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Albert Gates

Ten Million Unemployed Normal, Say Experts

(July 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 30, 24 July 1944, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In our article of last week we considered one aspect of the problem of post-war production and the prospect of unemployment. It was clearly evident that the danger of mass unemployment was acute. The problem is somewhat complicated by the fact that the war is really two in one. Even if the war should end in Europe, say within another year, there is still the war with Japan to be concluded. This situation is merely a guarantee that, only greater confusion will exist than now, while the war in Europe is still on.

Consider this: American industry has undergone a tremendous expansion since the war broke out in Europe. Production exceeded the most optimistic hopes of the capitalist economists, industrialists, government administrators. Raw materials were strictly controlled. Payrolls rose by many millions. All this production was for war purposes. Yet the most interesting thing about this vast expansion of industry and production is that while many billions of dollars were spent for war goods, the production of non-war good also broke all records.

Now the fact of the matter is that the war goods produced by the workers have been so vast that cutbacks are already taking place. They will take place with increasing speed as the months go by.

Last week we reported the announcement made by R.J. Thomas, president of the Auto Workers Union, to the effect that, by the end of 1944, 1,650,000 workers will be put of jobs in the following industries: munitions, aircraft, shipbuilding, steel and aluminum.

It is quite possible that immediately after the close of the war in Europe and the war in the Far East too, a period of continued production and employment will take place. The same thing happened after the last war. The post-war crash came, even though it was a year to a year and a half after the end of the war. There’s the rub. The big crash now may not come until a passage of time after the close of this war, but the prospects are more terrifying than they were twenty-five years ago.

There will be large-scale unemployment in this country even BEFORE a crash comes. This is guaranteed by the expansion of industry and the increase in the working population. The situation has reached the point where government and business economists regard an unemployed army of ten million as “normal”! These experts now say that if unemployment can be kept down to that figure we shall be doing well!

In our first article we cited certain figures to indicate the problem. They will stand repeating. There are today over ten million more workers than in 1940 and the national income (measure of production) is more than forty billion dollars greater. All of this production and employment was stimulated by the great demands of the war.

How Many Million?

If production in the first six months of the post-war period is maintained at the high peacetime level of 1940, there will be a minimum of 11,000,000 unemployed. According to Leo Cherne, economist, the end of the war will witness 12,000,000 workers laid off in war plants.

How can this be avoided? By transferring war production at its present level to peacetime civilian production. Concretely, it means American industry would have to, produce forty to fifty billion dollars’ worth of civilian goods more than was produced in 1940.

Where are the plants to produce these goods? They are right here in the country. They are owned now by the government, having been built for the sole purpose of producing the goods of war. To carry out the aims of the “liberals” and the labor leaders would mean that all these new plants, built and owned by the government, would have to be kept working, with government money, to produce the needs of life and to keep the overwhelming majority of the American workers on jobs.

Can it be done? Yes, with the program advocated by Labor Action. Turn the new plants which big business wants closed or turned over to it for a song, to the unions to operate. Let the plants produce goods under workers’ control. Let them produce consumer goods to provide for the needs of the people and to produce such a wealth of goods as can increase the standard of living of the masses of people to a much higher level.

This is exactly the kind of idea that capitalism fights. The interest of big business is solely in profits. They are not interested in high level production merely to keep factories going and workers employed. They are interested in production only insofar as it is profitable. No profits, no production. And they have made it abundantly clear already that they do not intend a vast production program unless is it profitable.

In the meantime, cutbacks have already resulted in more unemployment than anyone dared think a few months ago. While professional “pay-triots” and labor-baiters go on in their campaign against the workers, factories are closing down, or war contracts are cancelled. Brewster was one example, perhaps the first. Now there are others.

Where workers who become unemployed as a result of cutbacks do find other jobs, they are at a lower rate of pay. The New York Post survey, made of large war firms in the New York area, shows that workers laid off because of cutbacks get new jobs at an average pay cut of $20 weekly.

These wage cuts take place now, in the very midst of the war, and there is no prospect of any relief from these conditions for thousands and thousands of workers. The cost of living continues upward. Wages are frozen. Cutbacks are beginning and unemployment rears its head. These are a grave danger to the American workers.

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