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Emanuel Garrett

Murray, Reuther Pull Back on Pay Raise

(5 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 31, 5 August 1946, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

It is necessary that we be plain-spoken: we have been pushed back in the fight against rising prices! We have been pushed back by Congress; we have been pushed back by Truman; we have been pushed back by Philip Murray and Walter Reuther. We expected this from Congress; we expected this from Truman; we have a right to expect the contrary from Murray and Reuther.

When Truman signed the new OPA bill handed him by Congress he perpetrated a fraud. The new OPA bill is not a price control bill; in many essential respects it is a DECONTROL bill. In fact, its principal provision is for a decontrol board that can lift ceilings. Says the New York Times on its editorial page on Sunday, July 26; “the decontrol board may be a powerful factor and ... the extent to which price controls are continued or gradually eliminated may depend to a considerable extent on the views of its members.”

The new bill extends the life of OPA until June 30, 1947, restores rent ceilings at the level of June 30, exempts from control meat, poultry, grains, dairy products and other key commodities until August 20, creates the three man decontrol board to lift prices AT WILL, establishes 1940 prices (plus “increased costs”) as a basis for new price ceilings. There it is – a price control measure in which only rent appears likely to be controlled – and that not too certainty if the decontrol board decides otherwise.

Already, increases have been granted on any number of commodities. The new bill had hardly been signed when increases were permitted of 8 per cent on one third of shoe output, and of six to eight cents a ton on coal. Since then there have been added increases, the latest being an 11 per cent rise in the price of shirts, shorts and pajamas with OPA officials admitting that these were only “forerunners of substantially greater increases the OPA would be required to authorize.” (New York Times, July 30)

So great a fraud is the bill, that not even those most gifted in deception dare pretend that it constitutes any kind of price control measure. The capitalist press speaks freely of it as fake. OPA officials content themselves with saying that they will do their best which, according to past performances, means that they will regularly allow price boosts.

And this, in our opinion, represents a setback for labor in a double sense. In the first place, it is a setback because rising prices will cut more deeply into income and living standards. In the second place, because labor’s

leaders are retreating although labor is capable of holding prices in line and hurling them back. It is for that reason that we say Murray and Reuther have pushed us back. Having announced that they would seek higher wages to offset the price jump, they have now dropped that plan for some gibberish about “stabilizing the dollar.”

The New Salient

The price demonstrations and buyers senses proved that labor and consumer action could retard the upward swing of prices. A buyers strike is certainly not the most effective kind of action, yet it has been already proved that even this limited form of action can bring results, as we reported last week in an article by David Coolidge. Popular price control committees, united Labor Action, a campaign on wages – these are the measures by which we can defend our interests against those of the profiteers.

Less than two weeks have elapsed since the CIO Executive Board announced its price program. This program was presumably built around the central idea that wage increases had to be granted. We did not like the way in which the CIO Board proposed to get these wage increases, and criticized it sharply in last week’s Labor Action and in a long editorial that appears on page 4 of this issue. Now, however, Murray has dropped the scheme altogether. According to newspaper reports, the UAW leaders feel that a new wage demand would set an inflationary spiral into motion. Read that again, because it is truly unbelievable – especially so, coming as it does from the men in the UAW who proved beyond any argument that General Motors could grant wage increases without increasing prices.

One UAW leader is reported to have said that “We want to be sure that there are still one hundred cents to the dollar.” And this is presumably going to be the basic policy proposed to the International Executive Board of the UAW when it meets on August 5. A laudable scheme, but how does Reuther or Murray propose to make that generality meaningful in terms of pay envelopes big enough to count in buying things. So far, we know only that the campaign to raise wages has been dropped, and that the UAW will evidently continue to advocate buyers strikes.

We are therefore driven to the conclusion that Reuther is backing further and further away from the GM program which he was instrumental in developing for the General Motors. The GM Program had contained a basic element of labor’s struggle against inflated prices and for a decent standard of living: WAGE INCREASES WITHOUT PRICE INCREASES.

Situation Demands Action

The fight on prices cannot be waged from a single direction. It demands a variety of action in which labor and consumers cooperate on different levels of activity. One of these levels is the demand for higher wages to meet the increased cost of goods. Another is popular action organized by committees composed of labor’s representatives and housewives to hold prices in check in the neighborhoods. Another is independent political action, a Labor Party, which will combine political action with economic action to wage our battle on prices as on other issues. Of this there is virtually none in Murray’s and Reuther’s program – none at all in Murray’s, and a little bit in Reuther’s as it pertains to popular price control action.

The situation grows more severe every day. The CIO Executive Board, a body representing millions of organized, militant workers waited weeks to meet. When it met, it devised a program consisting of a few weak, but unobjectionable points, and a central point on wage increases that was very badly stated – and then dropped. Two more weeks have passed and we’ve heard of no important proposals from the men who are delegated by our unions to represent us. Reuther was mandated by his union to ask the CIO Board to call a conference of all the unions, AFL, Brotherhoods and. independent. We doubt that it even came before the Board. In any case, we know that nothing was done about it, and that Reuther is doing little to promote the idea. Time is passing; prices are rising; what are Murray and Reuther waiting for?

We have the right to speak to Murray and Reuther this way. They are men who represent labor. We expect chicanery, double dealing, fraud from Truman and Congress. From the heads of our unions, especially of the CIO unions, we have the right to demand a consistent militancy in the leadership of the masses.

We have the right to demand of our leaders the same kind of aggressiveness and firmness as the capitalist get from their representatives. For example, the meat packers last week warned Truman and Congress that if meat controls were restored there would again be a meat shortage. There’s a lot could be written about that in exposing the operations of this decrepit, bankrupt system of private enterprise: fabricated shortages to keep prices and profits high. For the moment we deal with it from another angle: how the representatives of the packing industry speak in defense of their anti-social interests. Why can’t Murray and Reuther who have millions upon millions behind them, not only in labor’s ranks but outside them, speak in the same tone? Why do they not warn Truman and Congress (yes, and the meat packers, the auto and clothing manufacturers): “DOWN prices, or we strike!” What is wrong with that kind of language for a labor leader? Isn’t that the way labor leaders ought to speak?

We have been pushed back, but not routed. The strength is still with us, and will remain with us. Prices are out of control, but they can be brought into control by action of the people: by a unified union campaign to offset price increases with wage increases; by popular price control committees; by organizing an Independent Labor Party and engaging in vigorous political class action which will win the support of the great mass of people.

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