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Emanuel Garrett

Price Steal Wipes Out Picket-Line Gains

Hold the Line on Prices!

(18 February 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 7, 18 February 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Steel is holding out for a price increase. General Motors won’t settle until it is guaranteed a price increase. Tugboat owners in New York won’t talk wages without a prior commitment raising prices. Meat packers have already signed with the union, but they are getting a price increase or government subsidy that will more than offset the wage raise. The list could be extended endlessly.

That is the industry-government pattern today: wage increases that don’t come near satisfying the workers’ needs, price increases that wipe out such wage increases as are granted. The pattern holds for industries that were forced to sign some sort of wage agreement through the picket line action of aroused workers. It holds for industries, like steel and GM, that have yet to sign. Steel and GM are merely carrying the ball for big business.

Last week we summed up the situation in the following words: WHAT LABOR IS WINNING ON THE PICKET LINE IS BEING STOLEN FROM LABOR IN WASHINGTON. We repeat it this week, for that is exactly what is happening.

The industrialists were out to smash the price ceilings from the start. They knew that they would have to grant some kind of wage increases because the facts of inadequate wages and stupendous profits were too blatant. They meant, however, to keep these wage increases to the merest token level. And to more than get them back through price boosts.

If the wage increases are now of any size above a gesture it is because of the tremendous wave of strikes that began with the notable action and demands of the GM workers. If the government-industry conspiracy to scuttle price ceilings entirely has been in any way retarded, it is because labor – again, most notably, the GM workers – fought for the price interests of the great mass of people.

The Truman administration is now tinkering with a “new” formula to settle the price-wage dispute. There is nothing new in it, because it is a repetition of the old and outrageous Little Steel formula. The “new” plan calls for government control of wage increases. Combine that with the obvious Little Steel pattern already set in wage awards – in every case they amount to about 18½ cents; combine that with Truman’s “fact-finding” scheme, and you can’t help but see that it all adds up to a rotten WAGE-FIXING formula.

The net result: wages will go up so much and no more; prices will eat away every cent of the wage Increase and possibly a few more; take- home pay will be lower; real wages, a workers’ ability to buy food, clothing, shelter, etc., will go down.

There is something more that needs to be added at this point. It ties in with the whole price conspiracy. Try to buy a suit, stockings, no master what. Almost everything is hard to get. Apartments and houses are almost impossible to find. Queues line up for blocks to get nylons or shifts.

If these articles arc now scarce, it is partly because the manufacturers are holding out against the certainty that they will wangle price increases from THEIR government. Why produce and sell now, When, in a few months, prices and profits will be so much higher. That’s capitalist logic. The other part of the explanation is that capitalism admits its inability to produce for peace as it did for war.

What can we do about this? A lot! And we proved that on the picket lines that covered the nation.

Labor has demonstrated that it speaks best for the interests of the poor farmer, of the great mass of the people, in prices and related matters. Who put the issue squarely before the people? The GM workers in their perfectly legitimate demand for a wage increase without a price increase!

Labor has demonstrated more than that, however. Its picket lines threw a scare into industry. And it need not have given way on its original demands for genuine wage increases, if its leadership had continued to lead picket line action instead of bustling around Truman.

All the signs indicate that steel will get an increase of $5.00 or more per ton. That increase will pass right down the line until it is paid for out of the people’s pockets. More price increases than we can list have already been granted. Real estate profiteers have held back on new building until they can discard rent ceilings, and that point they have virtually won. Naturally, Truman is industry’s man. Congress is industry’s agent. It is the government of the manufacturers, the real estate sharks, the packers.

What are the answers then? There are two, and the two are intimately linked with one another.

We can do neither by playing around with the capitalist politicians of Democratic or Republican hue. We can do neither by dancing every time Truman (before him Roosevelt, after him another representative of capitalism) calls the tune. We can do neither until the leaders of our unions are forced to quit wasting their time in governmental council rooms, until they are made to break sharply with the capitalist politicians and embark on a course of INDEPENDENT POLITICAL ACTION.

We need the same kind of spirit in political action as kept the picket lines strong and powerful, as is still keeping the GM picket line solid. Independent, militant, political action! That we must have. In the concrete, that means an INDEPENDENT LABOR PARTY, running LABOR candidates, mobilizing the political strength of labor and uniting that political strength with economic militancy.

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