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Emanuel Garrett

Price Control Action Is Still Major Need!

(12 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 32, 12 August 1946, pp. 1 & 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

We could be mistaken, but we think there is a deliberate attempt to play down the price situation. Reports that we receive from various parts of the country, and a careful check of the daily press, indicate a kind of silent attempt to produce an atmosphere of apathy in face of the nation-wide price gouge.

For several weeks the daily press played the price situation up big. It reported in great detail the death and “revivification” of OPA. It told the story of rising prices and gave columns of attention to the buyers’ protests. Not so this last week. Less and less space is being given to the most vital news issue before the American people: prices. The object, whether by organized design or instinctive reaction on behalf of the manufacturers, real estate lobbies and business men’s associations: keep it quiet, discourage action, try to make the people accept the situation.

The Workers Party and Labor Action, however, do not propose to let the issue die. It is for us the number one issue before the American working class. If the price steal demanded action a week or two ago, it demands it more strongly today. Comb through the papers and you will find, hidden somewhere on an inside page, a casual item about prices going up. But that, of course, isn’t necessary. Everyone of us is a buyer. We know how the dollar has shrunk in purchasing power because what was 10 cents before is now 20 cents or more. It may be a dying issue for the press, but for every housewife in the country, except for that useless handful who wallow in luxury, it is a daily issue of the gravest importance.

What to Do

OPA is not going to hold prices down. We therefore must depend upon ourselves. And in this situation it is labor that must give the lead. Buyers’ strikes have already demonstrated their effectiveness: where butter, for example, has piled up in the ice boxes of the grocers, prices have come down a little. But buyers’ strikes have also demonstrated their limited usefulness. Something more is required, and we say that this something more is: POPULAR PRICE CONTROL COMMITTEES, organized on a community basis, composed of labor representatives and housewives, tied together through union headquarters and other channels on a city-wide and nationwide scale.

CIO News this week reports that labor has suffered a 15 per cent wage cut since a year ago March. The CIO News quotes the U.S. Department of Labor publication, The Labor Market:

”Settlement of most labor-management disputes in manufacturing left the average factory worker who had three dependents with about 11 per cent less ‘real’ wages – purchasing power – in March 1946 than he had a year before.”

The CIO calculates another 4 per cent wage cut as of today, making 15 per cent in all. Add to that the drop in take-home pay which the CIO reports as 8.9 per cent in one year (from an average of $47.12 in April 1946 to $42.92 in April 1946). For hundreds of thousands of wage earners the drop and cut have been even greater. Obviously then, wage increases are required, and it is to the shame of such labor leaders as Philip Murray and Walter Reuther that they have dropped their projected campaign for a boost in pay. It is therefore up to us to raise the question in our unions, to place the matter of wages on the union agenda.

But no one line of action is sufficient. Especially in this price situation must we take action such as will make LOWER prices. It is disgraceful that, powerfully organized as labor is, after the many battles it has waged, we must now seek to MAINTAIN our living standards when we should be engaged in RAISING them.

Popular price control is both feasible and meaningful. Committees representing labor and the consumer, organized to talk turkey to the business man, checking on prices, planning action on whatever scale is demanded – these are prime requisites today.

How shall we organize them? The buyers’ strike proved one thing above all others: the people are ready to respond to any sensible campaign. Take any working class community: the housewives get together, select their representatives. At the same time, the unions representing the workers living in the community, delegate men to work with the housewives’ committees and put the power of the unions behind the action they undertake.

These committees will check on prices; they’ll tell the little dealer who says he is powerless what to tell the big dealer who is behind the robbery; they’ll watch for such dodges as the advice, reported in Union Voice, a New York labor newspaper, of a nationally-known firm to managers of its fountains and restaurant concessions: don’t raise prices, but cut a quart of ice cream to make seven sandwiches instead of five, add cole slaw to a 25-cent roast beef sandwich and sell it for 30 cents. That kind of dodge is practiced in many more places than restaurants.

Repeated on a national scale, and we have a weapon of organized consumer action that will bring results. Combined with other types of action aimed at controlling prices at the source, and we can lick the price gouge. So – let’s take it up in the union, let’s discuss it in our neighborhoods. Let us organize POPULAR PRICE CONTROL COMMITTEES.

Above all, let us not be deluded into accepting the self-defeating pessimism that nothing can be done. Let us not gradually sink into accepting, with a helpless sigh, rising prices. LET’S DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

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