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Albert Glotzer

Trends in Wage Levels

(September 1935)

From New Militant, Vol. I No. 37, 7 September 1935, pp. 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Some weeks ago the New Republic printed a chart indicating trends in salaries and wages that is highly interesting and instructive, showing how in the most recent years of the crisis, particularly from 1933 to 1934, salaries increased and wages held their own, after a heavy decline in previous years, despite the supposed aid to wages in the form of the NRA. The figures according to the New Republic are taken from two sources, the Securities Exchange Commission for salaries and the U.S. Department of Labor for wages.

The report on salaries are for the leading officials of the outstanding companies in this country and for wages, the average of the workers in the corresponding industries. Weaknesses in the report are many. It does not contrast the salaries and, wages for the years 1933–34 to the years preceding the crisis. It does not show the salaries for subordinate officials whose incomes are not far below the highest paid officials of any company. Likewise the report, being purely factual lacking any kind of analysis, does not show that for the officials, salaries did not stop with the opening of the crisis not during its entire existence.

Important Facts Omitted

On the side of wages the report does not indicate whether these wages include also foremen, salesmen, office workers, etc., which in most cases would raise the average. As in the above, it does not compare wages for the years 1933–34 with those preceding the crisis. Being factual it does not mention the fact that wages in this period were raised on an average because of forced employment through the NRA and indirectly through government projects. That too would raise the average wage. Such a fact as the years of unemployment and the loss of income for the mass of workers is not mentioned. Thus no average wage over a period of five to ten years is presented. Such a figure would again depress the average to a far greater level than is presented in the report.

Granting all the weaknesses indicated in the above it is nevertheless possible to gather the trends in the report. The report concerns itself with 107 leading companies including such as the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Diamond Match Co., International Business Machines Corp., Montgomery Ward and Co., Pullman Inc., Standard Oil Co., Westinghouse Electric, U.S. Rubber, Goodrich Rubber, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., etc., etc. While the automobile industry and most of the tobacco companies do not appear in the report, steel, textile, coal, transportation and the like are reported on.

Taking the 107 companies the average salary paid to the leading official is somewhat over $61,000 a year, for the year 1934. Ten officials out of this total received between $100,000 and $360,000 (the top salary). Forty officials received a salary ranging between fifty and a hundred thousand dollars while a like number received between twenty-five and fifty thousand dollars. The remaining salaries ranged between ten and twenty-five thousand dollars a year. The inclusion of automobile and tobacco would find additional numbers in the upper brackets, these industries paying enormous salaries to its officials.

Average Wage – $21

In the column of wages the year 1934 reveals an average wage of somewhat over $21.00. Not one company paid an average of $30 a week and certainly not over $30. Fifty-four companies paid wages between twenty and thirty dollars a week, these being divided equally between those paying twenty-five to thirty dollars a week and those paying twenty to twenty-five dollars a week. Thirty companies paid an average of between fifteen and twenty dollars a week, the remaining 23 companies averaged between ten and fifteen dollars a week for the same month.

The figures reveal that the Cluett-Peabody Company paid an average wage of $12 a week, the Beechnut Packing Company $13, Pet Milk Company $13, Phillips-Jones Corp. $12, U.S. Tobacco $14, etc.

All the above figures represent the average for the month of Dec. 1934. While they may not be entirely accurate for a complete survey for all industry over an entire year they do represent the trends in the leading industries.

One thing is positively clear: The owners of industry received either slight losses in comparison to the pre-crisis period, equal salaries or in many instances greater salaries. But not for any period did their salaries cease. The workers, for the most part, suffered losses. In considering these wages it must be borne in mind that the great unemployment periods during a single year would depress these averages sharply, bringing them to even lower levels than the now already low figures when related to the minimum needs of workers’ families, even according to the U.S. Department of Labor standards.

Marxist Conception Confirmed

The collapse of the NRA will serve only to further reduce wages of workers. Almost immediately upon the announcement of the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court a few weeks ago, wages took a sharp drop, hours of work increased, and the general standard of working conditions worsened. The collapse of the NRA, the long periods of unemployment, the increase in the cost of living, the spread of wages to include more than one family, but taking in relatives, etc., all further depress the real average of workers’ wages. The polarization between the owners of industry, the capitalists, and the workers, are presented very sharply in the report. A more absolute analysis than the one presented in the New Republic would only bear out the trend indicated in its report. But the report is sufficient in itself to demonstrate the complete validity of the Marxian conceptions.

The increasing differentiations between the classes pushes for a greater class consciousness on the part of the American working class and their increasing will to struggle. This has already been present in the wave of strike struggles occurring in the last two years. They are bound to become more intense in the immediate future. The heavy reduction of the standard of living of the American workers will only help to drive them further on the road to class consciousness.

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