Garrett Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Emanuel Garrett

Price Rises Hit Workers’ Pockets

UAW Calls National Stoppage to Halt Price Jump

(22 July 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 29, 22 July 1946, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

With mass indignation running high against the intolerable price situation, union and consumer bodies are organizing a series of protest actions. Spearheaded by the nationwide stoppages called for July 16 by the UAW, plans are taking shape in city after city for a wide variety of action.

Local demonstrations and activities are being organized in preparation for a nationwide Buyers Strike. In New York some 70 organizations have announced five mobilization points from which picket lines will issue on July 23. AFL truckers in Minneapolis are planning a mass "work holiday" on July 31.

Connecticut CIO unions are planning a statewide buyers strike. Philadelphia unions are picketing stores, and planning a mass demonstration. Buffalo organizations are mobilizing mass picket lines. The National CIO Executive Board which is scheduled to meet on July 18, will discuss action on the price situation.

These are actions in the right DIRECTION, and Labor Action calls upon its readers to join in the protest, to participate in the buyers strikes. In so doing, however, we call attention to the fact that a buyers strike is limited in effectiveness and value. As we have said before, it can serve as a noteworthy demonstration of mass anger and determination to halt price increases. To actually hold the price line, and to hurl it back to a reasonable level, more, much more, is required.

A systematic campaign uniting union activity with consumer action on a national scale is obviously indicated. Unless the unions, that is, the organizations of labor, are involved on a national scale and agreed upon an aggressive policy of wage and price action, everything else that is done will prove to have little value. Thus, the proposal made by the UAW, through its president, Walter Reuther, that Philip Murray ask the CIO Executive Board to call for a united labor conference of ALL CIO, AFL, Railroad Brotherhood and independent unions, is the kind of proposal dictated by the situation. In the absence of such a national conference, and it is unlikely that the CIO Executive will call such a conference, it will be up to the individual unions to organize the kind of action that is most meaningful.

A buyers strike, we have said, is a valuable demonstration, but a limited one. What then can be done? First of all, the very actions organized around a buyers strike and similar protests can serve to initiate more effective means of price control: namely, committees of workers’ (union) representatives and housewives to control prices in each neighborhood, and linked for effectiveness through national bodies.

A Basic Program

But that, too, is insufficient. Labor has it in its power to control prices at the source. For example, the 3-point price control program which the UAW is now championing, and in which the central plank is a buyers strike, can be given real meaning only if it’s linked with the GM Program advanced by the union in the General Motors strike. Elsewhere in this issue, you will find a discussion of this program, and its meaning in the present price situation.

The GM Program, in linking wages, prices and profits, in seeking to give labor a voice in determining all three, gets to the very heart of what labor must do. That is to say, labor must intervene directly, and at the point of production, in halting the price gouge. The same goes for all other problems related to the price and commodity situation, and there are many – such as the problem of shortages.

Let us take the Packinghouse Workers Union (UPWA) as an example of what could be done. The packinghouse workers are demanding: (1) $1.00 an hour minimum; (2) A guaranteed annual wage; (3) A cost of living bonus; (4) Elimination of wage differentials. All these are excellent demands. But they could go a lot further towards helping both the packinghouse workers, and the people of the United States generally.

Profiteering in Meat

In their paper, The Packinghouse Worker, they expose the profiteering of the Big Four Packers, not merely in meat, but in butter, eggs and cheese (of which they control about half of all interstate sales). The Packinghouse Worker goes further in exposing the utter callousness of the meat monopolists. Until OPA collapsed entirely, meat was virtually unobtainable – and shortages were as severe a problem as impossible prices. Meat is now beginning to emerge on the market at fancy profit-making prices. But, says The Packinghouse Worker, “cold storage holdings in the United States on May 1 was almost as high as the previous year.” At the very moment when the Big Packers, Armour, Swift and their colleagues, were screaming that meat was unavailable because the workers were on strike or because they had no cattle to slaughter, “total meats in storage amounted to 669,445,000 pounds, approximately 55,000,000 pounds more than on May 1, 1945.”

This bears out the charge made in Labor Action that meat, like wheat, butter, etc., was available, but that it was being kept off the market deliberately by the profiteers in order to boost prices, and also, in this case, to try to whip up a little phoney sentiment against the workers who were making necessary wage demands. It bears out our charge that meat couldn’t get into the black market unless the packers put it there.

And this has every relation to prices! Just as the sudden appearance of butter, which last week was strictly an under-the-counter commodity, has every relation to prices. It means that the profiteers are out to milk the consumer; that they’ll withhold commodities, resort to every stratagem to boost their profits. That is where labor enters.

Suppose, in addition to the four demands the UPWA is making, it added several others in line with the GM Program. Suppose it told Armour and Swift that, in addition to a wage increase, the union wanted the right to examine the books of the company, wanted a voice in determining what profits, prices and wages should be, and that it would not permit an increase in prices. If UPWA did this, it would AT ONE AND THE SAME TIME, be defending the price interests of the great mass of people, and it would be challenging the bankrupt clique of food monopolists who pit their selfish motives against the food needs of a people.

The situation duplicates itself in every industry, in every part of the country. We are not listing the upward movement of prices because anything we print today will be dated, will be too low by tomorrow. Merely as an illustration: Dun & Bradstreet, the Wall Street statistical firm, reports that its daily index of prices for 30 commodities had climbed to 229.6 on July 15 as against 228.9 three days earlier, 219.4 a week earlier, and 178.5 a year earlier.

These commodities represent industries. These industries employ workers. These workers have their unions. These unions could push the price spiral downwards. How? By moving into action along the lines of the GM Program. By organizing labor and consumer action. By coordinating this campaign on a national scale.


Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 4 July 2019