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Susan Green

Of Special Interest to Women

(29 June 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 26, 29 June 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There has been great jubilation in Leon Henderson’s price-fixing department over the results of a special study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the cost of living for the period since the so-called ceilings want into effect. Mr. Henderson – after first offering his resignation to the President, presumably because he couldn’t do the impossible job of fixing prices – now pretends to be rubbing his hands with satisfaction. “At last the upward movement in living costs has been checked,” he says.

But this department of Labor Action responds: “Says who?” It has conducted a little study of its own regarding the cost of living. Not having the facilities of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it had to use the homespun method of looking up the prices advertised by the A&P Super Markets during March 1942 and comparing them with prices charged, by the A&P today. A&P prices are about the average.

The information sought pertained to those foods that Mr. Henderson – for reasons best known to himself – did NOT put under the so-called ceiling. They constitute a good half of the food needs of a family and include fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fowl and some meats. For these products – if she can still afford to buy them – the housewife is paying through her nose.

In the category of fresh fruits and vegetables, for instance, oranges and cabbages have gone up 33 per cent. Oranges were 12 for 25 cents in March and are now 8 for 25 cents. Cabbage was 3 cents a pound and is now 4 cents. Among the dairy products, butter costs 7½ per cent more, having risen from 39 to 42 cents a pound, while sharp store cheese climbed 16 per cent, from 32 to 37 cents a pound. At the meat counter, the dollar is a poor contender for what is sold there. The price of fowl is up 18 per cent, from 28 to 33 cents a pound. Leg of lamb costs 25 per cent more, from 28 to 35 cents a pound. Loin lamb chops top the list with an increase of 50 per cent, from 33 cents a pound in March to 49 cents a pound today.

To state these increases and write finis is not to tell the whole story. The final denouément is the inevitable lowering of the standard of living of the lowest paid workers. When oranges go up 33 per cent in price, children of the working class are drinking less orange juice. When chickens and lamb reach the high notes, it means . that the working class family has to forego even the occasional indulgence in these “delicacies.”

So “equality for all” is – as always under capitalism – a matter of dollars and cents Those who have, get – and those who haven’t, just do without. And this is the way in which the upward movement of living costs has been checked by Mr. Henderson.

In spite of the fact that war prosperity is supposed to have landed in the lap of the little people, the evidences of economic insecurity keep piling up. The title of ownership of that “cottage small by a waterfall” – which has ever been associated with family well-being – continues to pass from the name of the little man and his wife to that of the loan corporation.

As of April, 1942, in the imperial state of New York the Home Owners Loan Corporation, sponsored by the government, has had to take over for non-payment of obligations FORTY PER CENT of all the homes upon which it had made loans!

One-third of these unlucky “home owners” or over 10,000 of them, were compelled to surrender all their worldly goods since the outbreak of the war, that is, in the two and a half years from October 1939 to April 1942 – the period of the very acme of war prosperity, at least judging by corporation profits.

Whether in a particular case the cause of misfortune was priority unemployment, the breaking up of a family due to the draft, or the need for the bread-winner to pack up and try his luck elsewhere, the fact remains that economic insecurity is the iron law of capitalist society.

That alluring picture of a happy family protected behind the pretty starched curtains on windows one can call one’s own, belongs exclusively to the movies.

It is necessary at this time, when glib statesmen make elaborate promises for a “brave new world” after the war, to remember that the First World War was also euphoniously fought “to make the world a better place in live in.”

But during the post-war period and right up to and into the present war period, 90 per cent of Kentucky’s mountain children did not go to school and do not now go to school. Those comparatively few youngsters from the southern mountains who have a minimum of clothing to cover their nakedness so that they can attend school are so undernourished that “the education does them little good.” The schools themselves can hardly be graced by that name, for they are one-room buildings no better than shacks. The Save the Children Federation, whose “charity” makes no halt to the spread of poverty, has recently once again called public attention to the above situation in the South.

This is, however, only a little peep into one of the dirtiest of the dirty backyards of America which – you remember – the last war made “a better place to live in.”

The story is told of a young soldier who entered a USO Club and made a very unusual request. The apology for normal life which these clubs specialize in could not fill the need of this particular soldier. His yearning was not quieted by any of the ordinary make-shifts, such as dancing, watching a floor show or movie, listening to a radio, or what have you. For what this young man wanted, above all else, was to have the feel of a three-month-old baby in his arms. His own baby back home is just three months old, he said.

This department has no desire to use this touching incident as a tear-jerker. The useless tragedies of this war of ruling class rivalries are of proportions greater than the natural yearning in one man’s heart. Yet in a peculiarly succinct way this young soldier does exemplify the monstrous distortion of life to which war subjects humanity. For this reason the socialist cries out to the parents of today:

“You owe something more than facile love to your children. Your parents were caught in World War I, because of the capitalist struggle for markets and raw materials. You are the unwilling participants in World War II because of the same world-wide imperialist competition. When your children reach maturity, their destiny will be to fight in World War III because of the same lust of ruling classes for power for profit – unless you, the parents of today, pay your debt to your children and to the future. What is that debt? Support the cause of world socialism for universal peace and plenty!”

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Last updated: 8 September 2014