership.

Hope, trust, and prayer have never yet stayed a boa constrictor intent upon gorging itself. Similarly, only direct action by the working class, supported by middle class consumers, who are likewise being victimized by the bounding prices, can put an end to appetites which know no limit.

always and under all circumstances opposed to government interference. Not at all. For example, they would like the benefits of certain tax exemptions on new housing. Again, while they will brook no meddling by the Federal Housing Administration in private enterprise, they heartily approve of FHA as an insurer of mortgages. They are perfectly willing for the government to take the risks of private enterprise.

Effects of Rise

How do the strike of the real estate industry, the lifting of rent ceilings and controls on new housing, and a fifteen per cent rent boost affect the veterans and the rest of us? The government has estimated that about four million veterans wanted to build, buy or rent a home this year. With only 800,000 units begun by September, no wonder a group of Pacific veterans at a recent reunion suggested the slogan: “We’ll rent a tree by fifty-three!”

The removal of rent and price ceilings on new homes will make them prohibitive for practically everyone who needs them most. Ceilings now on new homes limit rentals to $80 a month and purchase prices to $10,000 – at least theoretically. According to government statistics, those veterans who want to rent homes have average earnings of $44 a week. Certainly they cannot afford to pay $80 a month for rent. The veterans who would like to buy a house average $48 a week in wages or earnings. People in this income level buying $10,000 homes simply become slaves to their homes for the best years of their lives. So the present situation is bad enough. Now imagine what it will be with all ceilings and controls off.

Finally, it is absolutely impossible for the working people as a whole to absorb a fifteen per cent increase. Already the discrepancy between wage increases and price increases has drastically cut the standard of living. According to government figures, which, be it remembered, never favor the workers, wage increases since 1941 amount to thirty-three per cent in hourly rates, while the cost of living has gone up forty-six per cent. That is neither an accurate picture of the wage nor the price situation.

The hourly rate increases tell nothing about reduced hours and reduced take-home pay. And every housewife can tell you that the cost of living has gone up a good deal more than forty-six per cent since 1941. However, these figures, unfavorable as they are to the worker, still show wages as far behind the cost of living. It is unthinkable for the workers to shell out for a fifteen per cent rent increase.

Such considerations, however, have not deterred the OPA’s Housing Rent Advisory Committee from submitting to the OPA three proposals which could have been written by the National Association of Real Estate Boards. This committee recommends to OPA (1) Elimination of rent ceilings on’ new housing and on converted housing; (2) systematic and progressive removal of property from control where owners offer tenants leases at increases of not more than fifteen per cent; (3) an immediate over-all fifteen per cent increase. These are the measures that OPA is now considering.

There are rumors that OPA will want an overall ten per cent rent raise to the landlords. Intolerable as this Would be to tenants, it would not be acceptable to the real estate interests. They want their full demands, and the administration will give in, as it did to the meat industry. The outcome of the election has by no means stiffened the backs of the executive branches of the government.

For Direct Resistance

Relying on themselves, as they have to, what will the working people do to counter the latest raid on their wages and pockets? Undoubtedly, from coast to coast, there will be a storm of demands for wage increases to close the gap between wages and the cost of living. But there must also be direct resistance to the landlords through tenants’ committees working with the unions and taking planned action not to pay rent increases.

Finally, the housing shortage calls for removing the problem from the hands of the profit-poachers and for a government spending program of at least $250,000,000 to construct badly needed homes and public buildings in the next five years. How else can the people hold what they have and get more of what they so urgently need?

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