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Emanuel Garrett

For Wage Increase Without Price Increase!

CIO Convention Announces Wage Drive

(2 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 48, 2 December 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The CIO, which met last week in Atlantic City, passed rather quickly over a statement of policy that we consider of the utmost importance. At its Thursday session, the CIO convention formally opened what has been termed its campaign for a “second round” of wage increases. Doing so, it advanced the idea of campaigning for a wage increase without an increase in prices.

It is not our purpose here to estimate the value of this decision in the scale of the entire CIO convention. We leave that to our comrade, David Coolidge, who attended the convention as a reporter for Labor Action and who will analyze the convention as a whole in our next issue. We here take the campaign outlined by Philip Murray and Walter Reuther at its face value and hail it, for it points to the only real direction of coming to grips with the wage-price issue.

Speaking before the delegates, Walter Reuther, president of the United Automobile Workers and a vice-president of the CIO, held that it was the CIO’s job to “debunk the stupid economic theory that you cannot raise wages unless you get a comparable price increase. The whole history of American industry belies the contention.”

President Murray, speaking on the same issue, continued as follows: “We believe that American business is now extracting enough profit out of its various enterprises to enable them to make substantial wage concessions without necessarily increasing prices.”

Toward Raising Labor’s Living Standard

Both Reuther and Murray are absolutely right. For the CIO to make that the pivot of its wage campaign is an encouraging sign. For Murray to join in raising the demand is especially encouraging. As recently as last winter, Murray opposed that concept. Through the manner in which he settled the steel strike, he contributed to the government-industry policy of stealing wage increases won on the picket line by raising prices.

American industry is more than capable of paying higher wages – not merely higher wages to compensate for the rise in the cost of living, but higher wages of a kind that will RAISE THE STANDARD OF LIVING. To go after that is a legitimate, and basic, object of unionism.

Effecting the demand, however, requires something more than merely stating it. Murray, Reuther and the other leaders of the CIO are in a position to realize that demand, for they have behind them the organized strength of millions of workers who will respond with enthusiasm to whatever is demanded by such a campaign. And the demand itself is many-sided, including actions aimed primarily at cancelling the deadly effects of rising prices and other actions aimed at raising the standard of living of the people.

For example, there is already a wide sentiment in the ranks of labor, AFL and CIO, for an escalator clause, that is, a clause that will provide for a boost in wages with every periodic jump of the price graph. Curran of the National Maritime Union stated his objection to the escalator clause on the ground that it would mean “our standard of living will become static.” Only if the labor leaders make it so! The escalator clause is a starting point, one that can overcome the immediate problem of inflationary prices that are in their effect cutting wages, wiping out gain, and depressing living standards.

In our opinion, a nation-wide campaign to write an escalator clause into every union contract cannot only be successful; but, in its success, it will rank among the greatest achievements of the labor movement. Obviously, the escalator clause by itself is insufficient, however great the advance it would mark. The point is that it can be given greater meaning by a parallel campaign for wage- increases without price increases.

How Will Campaign Be Conducted?

Hence the value of the CIO campaign as stated, but not outlined, by Murray and Reuther. A little less than a year ago it inspired the General Motors workers in their magnificent strike. Though their demand fired the entire labor movement, they were left to continue the fight alone, and so had to retreat. Embraced by the whole of the CIO, as is now proposed, it can become the rallying cry for such a demonstration of union solidarity and victory as the country has not before seen.

There we come to the heart of the weakness in the Murray and Reuther position. It appears to us as though the campaign was not implemented by any course of action or plan of campaign. Even at the convention, Reuther’s speech can hardly be said to have, been as effective as the arguments he advanced last year on behalf of the General Motors strikers. The figures were clear, the argument unanswerable, the logic demanding action by its very inner drive. And that time it was linked with such a necessary and reasonable demand as Open the Books.

We missed this, the spirit as well as the actual content, in the speeches at the CIO convention. We are. not here dealing with Murray’s fuzzy thinking or reasoning on behalf of the campaign. We accent the campaign as stated by the CIO leaders at its face value. However, to be genuinely meaningful it requires some statement of direction. And that was lacking, except for a declaration that “there is no threat of strike in the offing,” and a feeble protest that the big manufacturers can get away with statements in the public press for which labor leaders would be denounced.

If there is no threat of strike in the offing, just how does President Murray mean to effect his demand? We are not here implying that strikes have to be called immediately. Calling strikes, when, where and how, is the business of the labor leaders and of the rank and file in the unions who judge their own needs. We are not calling strikes in the columns of our paper! But it does seem to us as though the situation calls at least for the “threat” of strikes, unless Murray has some other real surefire way of achieving labor’s demands. Reuther said something about a war chest of $10,000,000 to counteract the well organized and wealthy campaign of the financiers and industrialists. This is hardly a staggering sum for so huge a purpose. If anything, it is modest, for we assume it would be used to unite the strategy of all the CIO unions in an active campaign.

Labor Will Appear as Leader of the People

Commenting on the General Motors strike demand last year, we hailed it as a demand of extreme significance, marking a new stage in the development of the American working class, the sense of which would lead labor to further demands and higher achievements. We took it for our own use and, calling it the GM Program, made it the number one demand in our price-wage program.

By it we understand all such other demands as necessarily flow from it in order for it to be effective – such demands as Open the Books. By its very nature, it invades the prerogatives of capitalist enterprise, for it can only mean that labor demands a voice in the determination of wages, prices and profits. It is a sign of tabor’s maturity, its ability to reorganize society and, in our opinion, leads to more advanced struggles against the machinery and sanctity of monopolist private enterprise.

The importance of the CIO’s statement, if carried through to effective agitation and realization, has broad implications. Among other things, it will reverse the trend of the elections, in which many sections of the lower middle class and farm population moved away from labor to the side of big business. Such a campaign as is now contemplated will demonstrate, as did the GM strike, that labor is the leader of the people as a whole. Standing on the simple demand for a wage increase without permitting a corresponding (and usually it is a greater) increase in prices will be proof that labor speaks for the great mass of people. Thus, behind this demand can be rallied the support of all but those handful of social bankrupt – industrialists, meat monopolists, landlords, etc. – whose class rule actively operates against the welfare of the people.

The consequences of the CIO position, if put into practice, can be far-reaching in changing the American scene and in raising the standard of living of the people. We therefore applaud its decision and look forward to its implementation.

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